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It’s a community affair: Chewelah Children’s Art Festival offers a fun-filled day of creativity

It’s a community affair: Chewelah Children’s Art Festival offers a fun-filled day of creativity

Chewelah, about 45 miles north of Spokane, has been known as a “rough and tumble mining town” since the mid-1880s. But some members of the 2,500-person town have been working for the past 25 years to transform Chewelah from the shell of an industrial powerhouse that produced the most magnesite in the country during World War I into a creative, artistic community.

They’ve done pretty well so far, and the Chewelah Art Guild’s next big event is quickly approaching.

Saturday, July 13, The Chewelah Children’s Art Festival is set to return for a day of easel painting, weaving, collage, Shakespearean theater, shaving cream marbling and more. The event begins at 9 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m. at the Children’s Pavilion in the northeast corner of Chewelah City Park. It’s completely free for children ages 3 through middle school.

Weaving and easel painting are available throughout the day, while other activities, such as pumpkin painting, Zentangle, and Rain Sticks, take place at certain times of the day. At 4 p.m., Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be performed as the arts and crafts options conclude.

The Chewelah Children’s Arts Festival first began during Chataqua, a four-day community event that has been around for more than 40 years and draws thousands of attendees during the hot July summers. From carnival rides to food vendors to local artists displaying their work, Chataqua had it all. At least until COVID came along and the group that puts it on, Community Celebrations, didn’t have the manpower or energy to keep the tradition alive.

With Chataqua’s death, members of the Chewelah Arts Association knew they had to turn the children’s arts festival into something of its own.

“If you live in a community, you have a couple of options: ignore it or do something to change it in the direction you want it to go,” Tom Bristol said. “I’ve always been interested in creativity and case studies and opportunities.”

Bristol, 75, is responsible for organizing and planning the children’s arts festival and is a local architect who has designed and consulted on many projects in the area, including converting a former armory into the Chewelah Arts Center.

Bristol joined the Chewelah Arts Association shortly after its founding in 1999 and served as the association’s president for eight years.

As for why he wanted to become an architect, Bristol’s logic was clear and simple from an early age.

“I loved building forts and tree houses,” Bristol said.

Bristol’s desire to create treehouses seemed to manifest itself when he designed the Children’s Pavilion in 2009. Bristol said he was inspired to create a shaded, tree-like building that would stay cool in the intense heat. The result is a 40-by-40-foot belvedere with four posts and crossbeams jutting outward at the connecting sides, with an opening at the top for ventilation.

This year, the Chewelah Arts Guild has about $1,300 to run the arts festival. $1,000 comes from the hotel/motel tax and another $300 from a Kiwanis branch in Chewelah. That money goes toward materials, setup and a salary for an art instructor. Seven artists charge $40 an hour, but most teach for only one or two hours. One of those artists is Jamie Thompson, who teaches shaving cream marbling.

Thompson considers herself a mixed-media artist and recently started working as a care coordinator at New Alliance Counseling Services. She first discovered shaving cream marble as a preschool teacher fresh out of college in Buffalo, New York.

Shaving cream marbleizing is the act of pouring a thin layer of foam shaving cream into a shallow container and then using an eyedropper to fill it with watercolor paint. A toothpick is used to create the design of choice before a piece of watercolor paper is pressed into the shaving cream. Once the design is transferred to the paper, a squeegee is used to remove any remaining shaving cream. Thompson said the final product is an intricate, colorful design that is exciting for kids and parents alike.

“It was really rewarding to see the parents get as excited about this project as their kids,” Thompson said, reflecting on last year’s arts festival. “And I think that’s when I realized it was a pretty big accomplishment.”

The Chewelah Children’s Arts Festival has about a dozen volunteers this year, including seven paid artists. In previous years, they’ve had as many as 24. Even the fire department has come in to provide hamburgers and hot dogs. So far, no food vendors have been willing to work at this year’s arts festival, but Bristol says they plan to use some of the funds to buy lots of nut mixes and bottled water.

Diane Evans is the current president of the Chewelah Arts Guild and was president for the first five years of the guild’s existence. She was approached by two separate people in 1999 to form an arts guild. Like Bristol, she admitted that she didn’t really know what she was getting into when she decided to form the arts guild, but she felt it was necessary.

“I think even back then there was some recognition that we were a community with a lot of artists and craftsmen,” Evans said. “A lot of them lived in the hills and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for expression.”

Evans, who is president of the art guild and the project and volunteer coordinator for the Walt Goodman Historical Museum in Chewelah, emphasized that the children’s art festival is all about the experience. To her, art should be essential to a child’s life.

“We don’t teach them anything,” Evans said. “We let them get their hands in shaving cream, take a ribbon and watch it blow in the wind, and turn T-shirts into little wall hangings. It’s just an experience, and it’s in the park. I mean, we have a beautiful park. You know, you’re in the grass and the trees and the creek. The creek runs through the park, it’s all very cool.”

Experimentation is key to the Chewelah Children’s Art Festival. Bristol hopes that children will feel free to create art that isn’t meant to be done in a specific mold, while making something meaningful with available materials.

With a median household income of $53,479 as of 2022, Chewelah falls well below the state average of $91,306.

Bristol said the arts festival was an opportunity for parents to give their children a day of fun and creative activities without spending money. Bristol expects around 300 children to attend, but admitted it was difficult to know the exact number because “they come in waves”.

Between raising her 2-year-old granddaughter and working as an architect, Bristol’s days and nights are busy, but she said she doesn’t want to step away from the Chewelah Children’s Arts Festival anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of organization work, but then on the day, it’s all just little faces,” Bristol said. “You know, chewing on their trunks trying to figure out how to paint a cat or something. It’s kind of a pleasure to watch.”