Blueberry week is back

41st Blueberry/Art Festival starts Friday, includes many new vendors

by Tom Coombe
First it was Covid-19.
Then came the storm of all storms, one that left Whiteside Park a disheveled mess and destroyed dozens of tents.
Perhaps this year Ely’s Blueberry/Art Festival will return to normal?
That’s the hope, and the expectation, as Ely’s signature event returns this week.
More than 200 art, craft and food vendors will descend on Whiteside Park, and they’ll likely be joined by thousands of visitors over the course of the three-day event, which starts on Friday, July 29 at 10 a.m., and runs through the weekend.
Always held on the last weekend of July, the Blueberry/Art Festival has grown from humble roots and in its four-decade history has become a major happening.
At least since the 1990s, the festival has served as the backdrop for the busiest weekend of the summer, filling the park as well as lodging establishments and bringing both vendors and visitors here from around the country.
But in 2020, the festival along with most other area events were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Organizers expected a more typical event last year and that’s how it appeared to be going until early evening on the festival’s first day, when a severe thunderstorm brought rain, hail and damaging winds that wreaked havoc across the area and inside the park, where trees fell and many vendors had tents damages.
The Ely Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the annual event, had little choice but to cancel the rest of the festival given the condition of the park.
Some vendors stuck around town, setting up shop elsewhere on city sidewalks and parking lots, but the damage was done and a second straight Blueberry/Art weekend was marred.
The Chamber quickly went back to the drawing board and began preparing for the 2022 event and that planning will soon come to fruition
Organizer and Chamber event coordinator Ellen Cashman has spent hundreds of hours planning the event layout featuring many of the favorite vendors, as well as at least 30 new ones.
The festival is a juried show. Each new applicant is reviewed by a panel of area artists and crafters. Those same jurors judge all the vendors on Friday morning and award the top three winners in both the art and craft categories.
“We are excited to have a very diverse group of artists and crafters including some fantastic ones from the Ely area,” said Cashman. “We have Tom McDonald from Bear Island Art Factory who does recycled metal art, Dafne Caruso who does both jewelry and mixed media paintings, Ginny Stage who does embroidered textiles, Annette Mattingly who does pressed flower art, Ben Pawlak who features wood crafts, and many more. Several of the new artists are also from Ely including, Brian and Jill Siegel who work with mixed media and Nina Wray with beautiful pottery.”
Cashman said the festival food court offers “something for everyone.”
This year’s lineup includes turkey croissants, fresh seafood, corn dogs, brats, and cheese curds, authentic Mexican food, BBQ, waffles, funnel cakes, oriental food, and frozen yogurt.
The Ely Kiwanis is in the pavilion with their famous blueberry pies, ice cream and sandwiches.
Also back this year is the festival beer garden, with proceeds going to support Ely’s Fire Relief Association.
Pengal’s Basswood Trading will have the Blueberry Art Festival t-shirts, sweatshirts, and blueberry pop. The Ely Chamber booth will include its first ever Blueberry Art Festival button. The buttons are $5 each and funds go to support the festival. Buttons are also available at the Chamber office at 1600 E. Sheridan Street.
The third annual Operation Blueberry event kicks off on Thursday, July 28. A map and list of participating businesses will be available on Friday, July 22. Some businesses are offering blueberry sales and specials, while others are doing special events. Maps will be available at the Ely.org website, at the Chamber office, and at the Chamber festival booth. The Chamber booth will also have the coveted “Blueberry List” featuring blueberry art, crafts, food, and many other items offered by vendors at the festival.