By Bill O’Boyle , Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — You can find just about anything artsy and crafty at the 62nd annual Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square — paintings, drawings, jewelry, photographs, scarves, T-shirts, hats, food for all tastes, ice cream, lemonade, pizza — and brooms.
Yes, brooms. John Warren, of Countrybrooms of Gilbertsville, said he has been making brooms since 1974 when he made his first one as an Eagle Scout project. His display tent is on the North Main Street corner of the square.
Warren said broomcorn is a type of sorghum that is used for making brooms and whiskbrooms. He said it differs from other sorghums in that it produces heads with fibrous seed branches that may be as much as 36 inches long.
With all that as going on at the Fine Arts Fiesta, the stop at Warren’s broom stand was educational and interesting.
The 62nd annual Fine Arts Fiesta opened Thursday drenched in sunshine and Public Square was filled with people eating gyros, chicken on a stick, pizza, ice cream and more as they browsed the arts and crafts displayed in tents and kiosks.
For 10 minutes on this sunny Thursday, Warren’s explanation of the origin of broomcorn was fascinating. He said sorghum apparently originated in central Africa and then production of the crop spread to the Mediterranean, where people used long-branched sorghum panicles for making brooms as far back as in the Dark Ages.
Warren said Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers and renowned kite flyer who discovered electricity, is credited with introducing broomcorn to the United States in the early 1700s.
Now that’s a lot of learning and at just one display tent of 50-plus at the Fiesta. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the four-day festival which ends on Sunday and includes a Saturday night performance by legendary folk artist Tom Rush.
Warren said his brooms sell for $10 to $25.
The fiesta opened at 10 a.m. Thursday with official opening ceremonies at noon when Bill and Essy Davidowitz were honored for the lifelong dedication to the arts of Wyoming Valley and for their overall commitment to the community.
Gina Malsky, director of Downtown Arts and Dance Theater, handled the introductions. Malsky said she anticipates the Fine Arts Fiesta every year.
“It brings such a huge amount of the community together,” she said. “From young school-age children to senior citizens and it showcases all the talent in the area.”
As the Wyoming Valley West band began to play, Malsky was quick to note the significance of the event.
“It shows how important it is to offer art and music in our schools,” Malsky said.
At one of the many tables around Public Square, friends Dina Civiletti and Antoinette Urenovich were enjoying lunch — Civiletti eating pizza and Urenovich potato pancakes. They said this is their first visit to the Fiesta in about 12 years, and they liked what they saw.
“I found a nice pair of earrings,” Civiletti said. “I looked at some ceramic art too. Everything is so nice here.”
Urenovich said she enjoyed the warm, sunny weather.
“It’s such a beautiful day to get out of the house,” she said. “I’m still looking for something nice to buy.”
Civiletti, of Forty Fort, and Urenovich, of Red Rock, said they get to downtown Wilkes-Barre occasionally — they both like to shop at Boscov’s.
“Downtown is not what it used to be,” Urenovich said. “But it seems to be getting better.”
Now they had to decide what was next — ice cream and lemonade were at the top of the list.
“We’ll walk around for a while,” Civiletti said. “Maybe I’ll buy something else.”
Walking toward the display tents was one of the area’s contributing artists — Patrick Cleary, of Dallas.
“I have a couple of paintings on display,” Cleary, 39, said. “One is called ‘Sunset,’ and I have a couple of others.”
Cleary, accompanied by his father, Jack, said the weather was perfect.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Patrick said. “It’s so sunny. I could be here all day.”