'Kreepy Dolls' a part of Arts Festival's fun

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Today is the last day of the 52nd annual Three Rivers Arts Festival, but there remains a packed schedule of art happenings and entertainment that will be capped tonight with the improvisational genius of Bruce Hornsby and his Noisemakers and later the theatrical spectacle of Squonk Opera's "Go Roadshow."

Temperatures are expected in the high 80s to close out the 10-day festival that has brought thousands Downtown for art, food, performances and the unofficial advent of summer in the 'Burgh.

Today's music schedule:

Noon: AcoustiCafe (Second Stage, Gateway Center)

Noon: Squonk Opera (Penn Avenue at Stanwix)

1 p.m.: River City Brass (Point State Park stage)

4:30 p.m.: Van Ghost (PSP)

6 p.m.: Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers (PSP)

7:45 p.m.: Squonk Opera (Penn Avenue at Stanwix)

In addition to the juried visuals in the Cultural District, this is the last day to visit the Artists Market, a conglomeration of more than 300 artists' booths, each chosen by the festival's review panel.

Among these is Pittsburgh native Daniel Baxter's booth "The Kreepy Doll Factory," which is loosely grouped under "sculptures," a catch-all for those peddling objects that tend not to fit in the other categories.

Walking into the booth is a little like stepping onto the Island of Misfit Toys. The walls are covered with uniquely shaped, colorful stuffed dolls -- all of them wonderfully strange. Some have too many limbs, or not enough, or none at all, with some combination of eyes, ears, noses, mouths or all of the above. So why dolls?

"I ask myself that question all the time," Mr. Baxter said. "Dolls have been around forever, since Stone Age time. People just always need a little trinket or an imaginary friend."

Mr. Baxter grew up in Shaler, attending Shaler High School. He was always an artist. He eventually graduated with a bachelor's degree in drawing from the Cleveland Institute of Art. It was there, after a chance venture with a friend, that he began making the dolls -- an activity that has taken over his career.

Crafting about five dolls a day, Mr. Baxter begins the process one of two ways. He will either begin cutting the material with no idea where it will lead, or more often, he will sketch a design.

"I might do a hundred or a thousand sketches and literally throw out all of them but one -- just pick my favorite one, just so I know I'm making something awesome," Mr. Baxter said. "Or I might just see what happens, and just start cutting."

He uses recycled fabrics to cover the dolls. The material often comes from donated old, unwanted clothing, and tends to inspire the figures themselves. A red, scale-patterned cloth produced a dragon-like figure, dubbed "Red Dracopiller."

After selecting the material, he makes the individual pieces of the doll on a sewing machine, which he then stuffs and assembles (via stitching and embroidering) into one piece. Thus, not counting swapping limbs or reorganizing features, a Kreepy Doll is born.

As a previous Emerging Artist Scholar (one of the few local artists chosen by the festival who are given a free booth and a mentor), Mr. Baxter has been a fixture at the Three Rivers Arts Festival five times in the past six years.

"I've always been a Pittsburgher and loved the [Three Rivers] Arts Festival," he said. "It's cool, it's inspiring. For me, it's probably my best five days of the year. I go home at night and think about all of the cool people I met during the day. It's awesome. I always look forward to it."

And despite having lived in Brooklyn and Cleveland for extended periods of time, the festival has always been a draw. Wherever his art takes him, Mr. Baxter expects to be a part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival for a long time.

"Hopefully, no matter where I live, I come back here and do it every summer. I will always make a special trip to Pittsburgh, forever, to be here."

Three Rivers Arts Festival schedule

Galleries in the Cultural District are open today from noon to 6 p.m. The Artists Market in Gateway Center and Point State Park is open from noon to 8 p.m., and the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone from noon to 6 p.m.


Elliot Alpern: ealpern@post-gazette.com. First Published June 10, 2012 4:00 AM


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