Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonlighting at Ephrata Unexpected

Ephrata Unexpected was certainly an appropriate title for the multicultural event that occurred last night at the small, restored train station on Main Street in Ephrata, PA. There were stunning qualities about this affair, which was designed to benefit The Ephrata Public Library (one of our local crown jewels) and Downtown Ephrata Inc. (a Pennsylvania Main Street program). Who would have thought that in a small town nestled in Amish country, foods from Ethiopia, Latin America, and the Caribbean would be served up by friendly vendors alongside vinters and mead brewers, artisans and craftsmen? Modern vegetarian cuisine was well represented across the courtyard space. Native American and Mariachi music played out into a balmy October evening, a roaming fiddle player wandered about the crowd and the event concluded with a drum circle set up by the Earth Rhythms shop (which is located near Reading). Whoever thinks you need to be in a big city to live a cultured life or experience a diversity of cultures is mistaken. Our library staff deserves a lot of credit for making this wonderful event happen. 

The food vendors (all local or from near-by vicinities) who participated in this event offered delicious and diverse fare. Attendees could treat themselves to foods from: Aromas Del Sur, an Ephrata family business that specializes in Columbian fare; Awash Ethiopian Cuisine, located in Lancaster; Caribbean Cuisine Catering, a business that came in from Pottsville, Garofalo's Calabria, an Italian eatery located at the Green Dragon in Ephrata; Isabelle Cuisine, featuring West African cuisine and located in Ephrata; Javateas, a gourmet coffee café, also located in Ephrata; Meduseld Meadery, Handcrafted Mead produced from local honey, located in Lancaster; Root, and all vegan restaurant locate in Lancaster; The Stroopie Company Inc., a Lancaster based company that makes a specialty Dutch treat of a cinnamon waffle cookie with caramel filling; Ten Thousand Villages, located in Ephrata this store features fair trade products and ethnic fare in their café; Three Sisters Park, a Khmer-Thai restaurant located in Ephrata; Upohar, featuring Ethnic Cuisine and located in Lancaster; Weathered Vineyards, Wine sourced from Lehigh Valley grapes but hosted at The Historic Smithton Inn in Ephrata, for local wine tasting; and St. Boniface Brewery, Ephrata's local micro-brewery. With so many delicious options, we had full bellies by the end of the evening!

Please do click on each of the small photos above to view them at full size and to check out our varied vendors! I know I missed getting photos of some of the stands, but this gives one a fairly good sampling of what was present. I was most impressed by the Stroopies business. The woman you see in the photo of The Stroopie Co. stand is the owner of this business. Aside from creating a delicious and unique product, she uses her business to provide meaningful employment to the refugees that resettle in the Lancaster area. Each year, this area takes in about 1000 refugees. This woman is providing a valuable service as well as a fantastic product. You can try Stroopies from wherever you live, as she does take mail-orders. And shipping is free with orders of $30 or more. Visit for more info.

Sadly, it was not all cookies and cream for me... Attendees participated in a contest to create the most spectacular settings for their tables (including tablecloths, place settings and centerpieces). This is where my latest creative effort came into play and which, in the end, was a source of great disappointment. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. 

I’m no stranger to art competitions in all their forms. There is almost always someone who produces something that makes your head spin even when you think you’ve got something special. I didn’t think it would be any different as we drove into town last night, but once we arrived, I was surprised. Even a quick glance at the settings made it clear that, whatever degree of curb appeal they had, most were made primarily of store bought items that required minimal effort to asemble. Anyone with a decent eye could have done as much. Now, I should say that I have no problem taking a loss. It happens more often than not, and usually I can see why. But this was Ephrata Unexpected. Incredibly, the judges chose one of those store bought assemblies over our table, which was dressed in a hand sewn fitted table cloth, runner and handmade folded (star shaped) napkins to match our theme, this was topped with examples of my polymer work. The flatware was glossed in gold, also by hand. Our presentation suffered a bit since the glow of our centerpiece didn’t come to full life until both the daylight  and the judging were done. The look of a candle or lamp can be anticipated, but not the backlit glass and clay moon in the center of our space. Still without the drama of the lighting at full bloom, it was easily as well designed as any of the other colorful displays. As the evening progressed, several attendees stopped to share good will and a lot of "oohs and ahhs." We made some new friends and ran into some old ones. Even one of the judges came to share condolences after her lobbying effort failed to sway her male counterparts away from the winning choice, a Morrocan-themed table. Ironically, I have the same lamps that this table included as its anchors, and I had thought about doing something similar. It was very nice, fitting neatly into the multicultural backdrop. But it was less created than merely constructed.  There were 2 other tables that earned much more of my respect. One had hand carved wooden plates and bowls, accented by gourds filled with beans in a creative three sisters theme. It wasn't flashy or grand, but it took some serious skill to make those pieces. The second table that I thought had merit for handmade talent and engineering was one that incorporated painted and carved pumpkins and an overhead lighting display.  

