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A Brief History of the Eatonville Art Festival

Read an art critic's glowing report about the 1976 art festival - Festival 1976


     One of the many miniature creations by Eatonville resident "Chip Heinz" this Rockwellian scene depicts a loving family greeting a new baby. His work can be seen in various locations around Eatonville including Key Bank, library and liquor store window. Next to the little house is a sampling of wildlife and outdoor scenes. Both photos are from the 2005 Art Festival.

Troccoli the Innovator...

     This photo was scanned from the August 9, 1973 issue of the Dispatch. Vince wasn't a rock star, nor a singer. He was announcing something to the crowd. Much of the MC job went to others while Vince spend most of his time making sure the artists and crafts people were happy. The boys in the band are KW and Karl Iams, sons of Nancy Iams proprietor of the popular "Holly Hut" gift shop in Eatonville.
     In August 1972 a prescient story was on the Dispatch front page.  "First Art Festival This Saturday" -  In a few days the center of attention will be on Eatonville. This coming Saturday, August 5, will hopefully be remembered as the first of many successful and growing Art Festivals that will be held in Eatonville." Thirty-nine years later the festival endures while many other events have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps a better word for Vince Troccoli would be "visionary."

How it All Began...

      The original idea for the festival sprang from the creative mind of Vince Troccoli who was raised in New York City's Little Italy. Vince with his family, wife Anne Marie and three sons, Joe, John and “Little Vince,” were sent to this area by his company, Aerojet-General, which had a Tacoma office. Vince worked for Aerojet as an engineer in California and when he was transferred the family moved to Clear Lake. No one, including Vince, would know then what an enormous impact his new life in rural Washington would have on the tiny town of Eatonville.
     Vince hadn't lived here very long when he looked around and thought the town needed some event to put us on the map, so to speak. Asked what prompted him to come up with the idea for the festival Vince answers, “Today I can't recall the exact situation, thoughts, conversations, etc. that led me to come up with the art festival. I do remember hearing about a Shakespearian festival in Oregon and another similar one in northern California. The only thing I understood about them was that they consisted of arts, crafts, entertainment and food.”
     Vince adds, “Another thing I recalled is that there were a significant number of people in
the Eatonville area who were artists or craftspeople. Art Beaulieu was one person I met who was a talented and widely known woodcarver. [Art is the man who carved the magnificent doors to the Methodist Church in Eatonville.] This led me to think that all these locals should have an outlet, or an event, to show their work.
The first person I discussed this with was Terry Van Eaton. He was immediately enthused about the idea. We decided to meet with several Lions Club members at Terry's house. Les and Dixie Butts [now Walter], Ron Gehring, Terry and I were the initial group, and it turned out, did most of the work.”
Vince proposed a day-long event at the town park with artists showing their work, live entertainment and food booths. The first date chosen was July 29, but it was discovered the Bellevue art show was the same day. Art festivals were practically  unheard of in those days. A calendar check showed the first weekend in August would be best for several reasons. The date wouldn't conflict with the Morton Logger's Jubilee, Vince contacted a weather bureau and found the chosen weekend very, very rarely had rain and no conflict with the Bellevue show.
 As the decades passed more and more communities began their own shows, but little Eatonville was one of the first! Today there are huge lists of similar events in the area, but it took many years for them to catch up with Eatonville. This festival was an idea ahead of its time.

Festival 1973 Looking East...

       In the beginning, and for many, many years, the Lions supplied man-made booths. Each year a group of the hard workers would descend on Lion Ray Gribi's forest off the Eatonville Highway, cut saplings and build the booths. That alone was hard work, then the men worked even harder building booths from the saplings. Most of the artists like the charm of the knotty saplings.
 After the first show Vince, as chair, decided the event should be held for two-days. This idea, as with many of his suggestions, was met by “nay-sayers” in the club. Sometimes it seemed there was a struggle for every suggestion, or idea, proposed. But the core group pushed through time and time again.
When Vince proposed making the festival a three-day event it seemed like the “opposition” would kill the festival rather than accept this idea. And to top it off Vince thought breakfast should be served on Sunday morning so the artist could have a good meal to start the day. This “thought” was met with a definite “No,” by the people who were against the festival from the beginning. But somehow Vince, by the sheer force of his convictions, made it all happen.
     So much of what has now become long-standing tradition was met with resistance by some, but encouraged by others. After the first festival Vince thought the festival needed a queen. So for several years a senior girl from Eatonville High School was chosen to represent the festival. With Vince the queens appeared on TV and radio shows, along with print media as she helped promote Eatonville's art festival.
The first queen, Debbie McLaughlin, was crowned by Lud Kramer, then Secretary of State under the Dan Evans administration. Another year Don Pugnetti, publisher of the Tacoma News Tribune, crowned the festival queen. Local businesses gave prizes to the queens. This was also the year a beer garden was added to the event.

Survey Results - First Festival...


Excerpt from a front page Dispatch story dated July 26, 1973 and titled "Art Festival August 4, 5."

Entertainment was fabulous and on-going throughout most of the day and evening. Vince brought in the Tacoma Scots who “wowed the crowd with their bagpipes. Folk singers, belly dancers, Polynesian dancers and many more talented groups and individuals also “wowed the crowd” through the years.
One year the Washington State Symphony Orchestra preformed a “Concert Under the Stars.” Vince says he doesn't remember how he got them to travel to Eatonville, but wistfully explains, “I will never forget seeing all the people sitting on blankets in the park while this great musical group played their concert. I would give anything to have a video-tape of that evening.” Of course we didn't have video cameras in that era.
As art festivals began growing in popularity more attention was paid to the events by various media. One year, after Eatonville's show was well-established a reporter for an arts publication attended the festival. He interviewed artists, visitors and Vince. And rated the Eatonville festival second best in the Northwest behind Renton. The reporter told Vince the only thing Renton had over Eatonville was the setting, which was alongside a river. However, the participants in Eatonville all loved being on grass and having trees to enjoy. Most of the other festivals were on asphalt. See the article about Eatonville's show
     Vince spoke for the group who worked so hard to keep the festival going, “This meant a lot to us because we started from point zero. No experience, never been to an art show, no budget and more than enough nay-sayers.”
     In the years that have passed the Eatonville Art Festival has become entrenched in the history of our small town. Everyone knows the first full weekend in August is the time for class reunions, garage sales, and loads of fun at the park during the festival. It's a time to meet with friends you may only see once a year, a time to be entertained, a time to indulge in delicious food, a time to enjoy art and a time to simply have a wonderful experience.
The festival has long been the Lions biggest, and most important, fund raiser with the money going toward the many good causes the group supports.
In the beginning the Art Festival road was often rocky as a new path was being pioneered. But now the Lions Club's Annual Art Festival approaches the 40-year-mark, making it the second longest running tradition in Eatonville with only the Annual Community Day/May Day celebration being longer.
Thanks Vince, Terry, Les, Ron, Ray and all the other yea-sayers who kept faith in the festival and led it on the way to becoming one of Eatonville's most important traditions.

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"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."

~ Thomas Merton



"Art is the window to man's soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor would the world see the man within."

~ Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson




"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."

~ Emile Zola



"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life."

 ~William Faulkner



"Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression."

  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer




"The artist's world is limitless.  It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away.  It is always on his doorstep."

  ~ Paul Strand





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