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West Reading’s Art on the Avenue celebrates 30th year

Miles Shappell dipped a brush in red paint and stroked the bright color onto a small figurine in the form of a shaggy cow.

Encouraged by his parents, Sami and Ken Shappell, the boy, 3, added some swirls of white before putting on a final touch of yellow.

The creative activity was offered by artist Brian Adams of the Art Room, West Reading, one of more than 200 vendors Saturday at the borough’s Art on the Avenue event.

Stands selling a variety of artworks, crafts, foods and beverages are a hallmark of the festival, which stretched from Fourth to Eighth avenues along Penn Avenue.

The event, hosted by the West Reading Community Revitalization Foundation, included 18 music acts on three stages.

The Shappells of Muhlenberg Township were among the first to drop by Adams’ stand for the chance to paint a knick-knack calf and pet its live doppelganger, a shaggy Highland calf, supplied by Fluffy en Route traveling petting zoo, Mohnton.

“We had insider information,” Sami Shappell said, laughing and explaining that Adams, a friend, tipped them off about the event.

Miles Shappell, 3, son of Ken and Sami Shappell of Muhlenberg Township, paints a ceramic cow at the Art Room tent during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday along Penn Avenue in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Miles Shappell, 3, son of Ken and Sami Shappell of Muhlenberg Township, paints a ceramic cow at the Art Room tent during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday along Penn Avenue in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

The family had several stops under their belts before noon when the crowd began to swell.

The festival, now in its 30th year, typically draws close to 30,000 people, said Nick Price, executive director of WRCRF’s Main Street program.

“Every year it keeps growing,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Not much changes from year to year, he noted, except the number of vendors, music acts and visitors, which have grown steadily.

“It runs so well that we don’t want to change it too much,” Price said.

Several of the vendors have been a part of the festival for a decade or more, he said.

Nick Price, West Reading Main Street director, stands on Penn Avenue during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Nick Price, West Reading Main Street director, stands on Penn Avenue during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

For jewelry artisan Kerry Rohrbach of Exeter Township, it was her 17th year. Rohrbach sells her mixed-media jewelry, made with materials including epoxy, clay, resin, vintage china and buttons, and gemstones at venues throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

“This is my biggest show,” she said, noting that it and West Reading’s Fall Festival are her only local events.

While it was a busy day for artisan vendors, like Rohrbach, the event offered the first chance to sit, relax and chat for the visiting artists taking part in the weeklong Plein Air West Reading, a fine-art event now in its ninth year.

The week of painting and drawing outdoors culminated with a gala Friday and an exhibit Saturday on Penn Avenue.

Thirty artists from nine states were selected this year and given an opportunity to capture the beauty, heritage and character of Berks County on canvas.

Many of the participants sat chatting Saturday afternoon in a shaded area behind the exhibit of their works.

This year’s event was the fourth for artist David Finnell of Charlottsville, Va., and if he has his way, he’ll be back.

“There’s such a wide variety of subject matter we can paint,” he said, “not just in West Reading, but outside in Berks County.”

Plein Air artists from left are Valentina Yannotti of Geneva, N.Y.; Lina Ferrara of Boiling Springs, Cumberland County; and David Finnell of Charlottesville, Va., sketch and greet visitors during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday along Penn Avenue in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Plein Air artists from left are Valentina Yannotti of Geneva, N.Y.; Lina Ferrara of Boiling Springs, Cumberland County; and David Finnell of Charlottesville, Va., sketch and greet visitors during the 30th annual Art on the Avenue on Saturday along Penn Avenue in West Reading. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Though Finnell and fellow artists Lina Ferrara of Boiling Springs, Cumberland County, and Valentina Yannotti of Geneva, N.Y., chatted and bantered like longtime friends, the women just met during this year’s event.

“We went painting with Tina, Lina and Calina, like we were best friends,” Yannotti said, referring to their newly forged friendship with yet another artist, Calina Franzosa of Alexandria, Va.

The camaraderie evident among the Plein Air artists seemed to extend up and down the avenue as people called out greetings and stopped to talk with friends and acquaintances.

And that’s the whole idea, Price said.

“It’s just a great community event,” he said. “You know, it gets people together, it gets you out.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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