In 1974, three artists were searching for a place to exhibit their latest creations.
After some thought, they decided to display their work in their local, fairytale-like Mount Gretna forest. They shared the news about the exhibit with friends and family members, so, when the show date finally came, they only expected a few familiar faces. The artists were shocked to see hundreds of people show up to the serene borough in Lebanon County.
“It sounds just like Woodstock—they had no idea that so many people would show up,” said Linda Bell, the previous director of the show. “Then the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, which is a cultural organization, took over the art show, and it has grown.”
Today, the 45th annual Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show, held each August, has grown to host 260 artists from around the state and the country. The show also now includes live entertainment, gourmet food vendors and a kids’ art show.
“It is a national show tucked into our little mountain community,” said current director Kerry Royer.
Artists will display and sell handmade artwork in 16 categories, including two- and three-dimensional forms such as pottery, printmaking, wood and painting. As part of the juried show, judges will rank the art within the various categories. However, it’s not easy to snag a spot, as the judges select only a handful of applicants to participate.
Potter Pam Cummings, who will participate for her 21st straight year, said that Mount Gretna is one of her favorite shows and that she’s grateful and surprised that she’s gotten a spot for the past two decades.
“It’s put on by a group of volunteers who really appreciate and support the arts,” Cummings said. “They’re really friendly to us during the show, but they also promote the arts throughout the year and in doing that, they really reach a wide audience of craft and art appreciators.”
One of the original artists, Frederick Swarr, has participated consecutively for the past 14 years. He does acrylic mixed media pieces, painting famous musicians over their sheet music. Swarr, a retired art teacher and designer, said that the show has grown significantly since its 1974 debut.
“The first year, they had a couple pieces of snow fence that they put in the ground, and you pulled up with your stuff in your car and hung your artwork on the snow fence,” he said. “It’s really evolved nicely over the years.”
This year’s food lineup includes six gourmet food vendors and local restaurants, including the Hershey Pantry, Porch and Pantry and the Jigger Shop. New this year in the Hall of Philosophy is Mount Gretna Craft Brewery, which will provide a glimpse into the artistry of food with demonstrations on the making of craft beer, and Red Canoe General Store coffee.
Seven bands and artists will hold stage performances. New this year is the Mountain Road Band, which will perform in the Mount Gretna Playhouse. Other performers include Don Johnson, the Carmitchell Sisters and the Jayplayers.
Additionally, two street performers will be at the show, including Trist’N Shout Balloons, a mother-daughter balloon-artist duo that has performed at the White House three times.
The Kids’ Art Show will be held both days of the show on the Chautauqua playground. It will include face painters, a magician, caricature artists and a craft stand. Joyful Vibrations of York will lead drum circles for the kids.
“We’re really proud of the Kids’ Art Show,” Royer said. “The purpose of the Chautauqua is to promote the arts, and so this is an opportunity for children to get involved. They can create their art and sell it at their own vendor stand.”
The show also features an emerging artists section, in which the judges select 10 applicants to receive a space in the show free of charge.
“These artists range from somebody just out of art school who’s thinking about being an exhibiting artist to a senior citizen who’s now retired, and they would like to get into art,” Bell said.
Proceeds from admissions will be used to fund other Mount Gretna community programs and cultural events, many of which are free of charge.
In addition to the art and entertainment, attendees also come to the show to enjoy the scenery.
“It’s a beautiful setting,” Cummings said. “A lot of it is under trees, and it’s really a magical little gem of a place. So, people get inspired.”
Bell, who was the director of the show for 20 years before Royer took over, said that she is excited to see the show grow each year.
“It’s a way for us to promote the arts,” she said. “We’ve changed by getting food that’s actually worth coming here for, more entertainment, more things for children. We’ve just expanded everything.”
The 45th annual Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show runs Saturday, Aug. 17, and Sunday, Aug. 18, at the Chautauqua section of Mount Gretna. Admission is $12 for adults and free of charge for children under 12. There’s a $2 discount with an Art Show postcard. For more information, visit www.mtgretnaarts.com.