Reach back in your memory bank to your high school history class, and you might remember studying what The Renaissance meant for Europe. It marked a period of cultural, artistic and economic “rebirth” following the dark days of the Middle Ages.
The charming village of Roanoke, located 10 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, began celebrating its own cultural and economic rebirth in the late 1980s when the Eshelman family started a sports and entertainment insurance business, and then opened a fine-dining establishment in Roanoke’s former bank building. The once sleepy town experienced the return of businesses to Main Street and has become one of the fastest growing towns in northeast Indiana.
In 2008, area residents established the Roanoke Arts Council to enrich the cultural life of their community. The group stages events every year that draw visitors to the town, and on Oct. 9 the 14th annual Renaissance in Roanoke took place in the Huntington County community.
Ruth Marsh and Rick Fischer co-chaired the event, with assistance from community volunteers and Arts Council board members. Fischer is the owner of Deco Illusions, a Roanoke-based business that specializes in historical and decorative painting and faux finishes, celebrating its 30th year in business. He also serves as the chairperson for “Rolling Into Roanoke,” a popular summer car show. “We love our town, and this is a way to highlight it,” he said.
Marsh, who is retired, has been involved as co-chair of the event for eight years. “It’s a lot of work to stage this, but it’s also a lot of fun. Every year we have new artists, so It’s always a little different every year. It keeps things interesting,” Marsh added.
Renaissance in Roanoke highlights included an outdoor juried art fair featuring the work of regional artists in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, painting, ceramics, woodworking and photography.
Sunday Mahaja from Goshen displayed his sculptures made from metals. A large peacock sculpture caught the eye of many shoppers. “I started exploring sculpture in my senior year at Goshen College, where I was an art major,” said Mahaja. “I use all upcycled materials in my work.”
Painter and mixed-medium artist Beth Hawkins of Here’s My hART Studio in Hoagland displayed her vibrant paintings of flowers and animals. “This is my fifth year at Renaissance in Roanoke,” said Hawkins. “It’s my last show of the season, and there’s always a nice crowd and a nice group of people to work with.”
Valerie McBride, a mixed-media artist from Grabill, displayed her intricate quilling, paper crafting and beaded painting work. “I can spend over 100 hours on one of my intricate beaded paintings,” said McBride. For over 30 years, the self-taught artisan has taken her artwork to fine art fairs around the Midwest.
Twelve artists competed in an “en plein air” painting competition, painting outdoors in a timed competition. Volunteer Denise Selzer Miller coordinated the check-in for painters, which included artists Kim Lanoue, Heidi Malott and Jeffrey Baumgartner. Baumgartner, from JB Artworks, is a Fort Wayne native and Bishop Luers High School graduate who now resides in Michigan City, where he works as an actor, theater manager and director. With COVID temporarily closing the theater, Baumgartner has spent the past year traveling the country in “VanGo,” his mobile painting studio. Baumgartner began painting in 2005 after playing artist Vincent Van Gogh in a one-man stage show. He was newly returned from a painting trip down the East Coast and in the northern Adirondacks of New England, where he painted the colors of fall “en plein air.” He painted the beautiful flower baskets and Main Street of Roanoke, unperturbed by the many questions and spectators that gathered around to watch him work.
A farmer’s market with seasonal pumpkins, mums, squash and other vegetables, and vendors selling homemade cakes, cookies and pies enticed shoppers looking for a taste of fall. Cheryl Petrie of Olde Farmhouse Baked Goodies in Fort Wayne stocked her booth’s ample display of scratch-made cookies, bread pudding, carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and apple-themed treats that she makes in her home. “I made over 700 items this week for sale today at Renaissance in Roanoke,” said Petrie. Her husband, John, was working the couple’s other booth at the YLNI Farmers Market in Fort Wayne. “I baked from around 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. almost every day this week,” said Petrie. “People always seem to love our treats when we come to Roanoke.”
The juried craft fair featured quilts, jewelry, candles, floral arrangements, signs and home décor items available for purchase from local artisans. The craft items had to be handmade by the vendors. Kim Park and her daughter, Ashton Ousley, worked as a team in their booth featuring Ashton’s handmade leather and metal jewelry and Kim’s handsewn quilted items. “We live in Markle, and we’ve been doing this for the last three years,” said Ashton. “We’ve had a blast doing it.”
Beth Wright from Studio Bethsham in Fort Wayne sold her concrete pumpkins and concrete based soy scented candles. This was her first time at Renaissance in Roanoke. “I was researching how to make concrete countertops on Pinterest,” said Wright. “I came across how to make concrete candle holders. I started experimenting, and here I am.” Now retired, Wright has been a full-time crafter for a year, selling her wares at fairs and festivals.
Renaissance in Roanoke enjoyed a day of near-perfect fall weather, following a week of rainy days. Musician Joe Justice provided background music for the event, and a variety of food trucks and booths provided refreshments, in addition to Roanoke’s favorite dining establishments. For more information on Renaissance in Roanoke and the Roanoke Arts Council, visit their website at renaissanceinroanoke.org.