Igniting the creative spirit
Third Annual Arts on Fire Festival celebrates industrial arts and history
Scranton has many secrets, and one of its best kept secrets is being splashed all over the city’s South Side this weekend.
We all know Scranton’s coal history, but what the city was really founded on was iron and steel. The iron and steel industries grew our fair city from a wee lad of about 2,000 people to more than 76,000 in just 40 years. Scranton’s iron industry in particular was so large in fact, that by 1865, The Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company had the largest iron production capacity in the United States. By the turn of the century, however, the landscape was changing, and the firm left Scranton and moved to New York, closer to the high-grade iron ores coming out of the Mesabi Range.
What The Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company left behind was soon buried by the emergence of coal. The four massive stone blast furnaces, or the Iron Furnaces, are all that remains of that time in Scranton’s past. These furnaces, which stand at the “gateway to South Side” located on Cedar Avenue, are monstrous in size and even larger in their historic value. And while they sat silent for many decades, that silence ended three years ago when members and organizations of the community collaborated for the very first Arts on Fire Festival.
This weekend, June 1 through June 3, Arts on Fire returns for its third year, and the excitement is really heating up. “We are really excited for this year,” said Jill Murrin of the United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA, and a coordinator of Arts on Fire, “Previously we have only had one demonstration, the iron pour. This year, we have many more: glassblowing, professional blacksmithing, chainsaw wood carving, and the “ring of fire” demonstration by the people from Steamtown.”
Saturday, the live events run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with an all day iron pour by Keystone Iron Works, blacksmithing and ancient raku ceramic demonstrations. Sunday, the events continue from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with more ancient Raku ceramic demonstrations, live glassblowing, and chainsaw wood carving.
Both days will feature a new demonstration called “Ring of Fire,” performed by Steamtown National Historic Site. “It’s the process of changing a wheel on a locomotive,” explained Murrin. Ring of Fire will be held at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Also on Saturday and Sunday, visitors will experience fine artist vendors, food, live music, historical displays, tours of the Iron Furnaces and activities for kids.
Arts on Fire is a unique chance to not only learn about Scranton’s iron industry, but to experience it in action. Preserving that history and industry is an important mission behind Arts on Fire. “We would like the Arts on Fire Festival to inspire people to discover how the stories of the Commonwealth’s past and present relate to their lives and communities and support their roles as active and informed citizens,” said Chester Kulesa, site administrator of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnaces, “Part of the mission of the Scranton Iron Furnaces is to preserve the site and its stories to deepen understanding of the nation’s present and future.”
An important aspect of the Arts on Fire event is the fundraiser, Fire at the Furnace, held Friday, June 1, from 8 to 11 p.m. This event benefits the historic Iron Furnaces and is an exciting kickoff to the weekend’s events. Guests can enjoy food from Chicano’s & Savory Maza, drinks from Lionshead and LT Verrastro, and ice cream from The Lands at Hillside Farms. The evening will feature a live iron pour and bluegrass music by The Lost Ramblers. If you are in downtown Scranton for First Friday, you can follow the fiery parade from Lackawanna Avenue at 7:45 p.m. — amye archer
Arts on Fire is free, thanks to the support of many local businesses and organizations. For more information and to see a complete list of sponsors, vendors, and a schedule of the weekend’s events, visit www.artsonfirefestival.com, or call 963-4804.