Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival opens Friday in Mars

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Barbara Grossman wants people who come to the inaugural Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival to “leave with this feeling of ’Wow, this was great!’ ” It will take place Friday and Saturday at the Four Points by Sheraton in Mars.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the founding force behind the Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival, the 11th iteration of which will be held March 27 to 29 at The Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh. Now, with her sister Ann Szilagyi, she’s launching a new venture that will offer classes, workshops, hands-on demonstrations and a marketplace in a variety of heritage craft media.

After a few years, Ms. Grossman began introducing classes on crafts such as spinning and lace-making at her original festival, and “they filled instantly,” she said. “We had requests for alternative classes to knitting and crocheting and at the same time for more knitting and crocheting classes.” That inspired her to try a more expansive event.

One of the exhibitors this weekend, for example, is The Stencil Co., a Natrona Heights-based web business that sells quilting stencils and pre-printed wholecloth products to crafters around the globe. “There are not many countries we haven’t sold to,” said Aasta Deth, whose mother, Cynthia Turnbow, is founder/owner of the company. “Australia is a big customer, and we had an order from Dubai the other day.”

Ms. Turnbow started the business in 1985 “with the help of her father who had also been in the industry,” Ms. Deth said. While some of the traditional stencil designs they carry are in the public domain, Ms. Deth and her grandfather also create new designs. About 90 percent of their customers work within the fiber arts, but they also have quite a few woodworkers. “There are also some leathercrafters and papercrafters,” Ms. Deth said, “and a tattoo parlor called recently.”

Ms. Deth said that quilting became more experimental and machine based in the last decades of the 20th century, but of late, she’s been “seeing more interest in craft and a resurgence in people wanting to make things by hand again.”

Ms. Deth earned a masters of fine arts degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she met her husband Daniel Kuhn. In March, the couple opened Ton Pottery in Lawrenceville, where they offer clay instruction ranging from Saturday Kids Classes to Adult Advanced. “One of the reasons we decided to stay here is that Pittsburgh is a very artist-friendly city,” Ms. Deth said. Ms. Turnbow moved her company from Buffalo, N.Y., to Natrona Heights four years ago, and Ms. Deth serves as office manager.

This weekend, Ms. Deth will demonstrate pattern making on clay tiles and platters using stencils. Other activities include papermaking with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, Bento Box making with the Society for Contemporary Craft on Saturday, and a hands-on Rag Rug Demonstration by the Butler Spinner and Weavers Guild both days for which attendees are invited to bring fabric scraps (thin, one-foot or longer, from non-smoking environment, no perfumes).

“We were brought up being mindful of not wasting,” said Ms. Grossman who, left Poland as a child with her parents during World War II and arrived in the U.S. via England. She noted that people are interested in recycling and repurposing again. “There’s a younger generation that’s a little bit more aware. [My family] used to take a worn sweater apart and re-knit it, take a dress apart and make an apron out of it.”

Ms. Grossman sees the festival as combining the best of two worlds: Offering support for makers and vendors who earn a living from crafting, and providing opportunity for attendees to explore new materials and processes.

“It’s a great thing to be able to light a fire under somebody.”

A reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres, activities, marketplace sneak preview, and lecture on “Coolligraphy” (a play on calligraphy) by Daniel Nie, will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday; admission is $35. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; admission is $15. A two-day package is $50. Check for workshop availability at the door. Information: www.pghcreativearts.com.

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.

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