The Christmas spirit is alive, well and probably a little bit sunburned in Boalsburg.
It was the inaugural afternoon of the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts and as befitting the dead of July, it was more than a little bit toasty outside.
By 3:30 p.m., the temperature had reached approximately 89 degrees, a byproduct of clear skies and a sun that cast shadows where it could and turned the rest of the lawn outside of the Pennsylvania Military Museum into an all-natural tanning booth.
Circumstances such as these are not the kind under which one expects to celebrate baby’s first Christmas.
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Nevertheless, that was sentiment that had been neatly embellished on the side of a porcelain and clay ornament tucked inside the tent belonging to The Anne St. Clair Collection.
It was one of many handcrafted holiday decorations on display that gave the entire space the feel of stepping inside a time capsule from Christmases past, present and future.
Initial headiness aside, it should not have been that surprising. This was, after all, the People’s Choice Festival, which for first-timers could be best described as the contents of an eclectic shopping mall that has been turned upside down and shaken over a flush parcel of very green grass.
There’s furniture for sale, a caricaturist on standby and an entire tent devoted to tie-dyed garments (now it really does go with everything).
All of it has the same personalized touch of a top-shelf artisan, many of whom were on hand to interact with their customers and provide firsthand insight into the process one might use to craft, say, an ornament.
For Anne Piazza, Christmas in July is a family occasion. Her husband builds the molds and crafts the shapes of each of the ornaments, which are fired no fewer than five times in kiln.
Piazza then applies the raised decorative details by hand using a syringe. The result is something that fuses homemade charm with professional polish — a collage of reds, reindeer and an occasional appearance by Santa.
Seasonal anachronisms aside, the festival’s calendar date, still roughly six months removed from the holidays, has taken on a special significance of its own for the artist, who is based just outside of Lancaster.
During her years at People’s Choice, Piazza has amassed a loyal following, many of who will only see her sometime during the course of the next four days.
“I have people who have 80 or 90 pieces that buy from me every year,” Piazza said.
The opportunity to build relationships is one of the advantages to having a tent much smaller than the size of the average department store, a mutually beneficial exchange that cuts out the middleman and places creator and consumer face to face.
People, it turns out, enjoy having a little bit of backstory to their knickknacks — preferably something with a little more color than “made in China.”
“They want to know what it is and how it’s made,” Piazza said.
Anybody who stopped by artist David Ferree’s tent knows exactly how his Santa Claus-themed figurines are made.
Ferree was in the process of carving one out of a piece of basswood late Thursday afternoon, killing time while he waited for the next shopper to wander casually into the North Pole.
Santa stand-ins from nations across the globe lined the shelves and tables. There was Tonte, of Scandinavia; the Gift Giver, of Italy; and England’s Father Christmas — all painstakingly carved and painted by the hands of Ferree.
“If you’re a Santa Clause collector, I might have one that you don’t have,” Ferree said.
He has been carving since he was a boy, the habit transitioning nicely into what he called a good hobby for an old man.
Ferree understands the fundamental problem of trying to appeal to folks’ Christmas spirit on a hot summer day in July, but his fascination with Santa Claus has always had more to do with the richness of tradition than the holiday itself.
One of the carvings he points out isn’t an example of his best work or even all that complicated it. It’s simple wooden pickle that has been painted green, reminiscent of the kind that he used to hide in the Christmas tree when his kids were little, something that can be handed down from generation to generation.