If they do this again next year, and I hope they do, I might think twice about investing any time in details that may not be appreciated. Such things are never lost on artists and craftsmen, but it's a roulette wheel when other groups judge creative work. So call it sour grapes if you wish. There are times when you just have to say it like it is, and with a thousand dollar prize at stake, this wasn't just Ephrata, it was a tragedy unexpected. 

Again, please do click on the above photos from the event to see them at full size. 
See below for pictures and techniques used in my table setting, including the crescent moon and glassware.

The above 2 photos are of my table setting in the evening. There is a daylight shot of my table at the top of the set of photos from the event tables. Below are more views that were taken at home:

So, more about my theme...  I had a couple of different ideas and I sketched all of them out and discussed them with my hubby, since he was a part of the event too. We decided on a night theme featuring navy and gold stars and a crescent moon centerpiece. I entitled the theme "Goodnight Sweetheart", as our table was to be a table for two (or as some call it, a sweetheart table). The first thing I did was to create the table cloth, which was fitted to the table size (a card table size). The overall color of the table cloth was navy, but it had corner panels underneath of a gold cloth, so that if the wind would blow, the gold corner would peek through. Next I made the folded and shaped napkins. One side of these is a gold fabric and the other side is the same navy fabric from the table cloth. I folded these in origami fashion to form a star shape in keeping with the theme.

The next item I tackled was the center piece. Serendipity would have me find a perfect, large, lentil shaped glass bowl on which to build my half-moon centerpiece. It would prove difficult to find a stand to support the moon, but I came up with the idea of using a napkin holder which I had planned to bend into the shape I wanted. Originally I was going to just paint the napkin holder with gold spray paint, but when I bent it into the V-shape that I needed, the one side broke clean off. Never one to give up easily... plan "B" saw me wiring the broken piece onto the base and covering the entire piece with polymer which was then treated to a stippled texture. I had to include a little "seat" to ensure that the moon would be stable when sitting in the stand. Curing this piece was quite challenging, as the glass bowl meant for the moon needed to stand upright so that the stand could cure while hanging over the top of it in place, to keep the proper form of the V shape. With the glass bowl balanced inside a pan filled with marbles, this curing was a nerve racking couple of hours, as I hoped that nothing would make the glass bowl suddenly slip and tip over. Luckily all survived intact! As a final touch, the entire stand was covered in a transparent gold glitter to help refract the light. Here are shots of the stand by itself:

Then it came time to create my half moon on the lentil bowl. I extruded stacks of layered polymer in transparent silver glitter, transparent, white, white pearl, and 18K gold. The extruded strands were then wound in circular spirals and placed next to each other. The gaps were filled with smaller spirals or strands to fill the shapes and in the small spaces I added pearls. With translucent polymer I sculpted a star on the upper area where the ends of the crescent moon meet, and this was covered with an extruded blend of 18K gold and gold polymer. The sculpting of this star wasn't too difficult, the difficulty came from adding support so that the protruding piece of the star wouldn't break due to gravity. Once again, the curing gods were on my side, and the entire piece came out unscathed.  After curing, I added the battery operated lights. I wanted more of the light to shine in the upper parts of the moon and wanted one light under the star, so I caulked the lights into place with silicone, since my double-stick tape was refusing to hold.  I was absolutely tickled with the results of this piece:

The next piece of the puzzle saw me creating a set of utensils, covering them with extruded strands of blue polymer (infused with silver glitter)  in a blue hue that I blended to match the glassware, this blue layer was then inlaid with gold stars. After I had spent hours creating this set, my hubby came home from work and decidedly hated the look of these with the moon (and the moon was a certain keeper)... so another plan "B" was hashed, to find a set of cheap flatware in gold. None of the thrift stores around me had gold flatware sets and with only 2 days to showtime, plan "C" was enacted. I purchased a silver set and taped off the parts that would come in contact with food, and proceeded to paint the handles of each in gold chrome paint.  (you can see the flatware in the photos of the entire setting above).

I needed to embellish the glasses to set them apart from the navy table cloth, so I added some gold and 18K gold polymer in the shape of stars in various sizes. Final touches were the addition of floating gold candles in glasses filled with water and blue glass pebbles in the bottom. I tossed a bunch of glittered gold star ornaments that I had purchased (but glued them in place to look like jacks) around the floating candle pieces. As a last addition, which pulled the entire setting together, I added a shimmery gold fabric table runner down the center of the table. All of these details can be seen in photos above.

There was a first iteration of the table setting with pieces I put together, but which didn't make the final cut... here's a photo with that polymer handled flatware mentioned above, along with some other accent pieces that weren't used. My hubby's minimalist eye and input helped to push me to find new pieces that would pull the entire setting into a more cohesive and elegant design. Ours was a heated discussion that night, but as always, he's usually right about these things and I ended up much happier with the final version. Here's a peek at that first (rejected) iteration:

Finally, I had a little time left to focus on myself, and yep, I had to go there... I made a necklace to match my theme.

