Festival fills Square for 25th anniversary

September 21, 2003|EMILY BURTON

"Draw near, draw near! Come be slightly amazed by Signora Bella," the woman in minstrel garb shouted above the clacking bell in her hand. "This may be your very last chance. You never know when I may drop dead."

Performing to a slightly sleepy audience Saturday morning, Signora Bella provided 18th-century Italy carnival entertainment in the midst of the log cabin landscape of Constitution Square. A new audition to the festival, Signora Bella joined the troupe of fur trappers and blacksmiths this weekend at the 25th annual Constitution Square festival.

Signora Bella was a special attraction, invited to attend the festival to enhance its emphasis on living history and to commemorate its silver anniversary. After 25 years of celebrating Kentucky's history and culture, the festival has grown from a small one day event into a craft-laden three-day carnival in the heart of Danville.

Festival organizer Brenda Willoughby took time out from solving electrical outages and finding lost performers to applaud the festival's volunteers for its success.


"It's really kind of an emotional year, because we're all so pleased to be involved. Without the volunteers and the employees, we wouldn't have survived 25 years," said Willoughby. "We enjoy doing this festival. It's a lot of work, and it takes all year to get it organized, but we all enjoy it."

Volunteers were not the only people enjoying the perfect weather at the festival. Parents and half-pints gathered among the rows of white tents, admiring the unique wears vendors had hand-crafted.

Men in tricorn hats and hosing walked by racks of hand-sewn quilts, stacks of hand-stitched brooms and rows of homemade hand lotions that were reminiscent of floral scents Grandma use to wear. Red balloons bobbed and puppy's tails wagged as the smell of cedar, cinnamon and corn-dogs drifted by.

"This is one of the best (festivals) in the state, as far as sales, the way the park is set up and the atmosphere," said Jack Cary Sr. as he watched customers browse over his rows of painted cross-cut saws.

In order to keep Kentucky crafts and culture the focus of the festival booths, Carey's crafts, as well as the other vendors, had to be approved by a festival committee.

A 10-year veteran of the festival, Cary said he plans on coming back next year.

Past Carey's tent on Fisher's Row, James Boyd helped a customer pick out the perfect wooden truck for his tot. Boyd has sold his hand-carved wooden toys at the festival since its opening day 25 years ago.

"It's been a hobby of mine for a good many years. It's kind of a self-sustaining hobby with me," said Boyd. "In 25 years, I've put what I've made into an envelope and took out whatever I spend on materials."

Boyd's festival tent holds wooden wonders parents remember playing with and children now collect. Items like pine-hewn fire trucks, trains and tractors stemmed from his own designs, his favorite being the front-end loader.

"As a child I would build a few to just play, but they were pretty rough," said Boyd. After years of building furniture, "beautiful pieces" said his daughter, Jane Boyd, his crafts now roll with ease on wooden wheels and include intricate details like removable ladders and moving parts.

Nearby, his wife, Mildred Boyd, stands aside to watch her husband.

"I mostly do the sweeping," she said with a laugh, "and I help out with a few clamps."

"It's pretty cute, these same kids come back and add to their collection," said Jane Boyd, who was visiting from California.

"They come back and say, 'I buy one every year," added his wife.

This weekend might be their last chance, warned James. At the age of 91, he is debating whether to attend the festival next year.

"This will probably be my last year," he said Friday night.

"We'll see," said Mildred the next day.

Behind her, Signora Bella had taken the stage once again, and this time to a slightly more alert audience.

"I will now attempt to stun and amaze you as I balance on this raaazzzzor-sharp, gloooobe of death!" she announced dramatically.

The enchanted crowd gasped as she juggled Turkish swords, stolen from beneath the noses of guards at a Turkish harem. After a fire-juggling grand finale, she passed a basket for donations, to be used to pay for her dowry and escape from the carnival life, or was it to buy fresh flowers for her sick mama in Italy?

"Bravo!" shouted the amused crowd, dollar bills seen in more than one hand. With a wry smile, Bella took a bow and released the audience with ... complimentary words of parting.

"May all your children be as talented and beautiful as me," she said.

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