There is a friendly competition every year at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
Marty Edmunds and Joanie Eyster have almost always produced one of the top three festival banners for more than two decades. One is also usually a winner for the professional competition.
And this year is a little bit more special. It’s the 50th annual Arts Fest, a milestone year for the festival and a chance for them to shine with a carefully threaded 72- by-30-inch banner, or one painted meticulously with steady swipes of a brush.
“When we moved here from King of Prussia, and I saw they were announcing that they would have banner contest, I decided to enter,” Edmunds said. “I love sewing, so I entered the general competition and won.”
That was in 1988.
She soon graduated from the general competition, a decision all her own after she began to work for the Collegiate Pride.
“I figured I was professional, and since then I’ve won a number of times,” she said. “I’d have to look for each year that I won.”
Eyster’s first entry was in 1993, the year that friends working at Arts Fest convinced her that it would be fun. A local artist who usually works for others, she thought it would be cool have her own creative outlet.
She used fabric for a few years and then switched to painting.
“I’m faster with painting, and I could do things with paint I couldn’t do with fabric to a grander scale,” Eyster said . “I enjoyed sewing it, but I couldn’t get into the details. I also don’t have the chance to paint often, so it’s something different I get to do.”
Their approaches to the competition are different. Edmunds sketches ideas as early as December, and it takes several months from her idea phase to having a finished product. Eyster starts in the spring, knowing that each year’s June 24 deadline will fast approach.
“Remember,” Eyster said with a laugh, “I’m quicker when I’m painting. I think this is the first year I’ve been this far ahead. Sometimes in April and May I still don’t know what I’ll do. When it gets to June, yes, I know.”
There is usually no specific theme or design participants must follow for the banner competition, though Edmunds usually incorporates the jester. Eyster said she does “whatever suits me at the time.”
Artists this year, however, were asked to acknowledge the 50th Arts Fest.
If history is any indication, at least one of their banners will hang over South Allen Street near Calder Way, a sign that one was named 2016’s professional winner. Previous years’ banners will also sway in the Happy Valley breeze in downtown State College.
They’ll occasionally overhear someone say on the phone to meet the under one of the banners. And sometimes they’ll recognize each other’s work.
“(Marty) is a fantastic artist,” Eyster said. “It’s back and forth on who is first.”
“(Joanie) and I compete,” Edmunds said. “It’s fun each year to see what each other has done.”