And oh yeah, when I (last minute) discovered an LED battery operated halloween bracelet and the gears went turning.... Literally, I added this light just hours before we had to be at the event. I'm not sure I'm going to keep the light as I'm not in love with it. But, it was a fun addition to mimic the centerpiece. When a person commented on my necklace, I would flick the switch and show them that it too lit up... this was always met with an additional "OOOh!". 

So, despite losing the contest and the generous cash prize, with all of the disappointment that stems from that, I have to say that I am totally in love with this creation. Perhaps my bias (and the weeks of work and late-nighters) is preventing me from being as gracious about the contest as I ought to be... and if that's the case, my sincere apologies to my readers. But my husband and others have expressed the same (if not greater) disappointment in the judges choices, which supports me in my analysis that when given the judging task, not all people will appreciate the handmade artisan details. 

I'm not certain what will become of all of these pieces, at this point I'm quite attached to the moon centerpiece and am thinking of keeping it in my private collection. If I stumble upon another serendipitous moon shaped bowl, I might just recreate the piece for selling since I adore it so. 

As always, I welcome any comments, opinions and questions that readers of my blog might have. Please leave them for me below!! 


  1. Wow! Beth, I'd give you the prize! I think I'd be disappointed too. But you can be proud of your efforts and results. The learning that happened throughout the process is a prize onto itself. Having said that, I'd be perturbed too. In a world where people believe that everything comes from a Walmart, it is frustrating to compete. Bravo for having the courage. In all, it sounds like you had a nice evening. And not everyone gets what we do. You and your hubby did a great job. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks, Line, for your thoughtful and supportive comments... it means so much!!

  2. I totally understand your disappointment in the outcome of the contest. This was a fabulous table and the centerpiece is gorgeous on its own. Hold on to it and enter it in other contests where people can really appreciate the hard work that went in to it. I'm thinking about the Fire Mountain creative clay contest and the IPCA competitions.

    1. Thank you, Mags, for your kind comments and suggestions! I will have to keep those ideas in mind! I thought of you when I saw the St. Boniface brewery... they might be another option for you to sell your hops themed pieces. If you want the contact info for them, let me know and I'll get it to you!

  3. I am beyond stunned at your entire table! I totally agree with Mags - keep entering it. It's a definite winner.

    As you've said - some people should not be judges. I always question what qualifies them as a judge in the first place and the answers usually are - nothing.

    This entire table is a winner. It's the judges that have lost here.

    I hope you don't mind that I have shared this with others. I think the event is one that can be used as a model for other small communities.

    1. Hi aims, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog post! Your comments are very kind and so appreciated. The judges were representatives of the company that sponsored the generous prize... now that 2 weeks has passed since the event, I have softened a bit on the whole experience. Of course the judges were entitled to choose who they liked, though to some it may seem absurd that unique artistry lost over what one of my friends described as "something you'd see in a Martha Stewart magazine, and which anyone could do". But in hindsight, perhaps it's a good thing that a table that was constructed of store-bought items won over my hand-crafted table, in the sense that this wasn't meant to be a contest for artists, it was a community affair and anyone could potentially win. At least these are the thoughts that are running through my head now that I've had some time to lick my wounds. ;) Again, I do really appreciate your kind words, and appreciate the share too. I agree with you, this event was an amazing one, and I would certainly encourage other small towns to use it as a model for community engagement.

  4. I was delighted to read your honest thoughts on the judging and the creativity of the other tables! So many times these days it feels like we must be very careful and tip-toe around saying anything that isn't completely positive... or else. lol

    Yes, in this world full of mass-production, folks who aren't artists often don't "get" what it is we do or what it takes to do it. You got the wonderful experience of creativity and a gorgeous centerpiece and necklace out of it. So I'd call that a win, bummer about the $1000, though.

    Btw, I was at a bead show not too long ago, and a guy there had created an led necklace that will light up lampwork beads from the inside. His design is quite simple and elegant and might better suit your crescent moon necklace. Happy creating!

    1. Thank you so much, sandysewin, for your kind and generous comments! And an extra thanks for the link about the solar LED lit necklaces, that's definitely something I'm interested in and will have to investigate further!! Greatly appreciated! :D

  5. When I initially commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hello, I'm sorry, I have looked into it and there doesn't seem to be a way for me to disable comments for other people (especially considering that I have no idea what your email address is, as you're signed in as "anonymous"). I believe that this problem is something you must do from your end. Perhaps there is an "unsubscribe" link on the emails you receive? If not, then perhaps this link might help you to stop the email notifications:
      I'm sorry that I can't be of further help.


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