June 2010 Issue
Chautauqua County, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, offer arts, culture and summer celebrations galore.
Christine A. Smyczynski
Less than a day’s drive from most of Ohio, Chautauqua County, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, offer a wide variety of summertime arts activities, as well as an abundance of festivals and recreational pursuits. Whether you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway or an extended summer stay, this region has plenty to choose from.
Say the word Chautauqua and some people will think of the entire county, or perhaps just the 17.5-mile-long lake. However, what comes to mind most often is the Chautauqua Institution. This well-known center for performing arts, religion, education and recreation has been attracting visitors since its founding in 1874.
More than 140,000 people converge on the 750-acre gated community during the nine-week summer season. A gate fee, which allows admission to lectures and concerts, is charged daily, except for Sunday, when admission is free. This quaint Victorian community, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, is a trip back in time, as most people get around by foot and bicycle. By design, Chautauqua offers a respite from the stresses of daily life.
Some of this summer’s highlights include an evening with political satirist Mark Russell on July 14, a performance by singer Dion on July 30 and a talk by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns on August 11.
For a complete listing of events, visit ciweb.org.
Just a few miles outside the gates of the Chautauqua Institution, the village of Mayville offers shopping, dining and water-recreation opportunities. “The Chautauqua Institution is a wonderful vacation and learning center and the businesses outside the gates enhance the visitor’s experience,” says Debi Clementi, who has lived on the grounds of the institution for more than 35 years. Her family owns the Chautauqua Marina in Mayville, where vacationers can rent a boat for a few hours, a day or even a week.
Not up to piloting your own vessel? The Chautauqua Belle, a 98-foot authentic sternwheel steamboat, offers scenic excursions along Lake Chautauqua (chautauquabelle.com). While in Mayville, be sure to check out the shopping at the Red Brick Village Shops and enjoy eating in one of the many restaurants in town.
For more details, visit mayvillechautauquachamber.org.
If you enjoy quality handmade craft items, the Crafts Alliance (craftsalliance.com
) holds two open-air art shows on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution each summer. This year’s dates are July 9–11 and Aug. 13–15. The organization was founded in 1982 by a group of Chautauqua County studio artists who wanted to develop opportunities for members to show their work. Today the shows are recognized as two of the finest juried craft shows in the country, with artists in many media — pottery, jewelry, fiber arts, woodworking, glass blowing and more — exhibiting and selling their work.
Many artists find their inspiration in the natural beauty of Chautauqua County. Artist members of the North Shore Arts Alliance (northshoreartsalliance.com
) have created the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Art Trail (chautauquaarttrail.com
), which sponsors an open studio tour each May and November. Visitors get an opportunity to see Arts Alliance members’ work as they tour the scenic countryside.
“I think most people are looking for professional-quality artwork from the region and therefore, that is our focus,” says Audrey Kay Dowling, who has operated Portage Hill Gallery in Westfield for almost 30 years. “Many of the regional artists are nationally known and some are internationally known.” The gallery, located in an 1830s Greek Revival home, features the work of more than 200 regional and national artists. Portage Hill offers lessons, both private and group, if you want to try your hand at painting.
“Especially during the summer, there is a full plate of art choices to do in Chautauqua County,” Dowling adds. “If you include all of the opportunities on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, almost all art forms are represented.”
The Institution offers numerous hands-on workshops such as photography and writing during the summer season, while across the lake in the quaint hamlet of Bemus Point, knitting and jewelry-making classes are taught at Imagine!, an arts boutique.
If you’re looking for nature-inspired art, Art in the Woods, held at the Jamestown Audubon Nature Center (jamestownaudubon.org
), located southeast of Lake Chautauqua, features more than 40 artists, both local and national, who create jewelry, paintings, photographs, pottery, pressed flowers, woodworking and ironwork, to name a few. Founded in 1992, the show, to be held this year July 17–18, benefits environmental education programs.
Erie, Pennsylvania, located about 35 miles west of Chautauqua County, is a city of that takes great pride in its multicultural heritage. “Erie is very lucky to have a wide variety of ethnic festivals during the summer months,” says Christine Pennsy, director of communications for VisitErie. “I attribute it to Erie having a big melting pot of ethnicities...”
The largest of these summer events is the Panegyri Greek Festival (July 9–11), at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, which features music, entertainment, games and authentic Greek food.
St. Paul’s Annual Italian Festival (Aug. 13–15) includes a pasta fagioli dinner, Italian baked goods, and musical entertainment. Later in August, the Zabawa Polish Summer Festival (Aug. 27–29) offers live polka music, dancing, and, of course, Polish foods like pierogi and kielbasa.
The German Heritage Festival (Sept. 4–5) is known for its live German music, along with dancing, food and children’s activities. Later in the month, the Erie Irish Festival (Sept. 17–19) includes an Irish-themed art show, as well as food and entertainment.
Other reasons to visit the Erie area over the summer include the 42nd annual Erie Festival of the Arts (June 25–27), held in Liberty Park, featuring a juried art show, children’s activities, workshops and musical performances. The Erie Art Museum’s annual Blues and Jazz Festival (Aug. 7–8), boasts national, regional, and local musicians, and draws a crowd of some 10,000 over the course of the two-day event.
“What I love about the area’s cultural scene is [organizers] tend to think outside the box and offer cool and different things to do to draw people in,” says VisitErie’s Pennsy. “For example, the Erie County Historical Society has [an] event each May called ‘Market in the Mansion.’ They take one of their buildings, the Watson-Curtze Mansion... and have a unique boutique shopping adventure inside with vendors that represent area art galleries and eclectic stores.”
For more information on events and attractions in Erie, log on to visiterie.com
One of the most picturesque places in the Erie area is Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre peninsula that is a National Natural Landmark. The park attracts more than 4 million visitors each year for its recreational activities, including swimming at its 11 beaches, as well as boating, fishing, hiking and biking.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the entrance to the park has state-of-the-art displays and interactive exhibits on Presque Isle history and ecosystems. Climb the 75-foot glass-enclosed tower for a spectacular view of Lake Erie, and visit the center’s nature shop, which displays the work of local artists, as well as books and other items pertaining to the region.
Discover Presque Isle Days (discoverpi.com
), July 23–25, is an annual fundraiser for the Presque Isle Partnership. The three-day celebration features one of the area’s largest arts and craft festivals, along with children’s activities, boat tours of the peninsula, live music and nature-inspired activities.