What does the ‘renaissance’ of small-town Indiana look like? Ask Roanoke

If you’re looking for new fall traditions in Indiana, the picturesque town of Roanoke is a good place to start.

Conveniently located between Fort Wayne and Huntington, it has a historic downtown, lined with enchanting shops and restaurants, and while it’s small, it’s a happening place.

Today, Roanoke hosts at least one big event per month to promote its culture, making it one of the fastest growing areas of Huntington County.

But like many places across northeast Indiana, it wasn’t always that way. While the town was a busy center of commercial activity the 19th and early 20th centuries, its downtown hollowed out after World War II, leaving many storefronts empty.

“Roanoke was like a lot of other small towns," says resident Ruth Marsh. "It was dying on the vine." Ruth Marsh

Now home to regional favorites like the award-winning Joseph Decuis farm-to-fork restaurant and a handful of eclectic local shops and businesses, Roanoke is growing its arts scene from the inside out to shape its future.

For the last 11 years, its popular Renaissance in Roanoke festival has been a physical manifestation of this movement hosted by the Roanoke Arts Council. This year's event co-chairs, Marsh and Rick Fischer, say the festival is an expression of Roanoke’s growing uniqueness and charm, hence its name.

“There’s a lot of art and unique shopping opportunities here in Roanoke for a small community," Marsh says.

On Saturday, October 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Renaissance in Roanoke will overtake downtown with booth after booth of artisans lining Main Street, from fabric artists, to wood carvers, metal artists, stone carvers, mixed-media specialists, watercolor and oil painters, jewelers, and ceramic artists.

While the primary focus of the event is a juried art show of seasoned artisans carefully selected by a committee, the event is also a good place for new artists to get exposure.

“We try to be open-minded in selecting a wide variety of artisans,” Fischer says. Rick Fischer

Another unique feature of the event is the “Plein Air Paint Out,” which will happen from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day. “En plein air” is a French expression meaning “in the open air,” and participating artists will create a work outdoors on the spot. Then judges will evaluate the works after their completion and award cash prizes.

“We’re honoring a tradition that goes back centuries by having artists work in the moment, taking advantage of the prime light of the day,” Fischer explains.

To keep Renaissance in Roanoke fresh and boost foot traffic, craft artisans have also been added to the festival for the first time ever this year, bringing the total number vendors to more than 60.

“There’s something for everyone at our show,” Marsh says.

She explains that in addition to premade items to purchase, customers will have the chance to learn about craft-making, too.

“We will have someone basket weaving during the day who can answer people’s questions,” she says. “We even have an artist who will help customers paint their own silk scarf once they have purchased it.”

Joseph Decuis is a popular dining destination in downtown Roanoke.

Live music will be presented by the Fort Wayne-based Dumpster Drummers™. The group offers a unique educational performance style, using recyclable items to make music and teach audiences about recycling and environmental conservation at the same time. Plein air artists create a work outdoors on the spot.

Other entertainment will include a professional hula-hoop demonstration and activities for children throughout the day.

Food will be available for purchase from the Berg Ale Haus food truck and JB’s “Cuisine Machine,” both out of Huntington, along with the BrainFreeze ice cream truck from Leo. The Roanoke Lions Club will be serving breakfast and lunch, as well.

All of downtown Roanoke’s merchants, from boutique stores to restaurants, will be open for business. Adding another dimension to this event is the inclusion of a sizeable farmers market area where visitors can stock up on seasonal produce and décor, Fisher says.

“They bring truckloads of pumpkins, gourds, apples; everything you would expect for this time of year,” he explains.

It’s a quintessential fall festival that celebrates everything Roanoke is about.

What’s next?

Next on the agenda for the vibrant community of Roanoke are Holiday Gift Extravaganza and Shop Small Win Big, both in November.

Learn more at www.DiscoverRoanoke.org.

Read more articles by Laura G. Burger.

Laura G. Burger enjoys creative pursuits of all varieties, is the resident grammarian wherever she goes, and is a lifelong proponent of Fort Wayne and all it has to offer.
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