Sharon shines in WaterFire's glow

·5 min read

Jul. 24—SHARON — The music of a Beatles cover band rang out over downtown on Saturday evening as throngs of people ambled up and down the stretch of State Street along the Shenango River, enjoying the sights and sounds of WaterFire Sharon's tenth annual street festival.

Trumbull County, Ohio resident Chris Smith — who commutes to work at Cleveland State University by day and runs a small business, By the Lake Jewelry, in her off hours — had a small booth set up to sell homemade jewelry made from "authentic Lake Erie beach glass."

Smith was among dozens of artists and craftspeople who lined State Street Saturday for WaterFire. This year's celebration had a Hollywood theme, with "Walk of Fame" style stars temporarily affixed to the State Street Bridge road surface and movie-themed selfie stations in downtown Sharon.

"We've had pieces wash up that we know had to be 80 to a hundred years old," Smith said of the glass. "It took that long to make it smooth."

The waters of Lake Erie "take all the edges off [the glass] and frost it," Smith said. Then Smith and her husband find it, and she uses her design and wireworking skills to turn it into small, personalized works of art.

"A lot of the pieces tell me what they want me to do with it," Smith said.

As the shallowest of the Great Lakes with an abundance of shipwrecks over the years, Erie is a unique source for beach glass, said Smith.

"You can tell the difference between homemade glass and what's coming out of Lake Erie," she said. "It has a different texture to it."

This is Smith's fourth year at Sharon WaterFire. Talking to the people who stroll by her booth and seeing the emotional reaction they have to the jewelry she creates is her favorite part of the yearly event.

"A lot of times they have a memory — a trip, a family event — that connects them to it," Smith said. "It's exciting. I really like making pieces and then watching people relive those happy memories."

"More than 50 braziers are anchored in the Shenango River in downtown Sharon during the event," according to the WaterFire Sharon website. "Filled with cedar and pine, they are [set] ablaze at nightfall to create a compelling display."

Event volunteers set the braziers and a row of torches on State Street Bridge alight. State Sen. Michele Brooks, R-50, Jamestown, and state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7, Hermitage kicked off the "fire" part of FireWater at dusk by lighting wood and paper inside the ornamental orb on State Street Bridge.

The event also includes live music, food, and numerous street vendors, many selling artsy homemade creations like Smith.

One of those vendors was Larry Krebbs, who set up a booth at WaterFire for the first time on Saturday. Krebbs had a table set up inside a storefront next to Susie's Home Decor on State Street.

When he's not working his day job at Lindy Paving, Krebbs makes signs and other pieces of custom metal work. He's sold pieces to customers as far away as Arizona through his own small business, Steel Design Metal Art LLC.

Many of Krebbs' creations — like a sign he made for a new father saying "Dad. Established 2022" — are unique works of craftsmanship.

"Things like that, you can't just go to Walmart," Krebbs said.

Krebbs had good things to say about WaterFire.

"I've enjoyed it, and I'm hoping to do it again next year," Krebbs said. "With me being local, I want to try and do local events."

Not all the booths set up on State Street were selling arts and crafts, however. Tina Dunkerley — board member of the local nonprofit The Warrior in HER — was there promoting the group's mission to help women struggling with mental health issues and chronic illness.

Dunkerley took advantage of the foot traffic on State Street to hand out flyers for HER Walk, an event set to take place at Buhl Park in Hermitage on Oct. 2.

"You've gotta talk about it — if you know something's wrong, keep insisting that something's wrong until somebody listens," Dunkerley said of those who may be struggling. "People don't want to talk about disease and mental illness, and they need to."

Local business owners Ed Wentling and Carol Piper — whose Farrell store, Bayou Blues Guitars, makes guitars out of cigar boxes and any other upcycled material — enjoyed Saturday's festivities as community members rather than vendors, though Piper stressed that hadn't always been the case.

"We were vendors when WaterFire first started," she said, stating that Bayou Blues had set up booths at two previous events.

Wentling enjoys the challenge of making musical instruments out of unusual components, he said, including — in one memorable instance — a bedpan.

"I've never said no to anybody," Wentling said, laughing. "If they ask me if I can make something, I'll say yes, even if I've never done it before."

Both Piper and Wentling said they enjoy visiting WaterFire and seeing how the various businesses represented have changed and evolved over time.

"I love the crafts, seeing new things added from year to year," Piper said.

Wentling agreed.

"A lot of these folks we're still friends with," he said of the current vendors. "They started out with us back in the day."

At the end of the day, said Wentling, he and Piper "just like walking around and looking at people's stuff."

"We like to see what the people are makin'," Wentling said. "It's like you're seeing people's imaginations come to life."