ROANOKE – Ari and Tyler Wise were at downtown Roanokes Renaissance in Roanoke art fair Saturday morning, so what better to do than make some art.
Theyd already tried their hand at vegetable stamping, using cut-up cucumbers, peppers and apples dipped in paint.
So now they were engrossed in bubble art – using a straw to blow a cup of paint into frothy bubbles and then placing a piece of thick paper on top to transfer the pattern.
Its a cool design, Tyler, 7, says while Ari, 10, adds a second color to his painting.
The two boys, with their mom, Christi Wise of Roanoke, were among hundreds of art lovers who populated Main Street on Saturday for a day-long celebration of what organizers say has been a rebirth of the small Huntington County town southwest of Fort Wayne.
Over the past half-dozen years, Roanoke storefronts have taken on new life as galleries and gift shops and home décor and upscale resale outlets, while the nearby U.S. 24 corridor has fledged a winery, a Philadelphia-style deli, and an event center.
Rick Fischer, 44, owner of Deco Illusions on Main Street, chairman of the art festivals organizing committee, says Roanokes rebirth has been spurred by investment by the Eshelmann family.
But he says it also takes a collaboration of business people, artisans like himself and other creative types to ensure a vibrant downtown.
In Roanokes case, theyve come together in the Roanoke Beautification Foundation, which has helped expand special events to about one a month.
The foundation also finances town improvements, from new trees, old-fashioned street lights and hanging gardens.
Besides the art festival, now in its sixth year, Roanoke has among its offerings a patriotic concert in July, the Taste of Roanoke food festival in August and a Christimas in the Village event in December.
Another draw is a Saturday morning farmers market. Saturdays edition, which also included a food truck and other food-vending stands, was folded in to the east end of the art festival.
The festival included booths from about 45 juried vendors and student and professional art competitions and exhibits. The event was highlighted by a plein aire, or open-air, painting competition with the top prize purchase of a work by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.
The festival has grown a little bit each year, says Fischer, who specializes in creating European-inspired decorative painting, faux finishes and murals. We want it to grow but we want also to keep it small and manageable. We want to keep it quaint.
Vendor Susan Stewart of Sneaky Kitten Studios in Wabash says shes brought her fused-glass and etched-glass artwork to the festival for four years. She says shes done well at the event, weather permitting.
Its always been really well run and well organized, she says noting Saturdays clear blue sky and temperatures in the 70s. I think they do a good job in their jurying process and that has helped make it successful.
Roanoke is just coming back to life, she adds. I think they went through a dying phase, like a lot of small towns, but they are coming back in a good way.
Penny French-Deal, 62, at her easel painting a tiny impressionistic portrait of a honey-selling stand set up cater-corner from the gallery she owns at Second and Main streets, couldnt agree more. She says she chose the scene for her 8-by-10-inch oil painting because it speaks to charm of a small town.
Roanoke, she adds, has become sort of a destination town now.
With a bed-and-breakfast, fine dining, casual eateries, special events and an eclectic collection of walkable shops, she says, the town has a lot of good energy. Its a good place to be.