Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

It’s a community affair: Chewelah’s Children’s Art Festival provides day of fun-filled creativity

Tom Bristol, an architect, sits June 28 at the Children’s Pavilion he designed in Chewelah City Park in Chewelah.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Mathew Callaghan The Spokesman-Review

Nestled about 45 miles north of Spokane, Chewelah has been known as “a rough and tumble mining town” since the mid-1880s. But some members of this town of 2,500 have been working for the last 25 years to morph Chewelah from the shell of an industrial powerhouse that once produced the most magnesite in the country during WWI into an imaginative and artistic community.

So far, they’ve done pretty well, and the Chewelah Arts Guild’s next big event is rapidly approaching.

On Saturday, July 13, the Chewelah Children’s Art Festival is set to return for a day full of easel painting, weaving, collaging, Shakespearean theater, shaving cream marbling and much more. The event starts at 9 a.m. and lasts until 4 p.m. at the Children’s Pavilion in the northeast corner of the Chewelah City Park. It’s completely free for kids, all the way from 3-year-olds to middle-schoolers.

Weaving and easel painting are available all day, while other activities like painting gourds, “Zentangle,” and “Rain Sticks” occur at specific times in the day. At 4 p.m., a production of Shakespeare in the Park’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will showcase as the arts and crafts options draw to a close.

The Chewelah Children’s Art Festival first began during Chataqua, a four-day community event that lasted for over 40 years and had thousands of attendees flocking to it during hot July summers. From carnival rides to food vendors to local artists displaying their work, Chataqua had it all. That was at least until COVID-19 came and the group that put it on, Community Celebrations, didn’t have the manpower or energy to keep the tradition alive.

With the death of Chataqua, the Chewelah Arts Guild members knew they were going to have to turn the children’s art festival into its own thing.

“If you live in a community, you got a couple of choices: ignore it or make things happen to change it in a direction that you like,” Tom Bristol said. “I’ve always been interested in creativity and exemplary events and opportunities.”

Bristol, 75, is in charge of the organization and planning of the children’s art festival. He’s also a local architect that’s designed and consulted on multiple projects in the area, including turning the old armory into the Chewelah Center for the Arts.

Bristol joined the Chewelah Arts Guild not long after it was formed in 1999 and was its president for eight years.

As for why he wanted to be an architect, Bristol’s reasoning was plain and simple from an early age.

“I liked making forts and treehouses,” Bristol said.

Bristol’s desire to create tree houses seemed to show when he designed the Children’s Pavilion in 2009. Bristol said he was inspired to create a canopy, tree-like building that could stay cool during intense heat. The end result was a 40-by-40-foot belvedere with four posts and cross beams jettisoning out in connecting directions with an opening at the top for ventilation.

This year, the Chewelah Arts Guild has around $1,300 to successfully orchestrate the arts festival. A thousand dollars comes from hotel/motel tax and another $300 comes from a Kiwanis branch in Chewelah. This money goes to supplies, set up and art instructor pay. Seven artists get $40 an hour, though most only teach for an hour or two. One of those artists, teaching shaving cream marbling, is Jamie Thompson.

Thompson considers herself a mixed media artist and recently started a job as a care coordinator at New Alliance Counseling Services. She first discovered shaving cream marbling as a preschool teacher fresh out of college in Buffalo, New York.

Shaving cream marbling is the action of putting a thin layer of foam shaving cream into a shallow container and then using eye droppers to fill it in with watercolor. A toothpick is used to create the preferred design before a piece of watercolor paper is pressed down into the shaving cream. Once the design has transferred to the paper, a squeegee is used to get rid of the remaining shaving cream. Thompson said the final product is an intricate, colorful design that’s exciting for kids and parents, too.

“Seeing the parents getting as excited as their kids with this project was really rewarding,” Thompson said, reflecting on last year’s art festival. “And I think that’s when I knew that it was a pretty big success.”

The Chewelah Children’s Art Festival has about a dozen volunteers this year, including the seven paid artists. In previous years, they had as many as 24 volunteers. The fire department even came out to provide hamburgers and hot dogs. So far, no food vendors have been willing to work at this year’s art festival, though Bristol says they plan to use some funds on purchasing lots of trail mix and bottled water.

Diane Evans is the current president of the Chewelah Arts Guild and was president for the first five years of the guild’s existence. She was asked by two separate people in 1999 to form an arts guild. She, like Bristol, admitted she didn’t really know what she was getting into when she decided to create the art guild, but felt it was necessary.

“Even back then, I think there was some recognition that we were a community that had a lot of artists and craftspeople,” Evans said. “Lots of them lived in the hills and there wasn’t much opportunity for expression.”

Along with being president of the arts guild, Evans is also the project and volunteer coordinator for the Walt Goodman Historical Museum in Chewelah. She stressed that the children’s art festival is purely about experience. Art, in her estimation, should be mandatory for a child’s life.

“We’re not teaching them anything,” Evans said. “We’re letting them get their hands in shaving cream, letting them get a ribbon and see the ribbon fly in the wind, and weave T-shirts into little wall hangings. It’s just an experience and it’s in the park. I mean, we have a beautiful park. You know, you’re among the grass and the trees and the creek. The creek runs through the park, it’s just all so great.”

Experience is the keyword for the Chewelah Children’s Art Festival. Bristol hopes that kids will make something meaningful with the available materials while still feeling like they have the freedom to create a piece of art that’s not meant to be made within a certain mold.

With a median household income of $53,479, Chewelah falls far below the state average that stood at $91,306, as of 2022.

Bristol said that the art festival is an opportunity for parents to provide their kids with a day full of fun, creative activities without having to spend any money. Bristol expects there to be around 300 kids in attendance, although he admits it’s difficult to know the exact number as they “come in waves.”

Between raising his 2-year-old granddaughter and working as an architect, Bristol’s days and nights stay pretty busy. Still, Bristol said he has no desire to step away from the Chewelah Children’s Art Festival any time soon.

“It’s a lot of organizational work, but then the day of it, it’s just all their little faces,” Bristol said. “You know, they’re chewing their trunk trying to figure out how to paint a cat or something. It’s just kind of a pleasure to watch.”