Manayunk unveils first public art project at arts festival

Amid the tents full of vintage mirrors, colorful glasswork, unique birdhouses ,and jewelry made out of old typewriter keys, the Manayunk Arts Festival also features a gallery of statements about the character and culture of the neighborhood.

The 30 mural panels temporarily installed on walls around Manayunk are part of the “Look Long & Look Good” roving gallery created by Mat Tomezsko as a public art project. 

The exhibit comes to Manayunk through the city’s Mural Arts Program, in collaboration with the Manayunk Special Services District and the Manayunk Development Corporation.

The organizations chose this weekend’s 22nd annual Manayunk Arts Festival to unveil the artwork. They were also hoping to launch another public art project, street medallions to appear at select intersections, but the timing didn’t work out. The new plan is to unveil that at the Manayunk Eco-Arts Festival in September.

An arch as inspiration

The murals, which are scattered along Main Street and the canal, depict people of all ages surrounded by abstract backgrounds splashed with color.

“The main inspiration was the arch from the [Manayunk] bridge which you can see from anywhere in Manayunk, and when you go down to the canal, the arch is represented in a full circle,” Tomezsko said. “So, I kind of started playing with that in the backgrounds.”

Some of the portrait subjects are people Tomezsko met on the streets of Manayunk, while others were painted from historic photos of both prominent and everyday Philadelphians.

Tomezsko says he was excited to start working in street art and has spent the past nine weeks immersing himself in the Manayunk-themed project. But, he says, there were some risks to working in public that he hadn’t anticipated.  

“I actually just walked by one of my paintings and saw a big loogie on it, so people are already messing with them,” he said, but added that it’s just one form of critique. He said it’s better than creating artwork for a museum where people have pre-packaged reactions to pieces. On the street, he says, people are able to have a real reaction to his work.

“That’s worth people spitting on my paintings,” he joked.

Fun with a purpose

Tomezsko is one of more than 260 artists from across 24 states selected to participate in this year’s arts festival, which organizers boast as the largest juried outdoor arts and crafts festival in the region.

“The arts festival starting 22 years ago probably helped put Manayunk on the map,” said Joan Denenberg, consultant and head of business attraction and recruitment for the Manayunk Development Corporation. “We pull people from all over the tri-state area and of all ages, whether you’re a a 70-year-old art collector or a 25-year-old just getting an apartment and looking for something to hang on your wall.”

Denenberg, along with other MDC staffers, was out on Main Street at 5 a.m. this morning helping to set up the big white tents and get vendors settled for the 11 a.m. event opening.

“Craft is a passion and it goes along with what Manayunk is; people are passionate about Manayunk,” she said.

The event showcased a variety of work including ceramics, woodwork, paintings, jewelry, sculptures, glasswork and all types of “crushable” and decorative hats.

“Mona the Madhatter” has been a vendor at the Manayunk Arts Festival for about seven years and a skilled milliner for 15 years.

Her tent was filled with hats for all occasions made with hand-dyed fabrics and trims, some came with feathers for a fancy occasion while others kept it simple with a ribbon or a bow.

For her, the festival is a chance to give extra life and exposure to handmade hat work, which she calls “a lost art.”

Festival continues Sunday

Thousands of visitors flocked to Main Street on Saturday to browse the varied offerings and check out the scene, while indulging in some of the ice cream and beer samples along the way.

Organizers expect about 200,000 visitors to attend the event through the weekend. Art enthusiasts who missed the first day of the festival still have plenty of time to check it out on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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