This past Friday night brought a thunderstorm with a lightning show that rained throughout the night. When the sunrise of the morning shed light on Simpson Park, it was just dry enough to welcome the 32nd annual Chautauqua in the Park.
By JAY SAUCEDO / Contributing Writer
This past Friday night brought a thunderstorm with a lightning show that rained throughout the night. When the sunrise of the morning shed light on Simpson Park, it was just dry enough to welcome the 32nd annual Chautauqua in the Park. What began as a small craft show 32 years ago has become a largely attended festivity that brings an estimated 8,000 people to the event. “It started out small”, said Crystal Narr, executive director of the Chillicothe Area Chamber of Commerce, “…only the last 15 years have been like this.” The event can be more accurately measured by the vendors it attracts. The event has attracted more and more vendors every year and 2016 proved that trend gaining nine more vendors than the year before. “We had 126 vendors go through the application process this year and then we even had to process one that showed up at the gates…”, said Narr, “So, this year we had 127 vendor booths, and 25 traditional arts exhibits and that doesn’t even include the food court area.” Chautauqua event logistics is managed by the Chillicothe Area Chamber of Commerce, but vendors, exhibits and entertainment are decided by the Chillicothe Arts Council. “Chautauqua is a juried event,” said arts council director, Mary Lou VanDeventer, “meaning all vendor applicants must meet a certain criteria to be able to enter a vendor booth”. There are four jurors who examine the applicant’s product, and then as long as the criteria is met, that vendor is allowed in to Chautauqua. The main criteria is that any product must be hand-crafted by the individual or group. There are no mass produced or manufactured products allowed to have a booth at Chautauqua. One of those vendors is Barbara Lee of Princeton, with Creekstone Wild Bird Castles, the 2016 Best in Show Award winner. “Bird houses with bling”, says Lee, who builds one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted bird houses. She’s built about 900 fully functional bird houses, but they are rarely used as such. “They are treated more as art," said Lee. “People seem to use them more for decoration." The bird houses are made of creek stones and themed with other decorative parts, and built to stand up to weather and outdoors. According to Lee, Home Depot put in a request for a 25,000-piece order that was declined. “If I did that, it would become work for me,” she said. “I want to continue to enjoy making them… I guess it’s become art for me, too.” People’s Choice Award winner, Ma-Ma Jane's Creations, makes 50 different dry mixes that you can add to any dish, to flavor it. Jane Walgren, a retired teacher, started the company to help developmentally disabled women. At one point, the women needed help and Mrs. Walgren had a decision to make at home that seemed to marry an opportunity. "My husband asked what are you going to do with all those herbs,” Walgren said, knowing the situation of the women she wanted to help,”... and I said, ‘Let's put this into action and give them a purpose.” While providing for the disabled women, the company has now grown over the past eight years. Ma-Ma Jane's Creations are now sold in about 25 stores across the Midwest and have sold about 18,000 bags so far this year. You can find Ma-Ma Jane's Creations sold at the Martin House, here in Chillicothe. Another exhibit was the traditional arts area at Chautauqua, where attendees could find booths for wood carving, basketry, spinning, knitting, felting, weaving, pottery, paper making and blacksmithing. The Missouri Dulcimer Co., provided a presentation about how the instruments are built, and even played a little for the crowd. The lost art of story telling reminded attendees of a time before video games and electronics. The traditional arts area provided a display of how these things used to be produced and the craftsmanship that was required to make them. The children’s activity area had plenty to do, from carnival games and rides, to bounce houses with many themes. The petting zoo is always great because it allows smaller children the opportunity to interact with animals in a controlled environment. Events of this magnitude don’t go on without great entertainment. All of the entertainment for the Chautauqua was provided through the Chillicothe Area Arts Council. Eleven entertainers performed throughout the Chautauqua weekend, playing and singing songs from all ages and genres. The band "Gold Rush", kept your feet moving to the beat. While the Morton Sisters brought the 1940's big band spirit with their a cappella group.