A Colorful Tradition

Brandywine Arts Festival returns for 60th year

The Brandywine Festival of the Arts has always been cause for celebration — a change of seasons, the brightness of art in multiple media — and this year a post-pandemic rejuvenation for its 60th anniversary.

For a single admission fee of $5, guests can enjoy the Festival Saturday and Sunday.

“Always the weekend after Labor Day,” Festival producer Barry Schlecker likes to say as he promotes what has grown from a one-day fair with two-dimensional art and a bull roast in downtown Wilmington into the state’s largest two-day cultural event.

Returning Sept. 11-12 to the scenic Josephine Gardens in Brandywine Park after a pandemic-induced hiatus, the festival includes exhibits by about 200 artists in an array of media, including painting, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, woodworking, fabric and photography. And there’s more — face-painting and other activities for kids, animal adoption opportunities, and a food court featuring a diverse array of local restaurateurs and food trucks as well as beer and wine.

Among the headliners this year will be painter Sandy Askey-Adams, known for the warmth and serenity of her pastels, who Schlecker has designated as the festival’s featured artist.

Askey-Adams, from Bucks County, Pa., has been exhibiting at the festival since 1982, missing only one year because of an illness. “I like the people who run the festival. They understand the artist, and the people who come to the festival appreciate the art. It’s a happy crowd,” she says.

It’s also a big one — with the festival typically drawing about 15,000 visitors over the weekend. One reason for its popularity is its two-days-for-the-price-of-one admissions policy. “Come on Saturday to browse and come back Sunday to buy,” Schlecker says, all for a single $5 admission.

He’s adding one more enticement this year. Groups of 10 or more — perhaps intent on having a reunion or family party — can buy tickets in advance for $4 each and reserve special picnic-table seating for their special event.

Over the years, the festival has built a reputation as one of the best in the region and one of the top 100 in the country.

“I can’t believe how much it has grown,” Askey-Adams says, recalling earlier years when exhibitors hung their works on snow fencing rather than under tents.

Schlecker took over running the event in 2010, tweaking its original name, the Brandywine Arts Festival, after its former operators ran into management and financial troubles.

Jewelry maker Olga Ganoudis, painter Larry Anderson and the late Mitch Lyons, a potter and printmaker, approached him after the former organization fell apart and asked him to put it back together again, Schlecker says. Schlecker, who had previously run a film festival in Newark and would later revive the ice cream festival at Rockwood Park, was developing a reputation as a “festival fixer” and promptly accepted the challenge.

He raised standards — requiring artists to sell only their own work, so there won’t be any resale or mass-manufactured items at the show.

Not only is the event a crowd-pleaser but it is also a significant source of revenue for its exhibitors.

Anderson and Askey-Adams say shoppers they’ve met at the festival contact them to make purchases during the year. Ganoudis and Claymont painter Rick Phillips have told Schlecker that their early successes at the festival convinced them to concentrate on their art fulltime.

“I’ve met people when they were getting married. I’ve watched their families grow up. I see many of the same people year after year,” Askey-Adams says.

While the festival has attracted artists from as far away as Texas and California, most of the exhibitors are from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Some of the more familiar names who will be displaying their works this year include Eric Zippe, Colleen Zufelt, Beth Palser, Greg Losco and Karen Trimble.

There will be some newcomers too. At least 30 of this year’s exhibitors are emerging artists — young professionals who are new to the festival or who have exhibited for fewer than three years, Schlecker says.

The festival’s timing makes it appealing to visitors for many reasons.

“Its a great opportunity to fill your home — or your yard or your jewelry box — with a tremendous selection of original art,” Schlecker says. “And it’s also a great place to find special items for so many names on your holiday gift list.”

— Festival hours are 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday, Sept. 11, and 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday, Sept. 12. Admission is $5 for both days; children under 12 accompanied by an adult are admitted free. Dogs on leashes are always welcome. Parking will be available at Salesianum School and Abessinio Stadium, with shuttle buses transporting visitors to the festival grounds. For more information, visit BrandywineArts.com