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Arts history

For nearly 40 years, Penn State Wilkes-Barre has hosted thousands of community members for events put on by Arts at Hayfield, a nonprofit organization that supports the arts in the community and on campus.
By: Goldie Van Horn
Arts at Hayfield, Penn State Wilkes-Barre have a long relationship of support for each other

For nearly 40 years, Penn State Wilkes-Barre has hosted thousands of community members for events put on by Arts at Hayfield, a nonprofit organization that supports the arts in the community and on campus.

While Arts at Hayfield now has the name of Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s iconic Hayfield House in its title, the arts organization’s earliest days happened away from the campus as a group called Back Mountain Arts, said Janis Winter, treasurer for Arts at Hayfield. In the early 1980s, that group was about to disband when it found a new home and name through Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“We had a very creative and ambitious campus executive officer, James Ryan, who wanted to see this group have a home and stability,” Winter recalled. “He really wanted the faculty and staff to relate to the community, and he wanted the people on campus to be people the community identified with and wanted to know.”

The new group launched in 1984 with the tentative name of Mountain Arts at Hayfield. According to a newsletter for alumni and friends of Penn State Wilkes-Barre published in 1984, “…It is composed of community members and PSU personnel interested in pursuing the interests and goals of the recently disbanded Back Mountain Cultural Center.”

“At the time, there was not even a sign directing people how to get to Penn State Wilkes-Barre. One of Jim Ryan’s goals was to have a community event at the campus every month,” Winter said. That helped increase the campus’ visibility while giving exposure to various community groups at the same time.

The newly rebranded group started off with theater performances of three one-act Chekhov plays. Other early offerings included workshops such as wreath-making for children and jewelry-making for adults and several film, comedy, music and theater events billed as the Hayfield Cultural Series in 1984 and 1985.

Winter has served as treasurer of Arts at Hayfield since the early 1990s. She became involved in the organization through her husband, Thomas Winter, who taught physics at the campus. She was first asked to help with balloons at one of the early summer festivals and then soon asked to become treasurer due to her knowledge of math. Janis Winter, who has worked as a tutor at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre Learning Center since 1988, is now the chair of the Summer Arts Festival and the Homespun Holidays Craft Show, the two major events put on by Arts at Hayfield each year.

The first Summer Arts Festival, held in 1986, had about 25 crafters and a choral group made up of almost all faculty and staff, including Janis and Thomas Winter. It also featured food vendors and tours of Hayfield House, which are still part of the festival today. The event concluded with a square dance in the campus commons.

Four years after the first summer festival, Arts at Hayfield launched its second major annual event, the Homespun Holidays Craft Show. That event is designed to provide crafters with exposure at the beginning of the holiday shopping season and to encourage residents to shop local while they browse a selection of handmade items.

For both festivals, organizers invite a variety of crafters and especially appreciate when the artisans can show the audience what they are making.

“We try to offer a good mix of skill types, especially people who can demonstrate their craft,” Winter said. “In the past, we have had woodcarving, wheat weaving, pottery and more. We like to have the emphasis on the skill involved and the commitment of people to have that skill.”

Arts at Hayfield is overseen by a board of about 15 people, including Penn State Wilkes-Barre retirees. Jonathan Pineno, lecturer of music and art, has served as president of the organization since 2019. As president, he manages the operations of Arts at Hayfield’s committees, leads the group’s meetings, oversees the Friedman Art Gallery on campus and maintains the Arts at Hayfield website and social media.

“Jonathan is incredibly creative,” Winter said. “He is a composer and a performer himself and does an excellent job at maintaining connections with our surrounding high schools and art groups.”

Both Pineno and Winter said the relationship between Penn State Wilkes-Barre and Arts at Hayfield is beneficial for both organizations.

“We have had a long history of focusing on the history of Penn State Wilkes-Barre and promoting the history of our campus. This beautiful campus and historic building are not just for the campus but for our whole area. Arts at Hayfield events give us the ability to show it off a bit,” Pineno said. “We appreciate the campus providing us with a great venue for festivals, performances, lectures and book readings.”

Winter said, “In addition to the facilities, it gives us the stability of having an address, a mailbox and a place to meet. That was especially important in our early days, since you need a certain stability to build an arts group like this.”

Arts at Hayfield requests a $2 donation for adults to attend its festivals. Children under 18 are free, as are Penn State students. The organization also sells individual, family and business memberships to help raise money. Any proceeds are put directly back into the organization and help fund scholarships for students at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. The Irene Thomas Memorial Scholarships, named after a member of the campus advisory board, are awarded annually to academically and artistically accomplished students who demonstrate their commitment to the arts by submitting a detailed application that outlines those interests. Applications are reviewed by the Arts at Hayfield scholarship committee.

As time has passed and technology has changed, Arts at Hayfield has sought to connect with people in various ways, including on social media and through video. Pineno created a YouTube channel for the organization that promotes upcoming shows and displays highlights of past events. And when the pandemic necessitated the cancellation of its annual arts shows, Arts at Hayfield used social media to continue to spotlight local crafters. For two years, the group offered a virtual craft fair on Facebook to connect crafters and the public. The Hometown Traditions Virtual Craft Fair featured posts about local crafters to help them gain exposure to potential buyers. The posts included links to the crafters’ websites and contact information for how to purchase an item.

Arts at Hayfield also provides sponsorships for WVIA as well as programs through the F.M. Kirby Center and other arts groups. Arts at Hayfield and the Back Mountain Chamber co-sponsor the NEPA Chamber Music Society’s annual concert, which will be held at Hayfield House in January.

Arts at Hayfield also helped sponsor Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s Celebration of the Arts, an event for local high school artists to display their work on campus.

“We want to support artists who live in our area and give people the opportunity to attend arts events while providing space for groups to perform in,” Winter said. “It is our goal to support crafters and provide entertainment for local residents.”

Currently, Arts at Hayfield is sponsoring the “Andrea Doria: Dive to an Era” exhibit at the Friedman Art Gallery. An opening program for the exhibit was held during the Summer Arts Festival in August and was attended by two survivors of the Andrea Doria shipwreck.

The group will also hold its 33rd Homespun Holidays Craft Show on November 5, featuring more than 100 crafters. As always, members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend the event to support local art and artists.