The Manayunk Arts Festival

Celebrating Three Decades of Artists
By Caitlin Marsilii

Each June, Main Street Manayunk welcomes over 300 artists, makers, and creatives to the street during The Manayunk Arts Festival, and this year is especially exciting because the festival is celebrating its 35th anniversary! It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 3 decades since the festival’s beginning and how the festival has evolved ever since. Back in June of 1990, festival founders closed the street, lined it with juried artists, and gambled that people would travel far and wide to spend the day in Manayunk, and the bet paid off. That very first year attracted record crowds packing the street from Green Lane to Shurs Lane, and from there, Manayunk as a district was off and running largely in part due to the festival having put the neighborhood on the map.
The festival has since built itself into being the tri-state area’s largest outdoor juried art festival featuring approximately 300 different local and nationally known artists and crafters along with over 30 up-and-coming, emerging artists. Featured works include pieces from eight different disciplines: ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting & drawing, photography, and wood & sculpture. Each year, the show welcomes first timers, legacy artists, and everyone in between, and it goes without saying…that the arts festival wouldn’t be what it is without the artists! Legacy artists like Beth Palser, Gretchen Hulse, Charles Cushing, and Jennifer Hirt have been bringing their talent and creativity to Main Street Manayunk for over 20 years, and to say the least, that’s no small feat. As we celebrate The Manayunk Arts Festival’s 35th birthday, we must call out those who have been with the festival for most of its journey.

Beth Palser
Beth Palser Fine Art

Beth Palser has been a part of the Manayunk Arts Festival for over 22 years and remembers the different years by the people, the friends, and the memories. She notes how she met Jane Seymour one year, Fox 29 News’ Mike Jerrick the next, and even a Detroit Lions player. The faces, in addition to the variety and energy, are really what keep her coming back year after year.
“I think it’s the vibe, the people, and the happy festive energy,” says Beth. “I get my collectors who keep coming out and who are very knowledgeable of the arts as well as a lot of young people who are looking for a new piece of art. I also love talking to all my artist friends.” She also encourages those who have never been to an art show or gallery to come out and enjoy the atmosphere without pressure to buy. “Just come to the show and enjoy the atmosphere and the creativity that’s out there,” she said. “It’s an individual experience, and anyone’s sure to find something they like.”
Beth recounts being new to the art world when she was just getting her start in high school followed by her time at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Her passion, which she partially credits to her grandmother, has deepened over time, and through her experiences with formal art training and a particular silk screen printing job, her own distinct style was born. That job shaped the way for Beth as she began experimenting with color separation and furthering her work with watercolor. Today, Beth’s style has depth, texture, and contrast as bold colors are layered. It’s non-traditional, recognizable, and something that truly stands out. Through her work and style, Beth loves getting lost in her own little world and having the freedom to express herself. “Above all, it’s about having fun and creating for yourself,” she said. “Art is personal, so you should be loving what you do, putting it right back on your wall, and enjoying it.”

Gretchen Hulse
Crescent Moon Clothing

Gretchen exhibited at the Manayunk Arts Festival for the first time in 1997, only 3 years after starting her business, Crescent Moon Clothing, in 1994. As she put it, she was just a child starting out in the scene, and Manayunk was her first prestigious festival. “A lot of things changed once I started doing the Manayunk Festival,” she said. “Since I’m local to Philly, it gave me that connection to so many of my customers – many which I still have today.” She also mentioned how it further connected her to the festival community, new friends, and how the artists together are a tribe.
Prior to Manayunk, Gretchen studied Arts Management at Stockton University where she launched a line of boutique hand painted shirts that she sold at craft shows and Grateful Dead shows. She started sewing at the age of 7, and her passion stems from her aunt who helped teach her. As a teen, Gretchen began thrifting and making pieces of her own, and her work has evolved ever since. This year, she looks forward to exhibiting her new line of recycled, repurposed, sustainable fashion in addition to her Frida collection which was inspired by her daughter, her battle with breast cancer, and Frida’s story. “Frida gave me strength during that time,” she said. “She had a tragic life, but kept making art. Now, I’m back to where I started – traveling to shows, keeping it simple, and depending on myself. I love what I do and work so hard physically. I feel strong.”

Charles Cushing
Charles Cushing Fine Art

Charles Cushing is a Manayunk fan favorite. He has exhibited in The Manayunk Arts Festival for over 20 years, competed in Manayunk’s Plein on Main Competition, and has collaborated with local galleries and businesses throughout the area. The painter, who’s based out of Philadelphia, was exposed to oil painting at a young age thanks to his father who was an amatuer artist. Charles started attending night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as a teenager, and eventually enrolled full-time, graduating in 1988. At PAFA, the curriculum was largely based on painting the nude from life, but after graduating he began to paint outdoors in a more-or-less ‘impressionist’ style. He worked part-time for years as a waiter or bartender in various restaurants, keeping his dream alive, and for the past 25 years, Charles has been able to support himself exclusively through his artwork. He paints in all traditional representational genres: landscape, cityscape, still-life, portrait, figures, and also paints from memory or imagination. He’s known locally for his Philadelphia scenes but has also captured several scenes from other U.S. locations, as well as other countries, especially Italy. He’s traveled there quite a few times to paint. Overall, he’s influenced by the “Old Masters,” and the Impressionists, but also 20th-century artists like Edvard Munch, Giorgio DiChiricho, and Edward Hopper.
Throughout his career now, he’s sold roughly 600 original oil paintings which are mostly featured in public and private collections in the Philadelphia area. Some of his prints have also been published. At The Manayunk Arts Fest he exhibits both original oil paintings and prints made from the paintings. He looks forward to interacting with all those who are interested in his artwork. “I have always had a great experience at this show, which provides an opportunity to display my work to literally thousands of people,” he said. “The exposure at the show has brought me many clients, some of whom have commissioned paintings from me, and I look forward to exhibiting in the Manayunk show every spring.”

Jenna Hirt
Tying Tribes

Jenna Hirt has quite the story. From her jewelry to all the travels, it all ties back to her love of skateboarding. Back in 1990, Jenna moved to Daytona Beach and started skateboarding. She was determined to get to the skatepark every day and needed to find a way to make consistent gas money for consistent rides to be able to skate. While wearing a necklace she created for herself, a girl in her 9th grade class asked if she could buy the piece from her, and her business only grew from that point on. She sold frequently on Daytona Beach after school, and when high school ended, she began her nomadic lifestyle that she still lives today. She started going “on tour” selling at Grateful Dead and Phish concerts across the country until she found art shows in 1997. Jenna has been a part of The Manayunk Arts Festival since 2004, and loves seeing her customers each year still wearing the pieces she made for them in years prior.
“The best part is being able to create special custom pieces for my customers with their cherished collected treasures, and that includes everything from shells and rocks found on their vacation, grandpa’s antique fishing lure, olive pits, hair, sacred relics passed down from descendants, everything in between and of course, beads,” she said. “There’s always a story behind it, and to be able to make that special piece they love, cherish, and wear everyday just makes me feel so grateful.”
Over the past two decades, she’s been able to see the festival transform and remembers it fondly for one favorite memory. At the 2010 show, she was entered to win a $51,000 21 day adventure to Antarctica as a blogger and remembers rallying her customers – and the Engine Company 12 Fire Station – to vote for her. Better yet, they helped her win and followed her blog along the way. Overall, Jenna’s jewelry Tying Tribes is influenced by her world travels and the different cultures around the world – both ancient and current. With her business, she highly values customer service, quality, and giving back using the proceeds from her jewelry sales to fund her non-profit, Donate For Skate where she brings skateboarding to kids in developing countries all around the world.