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Sun brightens opening day

| Saturday, June 8, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

A "didjeridoo" might sound funny to you, but to Thelma Canali, it sounds like home.

Canali stopped to hear the didjeridoo — an Australian Aboriginal Horn — as soon as she learned that a man selling the instruments would be at the 43rd annual Three Rivers Arts Festival, Downtown. The last time she heard one was 1946, the year she moved from Australia to Pittsburgh as a war bride.

"I've been looking up and down for it," Canali said as she watched Preston Scott and his young apprentice, North Side resident Kit Kymla, blow into the long instruments. "I never forgot the sound."

It was one of many serendipitous moments on a sunny, warm day that signified the official opening day of the arts festival and the unofficial start to summer.

Both new art displays and old favorites returned to the festival, which runs through June 23 and features music and food, as well as art for a variety of tastes.

A spindly blond artist named Charles Spaegle drew attention with bright acrylic paintings depicting women, animals and abstract images that he said often conveyed his emotions.

As two fair-goers paused over a painting of postal workers whose hands were clenched and upraised over an outstretched body, he offered a quick explanation. "He's dead. They're mourning him. This is based on anthrax."

A native of Detroit, Spaegle moved from Atlanta to South America to become a bullfighter. "I just saw it one time and decided it was what I wanted to do," he said.

Spaegle keeps photographs from his bullfighting days in a small plastic bag, and bears a small scar caused by a bull's horn on his face. One of his paintings, called "Eat More Chicken" in Spanish, depicts a laughing bull behind a chef raising a knife to a distraught chicken.

Before he was a bullfighter, Spaegle was a boxer. While art seems to be a far cry from boxing and bullfighting, Spaegle sees a similarity. "It's equally expressive. All three are dramatic art processes to me."

Down the sidewalk from the bullfighter artist, Corlette Thomas Baylock, beloved pistachio artist, was settling in for his fourth year at the fair.

He's the guy from Cleveland who sells watercolor paintings featuring people with heads made of the little nuts. The nuts also can be found adorning barstools and toilet seats.

A former banker who has been a full-time artist since 1990, Baylock grew interested in art during the Vietnam War, where he specialized in "psychological warfare" and watched cartoonists deliver powerful messages — nonverbally — on propaganda leaflets.

"They would hear a story and turn it into a cartoon," he said.

When Baylock returned to the States, he took a few art classes and started dabbling in watercolor.

He discovered the emotional power of pistachios in a doctor's waiting room, when he entertained a crop of children by drawing faces on the nuts and giving them away. The children were delighted.

In the 12 years he's been making nut art, Baylock said he's gotten the same reaction countless times.

"It lends itself to how I was as a kid, trying to get a laugh. A friendly laugh," he said.

Yesterday, as a little girl and her mother visited Baylock's booth, he displayed another specialty: the palm-beetle, which he likes to give away to children who stop by.

Baylock placed a decorated pistachio on the girl's upturned hand. He then drew little beetle legs on her palm, surrounding the nut. Hence, a palm beetle.

She giggled and stared at it as she left with her mother.

"Sorry for bugging you," he called after them, as they erupted in more giggles.

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