The Jury Is In
If Norman Rockwell were a Pennsylvania artist, Eagles Mere would probably have been a source of inspiration for his vision of small town America…and it would have been the town for him to exhibit his nationally recognized art. For the forty-fourth Eagles Mere Arts & Crafts Festival at the village green (held this year on Saturday, August 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday August 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is far more than your typical craft fair.
According to Kristin Montgomery, manager of the Eagles Mere Green Events, it all started in 1970. Joe Wilkinson, who owned most of the commercial buildings and the village green in Eagles Mere, wanted to bring more business to the merchants renting from him in the little mountaintop resort. Since the area attracted people from the arts in more metropolitan areas for the summer, it was only natural that he hit on the idea of hosting an arts and crafts show. But it was special from the very beginning. By 1975, it was a juried show, where the participants were noted regional and, eventually, national artists in their medium. By word of mouth, the news spread of a noteworthy art and craft event being held in the tiny town. Today eighty to ninety artists vie for space on the historic green, and the town, which has only 150 year-round residents, swells to a population of over 2,500 who walk the tree-shaded pathways and discover the unusual and beautiful work displayed in this bucolic setting.
By 2010, both Joe and his son Jay looked to be less active in the town that they owned. And, in the tradition of Eagles Mere, which has always been owned by individuals, they sold the village green to the Eagles Mere Conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the village and lake. They also sold some of the shops to the Eagles Mere Historic Village, Inc. The general store area now houses the museum, and both the Conservancy and Eagles Mere Historic Village protect the special flavor of the village from commercial development.
Richard Deasy, a board member of Eagles Mere Historic Village, has been involved in the Eagles Mere Arts and Crafts festival for a long time. He notes that the tradition of quality is what makes this show so vibrant in an age where so many shows are closing. “It’s a beautiful location, and the summer community in Eagles Mere is interested in fine work and are willing to buy.” The village is increasingly conscious of the quality of the craftsmanship, and looks to augment it with professional entertainment, combined with both traditional food booths from the village and new offerings to tempt visitors. There is also a diverse mix of artists working in clay, fiber, photography, glass, leather, metal, wood, basket making, and painting.
“The community works so hard to make [the festival] succeed,” says Mary Kay Donnelly, who, having exhibited at the Eagles Mere show for forty-three years, feels a strong connection to the event. “It’s the only local show I do.” As an award-winning jewelry designer, Mary Kay has work in forty-five galleries and usually exhibits at national shows in large cities. Using precious metals and gemstones, she fabricates by hand in her Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, workshop. But the Eagles Mere show is one where the customers make the difference. “It’s the personal connections at this show,” she says. Here an artist meets a loyal clientele, often visiting Eagles Mere from a metropolitan area. You know the people who visit over the years, watch their kids grow up and then visit you as adults with their own kids. “On Saturday, everyone from the village comes to see us and lines up in the booth to look at the new designs,”says Mary Kay. And on Sunday, many people come up for the day to see this exceptional show that they’ve heard about.
Then, “after the show, they discover the town,” says Peggy Martin, owner of Eagles Mere Bookstore, who calls the Arts and Crafts Festival weekend “just wonderful. It brings people here that might not be coming to the mountain.” According to Peggy, it’s one of their best weekends, not only for the sales, but for meeting new customers and nurturing the businesses in the village.
Those new people return home with fond memories of a place where the hustle of modern life is muted, and where artists roam the streets. A town of Victorian confection and a fierce passion for quality, polished to a high gloss. A gem of a town with a lake on top of the mountain—the town that time forgot.