Celebrating Summer with Art and Huckleberries

25th Annual Huckleberry Days Art Festival runs August 8-10 in Whitefish

By Xavier Flory

Huckleberry Days, like the fruit itself, are sweet, fleeting and signal the fulfillment of summer.

Whitefish celebrates its 25th annual Huckleberry Days Art Festival this weekend with artist vendors from all over the Northwest, a cornucopia of food and an annual bakeoff featuring the event’s namesake fruit.

Sarah Stewart, business manager of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce that coordinates the event, says, “it’s the best part of summer; everything comes together.”

To celebrate its quarter century, the festival organized a poster contest with a $200 cash prize for the winner.  Charisse Duchardt of Whitefish won the competition, and her whimsical design has been used to promote the festival across the valley. During Huckleberry Days, passersby will be able to judge all of the contestants for themselves and nominate a winner of the “People’s Choice Award.”

Like huckleberries, which are a nostalgic symbol referenced in “Moon River,” Huckleberry Days are much more than a showcase of the fruit; the festival is a celebration of summer and artistic talent. Well over 100 artists will come to the festival with paintings, miniature bears hewn out of Glacier evergreens and countless photos and trinkets. Although the festival attracts artists from all over the Northwest – this year there is even someone coming from New York – Stewart says many of the artists, particularly the photographers, take inspiration from Montana’s beautiful landscapes.

The wares at the festival are varied, rustic and original. Montana Earth Pottery makes wheel-thrown bowls and mugs using Montana clay; Stephen Fracul of Sawtooth Studio brings sylvan charm to a living room with his wood and antler carvings; and photographers vie with painters to render the most romantic vistas of Glacier National Park – or huckleberries.

One of the allures of huckleberries, beyond their tart burst of flavor and periwinkle hue, is that they refuse to be domesticated. Small and shrub-like, huckleberry bushes grown along mountainsides in relatively shaded areas. The plants generally grow at elevations above 3,500 feet, but although there are guidelines to follow when huckleberry picking, nothing beats experience, the knowledge of a special patch, and the common sense to make enough noise to keep the bears away.

For those who think they have come up with the perfect huckleberry delicacy, the fifth annual Huckleberry Days Bake-off Contest is the chance to show off home-baked desserts. There is a commercial and non-commercial division and the rules are simple: make an original dessert that features huckleberries.

“Judges will consist of unbiased, hungry dignitaries,” according to the bake-off information sheet, and beyond taste and texture, entries will be judged on their beauty and originality.

Last year, Whitefish Hostel won the commercial division with a huckleberry-chocolate-avocado pudding, and Tim Sievers won the non-commercial division with his “Huckleberry Love Pie.”

Even if you’re not one of the “hungry dignitaries,” the festival has plentiful food, huckleberry-inspired and otherwise.  While you’re perusing the booths, you can pick up treats from local favorites such as Sweet Peaks, or sample from the many vendors who come to Whitefish just for the festival.

There will also be entertainment for the kids, this year including a mobile climbing wall and glitter tattoos.

As Stewart says, “It’s just a great time.”

To find out more and plan your day at the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival, visit www.whitefishchamber.org or call 406-862-3501. Depot Park is located on Central Avenue and Railway Street in downtown Whitefish.

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