Downtown Denver Arts Festival: Beauty and Oddities and Then Some

wen-chocolate-pear-hazelnut gourmet truffle-denver-may-2009Saturday I made my way to the Downtown Denver Arts Festival, an event with 11 years of history in this town. But I took the long way there.

My husband dropped me off west of the Platte River, at 15th and Platte, an area that used to be off the beaten track. For as long as I can remember, Paris on the Platte has been serving coffee there, but now it keeps company with Vitamin Cottage and new housing and my first stop on the tour that would lead to downtown Denver: Wen Chocolates.

I don’t visit Wen often enough to get to know the staff, especially now that I’m on a diet. But Saturday was my splurge day, so I went to the tiny store (maybe 100 square feet) and started ordering truffles. As always, I got some freebies, one of which pleasantly surprised me: the rosemary truffle, my favorite of the day. It looks plain but has a distinct, delicate flavor of rosemary. Prazen Sladkor is simply the best caramel I’ve ever had, and the pear hazelnut (pictured) is awfully pretty. I couldn’t taste the pear at all; next time I order it, I’ll eat it first.

Sometimes my tours of Denver give me the feeling I’m passing through people’s lives ghost-wise. Today I sat at the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek, content, trying to make the chocolates last longer than 5 minutes and watching people wade in the cold shallows across the river.

As I crossed Millennium Bridgemillennium-bridge-denver-union station may-2009 on my way to the mall shuttle, I passed a wedding party swank enough to afford two photographers. Everyone but the bride wore black; I liked the bridesmaids’ sleek black satin dresses better than her elaborately appliquéd froth of a dress.

The thing I like about the shuttle is its ability to bring Denver to me. It carries everyone: tourists, the homeless, downtown Denver workers. I also like to study the storefronts on one side of the 16th Street Mall or the other, to memorize downtown Denver.

I could see no sign anywhere of the Downtown Denver Arts Festival, so I turned back to the passengers. The man next to me studied the RTD schedule changes intently. He was a regular at RTD board meetings, he said, flashing a grin with more gum than teeth.

By Welton, the festival materialized: white booths everywhere, squeezed in among the renovation of the Denver Pavilions.downtown-denver-arts-fest-construction-may-2009 The art started this way for me: large landscapes, which you’d expect from an art fair in Colorado; metal wall hangings like sheaves of wheat; and photographs of horses, taken all over the United States but mostly in Colorado and back East, where Susan Williams used to live.

I was curious how much the artists were selling in this economy, so I stopped at a booth displaying ceramic objects painted with birds and asked the artist, Peggy Crago, if she birded. She said she doesn’t, but she likes to paint them. Saturday had been slow for her, but she said a festival can pick up anytime. She should know: she’s been exhibiting at the Downtown Denver Arts Festival for 11 years, since it was called the Celebrate Colorado Artists Festival.peggy-crago-may-2009

Sean Brown didn’t want me to take pictures of his delightful ceramic birds perched on paintbrushes. Given that his work was hanging in public, I thought his attitude was ridiculous. At the next booth, I just went ahead and took a picture of this stunning $14,000 sculpture by James LaCasse.james-la-casse-mandolin-may-2009

Some other beauties: Marvin Blackmore‘s intricately painted Southwestern pots; Kristin De Santis‘s metal relief paintings (oils on aluminum); and Karen Smith‘s painting of a woman on a couch in neutral tones, titled Waiting for Her Date. If I’d had $1,100 burning a hole in my pocket, I’d have bought it on the spot.

Just as it began to sprinkle, I found myself at Diane Harty Millinery (hurray for a user-friendly website!). I watched her work a hat and tried on a few of her creations. I vowed I’d get one of her hats before the summer was up.

And that was half the festival at most. Even so, the Downtown Denver Arts Festival is more manageable than the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, which happens over the Fourth of July weekend in the Cherry Creek section of Denver.

As I was writing this entry, I came to two conclusions: Artists really don’t know how to make websites; “Click to Enter” is so yesterday and annoying. And I like the Denver Pavilions better with the streets blocked off: downtown-denver-arts-fest-overhead-view-may-2009it seems like more of an organic whole.