SHAMOKIN - Mostly sunny skies and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees brought people out in droves to downtown Shamokin for the ninth annual Anthracite Heritage Festival of the Arts. Two brief afternoon showers didn't dissuade visitors from sticking around.

The crowds were a delightful sight to vendors.

"I was really busy," said Linda Zalar, who sold most of her home-baked cookies by early afternoon.

Other vendors reported food shortages. According to Jeanne Shaffer, the festival organizer and executive director of the Northumberland Council of the Arts and Humanities, several other vendors ran out of food because they did not anticipate the strong, steady crowd.

Shaffer said one notable vendor, a food truck that traveled to Shamokin from Queens, N.Y., for the first time this year, was impressed with the festival.

The vendor had been alarmed after first arriving in Shamokin but once people began rolling onto Market Street Saturday morning, he enjoyed the locals that he interacted with and found them to be kind and friendly.

Shaffer also said the vendor had visited Polish festivals in other places, but thought Shamokin's Polish food was the best.

Because of the busy day, the vendor said he definitely wanted to return next year.

Now you see it

People in the jam-packed streets had one more reason to smile during this year's festival. Brent Kessler, a magician from Northumberland, roved the crowd performing sleight of hand tricks to the young and old alike.

Jeffrey Tweed brought Kessler to the festival committee's attention after seeing him perform elsewhere.

Kessler traversed Market Street, targeting people waiting in lines and relaxing with the goal of making them smile.

A full-time magician, Kessler began performing magic professionally 15 years ago. He became hooked on magic as a child when his parents bought him a toy magic kit. By middle school he was performing at house parties.

For Kessler, the best part of his job is the moment when an audience member is fully enthralled in the trick.

"In that small amount of time they forget about life. They're entertained, surprised," said Kessler. "It brings out the child in everyone.'

A place to shine

There's no better place than a festival for a local artist like Dottie Johns to show off her handiwork.

Johns, of Shamokin, makes "button art," painting-like pictures created by sewing dozens of buttons onto fabric in the shape of images.

The unique art form came to Johns after she realized she had no purpose for an enormous quantity of buttons inherited from her grandmother.

She took some of the buttons and began sewing them on a piece of fabric in a flower design. Ideas for more work flowed to her and she's been stitching away ever since.

Johns begins each piece with a blank piece of fabric and some embroidery floss. She stitches a basic needlepoint design, then attaches the buttons. Some of her artwork is intricate and she can spend several hours sewing one design. One design, a Christmas tree that was on display at her booth, took her 15 hours to sew. The final pieces are set in wooden frames.

Johns first began showing and selling her art at last year's festival and was so enamored with the experience she decided to return. For Johns, the best part of the festival is interacting with the people that flow through her booth.

"It's nice to see everybody that enjoys it," said Johns.

Wait until next year

Although Shaffer wishes she could take a rest after each festival, she's already at work thinking of what to do next year.

Some of her ideas include reinstating a 5K race that would start at the high school and run through downtown to the festival and an expanded and improved kiddie area.

Shaffer said that since next year is the 10th anniversary of the festival, she wants to pull out all the stops but needs ideas. She'll be looking around this summer at other festivals. She hopes to be prepared to pitch some new vendors and entertainment in September when festival planning officially begins.

Although the year-round planning is exhausting, Shaffer said her "blood, sweat and tears" are all worth it when she hears compliments from the vendors visiting from out of town.

This year, much of the praise centered on how much the vendors enjoyed interacting with the people from the region, which was especially wonderful to Shaffer.

"Because of lack of industry and the blight in the area we tend to always feel that we live in the negative; but we have to realize that a community is made up of citizens," said Shaffer. "People from out of town see the value in the community but we sometimes take that for granted. We don't realize that the people here are what really makes the town. And they're good people."

A set of keys with a green ladybug key from Northwood Nissan were left at the information desk. Please contact Jeanne Shaffer at 570-850-9121.