Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival crowds warm to milder days

| Sunday, July 7, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

Nice weather, a variety of entertainment and marketing efforts bolstered attendance at the annual four-day Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival, which attracted 150,000 patrons, the show's director said.

“Attendance is up a lot over last year,” executive director Adam Shaffer said. “Our numbers seem to be bouncing back. Not only a larger crowd, but a buying crowd.”

Sustained heat in 2012 dropped last year's audience to about 112,000.

About 165 vendors, including 50 new merchants, lined the park grounds peddling wares from fine art to pottery to lawn decorations to natural soaps. Some hailed from as far away as California, Florida and Illinois.

The festival began in 1975 at Seton Hill and moved in 1976 to Twin Lakes Park, east of Greensburg.

Since 1977, artist Bill Vlasich's ornate glass figurines have been a staple of the festival.

“It's a great place to be,” Vlasich said. “It's the nicest show that I do as far as quality and the ambience.”

Vlasich of Ohio-based Vlasic Glass has missed the festival only twice, and he's witnessed it grow over the years.

Vlasich taught himself how to create glass sculptures after watching with fascination a glass blower at the beach. He sells intricate small figurines emulating spider webs, angels, dragons and more.

Black Ink Art, a duo of brothers from Philadelphia, offered paintings, prints and T-shirts.

“I've been doing art since I was 5 years old,” Jon Swartz said as he manned the booth.

Several states away, brother David Swartz showed their artwork at a festival in Milwaukee. The brothers, who share a similar technicolor mixed media style, teamed up for business and now travel the festival circuit full time. Swartz credited friend Justin Shupp for helping Black Ink Art apply for shows, including the Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival.

Making his Twin Lakes debut, Bud Scheffel brought scaled-down versions of industrial-style mobiles that could be supersized for office building art. Some patrons purchased the smaller pieces, while others await magnified mobiles.

Scheffel, of New York-based Earth Saver Wind Sculpture, joined the Twin Lakes show after a job in Sewickley brought him to the Pittsburgh region.

His contemporary art installations demand careful attention to the density and strength of materials — “kind of a combination of math, physics and art,” he said.

Five booths were offered for free to Westmoreland County artists thanks to a grant from the Greensburg Foundation and the Westmoreland Now and Forever Funds of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.

Among them was Brian McCall of Greensburg, a festival first-timer whose pen-and-ink and watercolor work featured images of Greensburg churches and New York City buildings.

“There's a certain chaos in all of them at least,” McCall said about his art. “I'm working very hard to de-clarify.”

Patrons steadily streamed through the park grounds, stopping for festival delicacies such as snow cones and listening as a musician played the clarinet.

Festival organizers encourage attendees to ride shuttle buses, which pick up passengers at St. Vincent College and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. The festival does not offer public parking, and lots offered by private homeowners were muddy on Thursday, the festival's first day.

As light rain began to fall Sunday afternoon, Lynn Thompson and her mother Dee Bettis used their newly purchased plastic toy buckets as makeshift umbrellas. They bought the decorated buckets for Bettis' great-grandchildren.

“It was perfect timing,” Thompson of Penn Township, joked.

The two said they attend the festival every year together.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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