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Shadyside fair markets quality items in intimate setting

| Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 8:24 p.m.
Sandy Kephart
Sandy Kephart's fiber work is fashioned from bits of fabric.

One of the region's most celebrated arts-and-crafts festivals returns to Mellon Park in Shadyside from Sept. 6 to 8.

Now in its 44th year, A Fair in the Park will feature more than 100 vendors, live entertainment, a silent auction, catered foods and activities just for kids.

Sponsored by the Craftsmen's Guild of Pittsburgh, the fair brings together jewelers, potters, fiber artists, glass blowers, leather workers, printmakers, photographers and others whose work meets the guild's high standards.

“We're venerated and well-established,” says Jeffrey Moyer, a glass artist who serves as the guild's quality and standards chair. “What makes us special is that we rigorously screen the work that our artists and crafts people sell to ensure it is the highest quality.

“Another thing that sets us apart is our intimate ambience. We're an event with all the character of an old-world fair.”

About half of the vendors are guild members from Western Pennsylvania; others come from all over the country, Moyer, of Wind Ridgem says. “They go through a double-jurying system — first, to have their work accepted, and again for awards, including best of show and first, second and third place.”

Sculptor and furniture-maker Peter Johnson of Lawrenceville was last year's best-of-show awardee. He considers A Fair in the Park unique.

“Because it is run by artists, there's great pride in the quality of work being presented. The guild is into creating something special for them as well as patrons,” Johnson says. “It's a very different atmosphere than fairs run by big producers.”

Johnson crafts industrial- and rustic-style furniture from metal and reclaimed wood, such as old barn beams. He sculpts sycamore, oak and other timber harvested from Pittsburgh street trees to express his appreciation for modern dance. “I work with the idea of movement, using the grain of the wood … and creating natural organic shapes to capture what dance represents,” he says.

Other vendors also consider A Fair in the Park special, including Mary Hamilton, who brings her linoleum-block prints from Clarion County every year. She designed the fair's 2013 poster of an artsy-looking squirrel sporting an earring.

“I've been doing fairs since 1972 and A Fair in the Park is my favorite,” she says. “It's the real thing, and so thoroughly vetted that you know everything you're looking at was made by the artist selling it. That's not always the case at other fairs.

“The hours are civilized, and it's not too big. I just love it.”

Fiber artist Sandy Kephart of Monroeville says A Fair in the Park is “a show that art-savvy |patrons come to.”

With 43 years of sewing experience, Kephart layers and stitches textiles to create images that, from a distance, look like semi-realistic to abstract paintings. “When you get close, you see they are pieces of fabric stitched together,” says Kephart, whose work ranges in size from 8 inches by 8 inches to 4 feet by 4 feet.

Each piece is mounted under glass and framed. “I used to do art quilting, until I realized that there's a demand for work that doesn't have to be taken down from the wall and washed from time to time. The pieces I make now are more formal,” she says.

Having shown at the fair for nine years, Kephart has developed a following, especially among baby boomers, she says. “I do well, which keeps me creating. I don't create so people will buy. I keep creating because I sell.”

Jeweler Laurie Leonard of Jeannette also has developed a popular creative style by turning her watercolor paintings into wearable art. She hand-sculpts molds for pendants, pins, bracelets and earrings, which are cast in pewter and set with tiny paintings coated in jewelry-grade resin for durability. She also sets miniaturized watercolors into vintage sterling-silver rings.

Images of a woman's face and a winter tree in silhouette are among the more popular, although Leonard also paints birds, leaves and flowers.

“I started out 25 years ago as a watercolorist, but got bored, so I began to experiment,” says Leonard, whose work is sold at various galleries in the United States and Canada. “Now, I paint exclusively for my jewelry.”

While fairgoers may come for fine crafts like these, there is plenty more to keep them entertained, including live music, opportunities for up-close encounters with animals from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and a children's craft booth.

“We'll have a supervised area where children can work on projects — like painting tote bags — while their parents walk around,” Moyer says. “We're a family-oriented venue.”

Squonk Opera, a Pittsburgh-based group that tours the world with its unusual brand of music, visual art and acting, will perform all three days of the festival. Other live entertainment will include rock group Lovebettie and a steel-drum band Soundwaves.

Folks also will get to see glassblowers and other artists in action, and can snack on foods catered by the chefs at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

A Fair in the Park

When: 1-7 p.m. Sept. 6; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 7; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 8

Admission: Free

Where: Mellon Park, Shadyside

Details: www.afairinthepark.org

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