WILKES-BARRE — The fine art on display and for sale at the 66th annual Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square is varied, from traditional photos and paintings to hand-made brooms and bonsai trees.
Brooms and bonsai are art? Absolutely, say the men running those stands.
“Bonsai is the art and a tree is a tree. We use many trees for the art. And essentially it’s the art of dwarfing trees to grow in small containers,” said Sugar Notch resident Carl Achhammer Jr., 49, owner of Zenchaser Bonsai. “By trimming the tops of the trees and the roots, and keeping them in a small container, it dwarfs them indefinitely.”
Achhammer is one of dozens of artsy vendors set up on Public Square for the four-day festival that kicked off Thursday. After being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a smaller version of the fiesta was held last year but without food vendors and live entertainment.
The food and music are back this year. The theme this year is “Fiesta in Full Color.”
“We are excited to be back for a full festival,” said fiesta President Mary Anne Fedrick.
Mayor George Brown walked around Public Square on Thursday afternoon, happy to see such a large crowd just hours into the event, which draws thousands of people to the city every year.
“I like to meet every vendor and thank them for being here. They are what makes this a success,” Brown said. “A lot of people are happy to be here.”
Broom maker John Paul Warren, of Gilbertsville in Montgomery County, said he “never had a bad day in Wilkes-Barre” in all his years setting up shop at the festival selling his homemade brooms.
Most of Warren’s brooms use traditional handles, high-quality string and “broom corn,” a coarse grass that grows similar to corn stalks. However, Harry Potter-style brooms and brooms with custom handles are becoming more popular, he said.
“Brooms are art if you take them to the next level,” Warren said, explaining lots of manual labor that goes into each piece. “It’s a dying art form. There are less than 300 broom makers left nationwide.”
Julie Goldenberg, 55, of Shavertown, was intrigued by the bonsai tree selection at Achhammer’s tent, telling him she’s “been wanting to do this for 25 years.”
She told Achhammer, who teaches classes about caring for bonsai trees, she’d be back over the next few days.
“It’s an art form and supposedly it teaches you patience and you can grow it into anything you want to create out of it,” Goldenberg said.
Achhammer, who sells his trees at Midway Garden Center in Laflin, said anyone could become good at the art of bonsai. His main tip is to remember to water the plant daily.
“Someone bought me one about 25 years ago. I forgot to water it and killed it. Then I bought another one and did the same thing,” Achhammer said. “The third time I tried it, I thought I would keep more alive if I had more responsibility, so I bought three. And I still have one of those alive today.”