Penn Quarter celebrates District culture

Arts on Foot got people walking.

The three-by-two block radius at the center of Penn Quarter was filled with artists, vendors, restaurateurs and D.C. residents looking to enjoy the first sunny day the District has offered all week.

People meandered through various food and craft vendors selling everything from handmade jewelry made from discarded nuts and bolts, stones and metals to sampling tents from local restaurants.

Sponsored by The Examiner and Wines of Argentina, festival-goers were entertained by musical acts, cooking demonstrations, wine tasting and participatory art.

Twenty-six local D.C. restaurants offered inexpensive samplings of their best dishes, including guacamole from Rosa Mexicana, empanadas from La Tasca, sushi from OYA and lobster rolls from newcomer Luke’s Lobster.

As an expanding addition this year, seven locally based food trucks drove up to partake in Sunday’s ongoing festivities.

Event staffer Elissa Staley, employed by The Downtown Business Improvement District, began working in May to organize all of the restaurants appearing at the event.

“It’s been a great weekend so far,” Staley said. “We’re showcasing a lot of the best restaurants in D.C.”

Erika Rubel, a local artist and vendor creates functional art for the home. Salvaging materials like old coffee cans and photos, she assembles them on wooden drawers or bins to hang on the wall, hold keys or provide a safe place for treasures and trinkets.

Quitting her desk job in retail five years ago, Rubel capriciously decided to travel the East Coast and sell her recycled art at festivals and fairs, her local weekly gig being at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

“This is my third year,“ Rubel said. “Attendance is down, but its hard to say whether it’s 9/11 or other things going on.”

Although Rubel travels the festival circuit alone, her neighboring vendors are often familiar faces.

“I wasn’t happy at the desk job I was at, and people were always appreciating my design work,” said Rubel. “As you do the same shows every year, people tend to keep the good shows on their roster, so you see people that you know.”

Howard Stelzer, a jewelry maker and vendor at this past weekend’s arts fest, began making jewelry when he retired seven years ago.

“I started doing it after I retired from gainful employment,” said Stelzer. “My wife wanted to keep me busy.”

Stelzer does fewer than 10 shows a year, the Arts on Foot festival being the only one he is willing to cross the river for from his home in Annandale, Va.

Stelzer described the arduous process he goes through to create his works in silver, soldering semi-precious metals and stones together, a process that takes hours to complete.

“They’re all my favorite,” said Stelzer. “But some you get a greater satisfaction from.”

Stelzer finds stones he likes, searching for unique color and texture, and uses wire to intricately meld rings, bracelets and necklaces.

An opportunity to enjoy the sunny weather outweighed apprehensions about venturing outdoors the weekend before the 9/11 anniversary, creating an opportunity to enjoy food, music and art with the local Capital community.

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