On a crisp Black Friday morning in Westminster, the Carroll Arts Center was bursting full of festivity for the 21st year of its Festival of Wreaths.
The annual auction of donated wreaths and holiday artwork, many including additional goodies like gift cards for everything from local wine to hotel stays, benefits the nonprofit Carroll County Arts Council.
The festival opened Friday morning, Nov. 23 and will run until Sunday, Dec. 2 at the Arts Center, 91 West Main Street, Westminster. gallery hours are 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. and there is no cost for admission.
For some of the first guests, viewing the gallery of wreaths was an alternative to the early morning rush of shopping that is a tradition for many.
Rachel Mayan was at the show Friday morning for the second year in a row. Now a resident of Delaware, she was in town to visit family and said the Arts Center was their first stop of the day.
“It’s nice to support the community,” she said.
Peg Pond, of Westminster, has visited the festival of wreaths almost every year since its inception she estimates.
She enjoys the experience of bidding — “Maybe you get a wreath, maybe you don’t” — and said over the years she has been able to give wreaths as holiday gifts. She also enjoys browsing through the gallery with friends and family like she did Friday morning with friends as one of the first visitors this year.
She enjoys supporting the Arts Council because she and her friends are fans of the events and programs held there like foreign films, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and youth theater, in which her granddaughter is a participant.
“I can’t believe we have such a wonderful venue right [here],” said the Westminster resident, who lives nearby.
This year’s festival brought in 165 wreaths.
Over the next several days, the Arts Center will expect to see about 10,000 guests through its doors, whether they are visiting to view and bid on wreaths or to shop the artisan offerings at the Gallery of Gifts downstairs.
In 2017, the festival raised $20,794 from 175 wreaths donated.
Preparing for the event is an all-hands-on-deck activity for the Arts Council, which has worked to get every wreath on the wall and looking its best in time for guests.
“We’ve all been running around like chickens,” Communications Coordinator JoAnna Crone said when reached by phone the Wednesday before opening.
The first day of wreath drop-off on Nov. 15 was foiled by a rare mid-November snowstorm that closed the Arts center early. They extended the drop-off a day into the next Monday.
“It kind of worked out better because...people who were maybe on the fence about being able to get their wreath all the way done had the weekend,” Judy Morley, executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, said.
It’s Morley’s first Festival as director after she took over from Sandy Oxx in June. Guests won’t have to face a completely Oxx-less Festival of Wreaths, however. Her entry can be found among the upstairs offerings.
“I’m really impressed by the creativity,” Morley said of the range of entries. “And from what I’ve heard from the staff that’s been here for many [festivals], this year was kind of ratcheted up a little bit. People’s creativity was a little more fine-tuned this year.”
Trending among the entries seemed to be intricately curled and arranged ribbons. As usual, there was a range from organic wreaths with foliage like boxwood, lavender and pomander to wreaths made from iron, salvaged mirrors, cornhole bean bags or folded paper.
Switching up the auctions structure this year was the inclusion of a “Seal the Deal” price for each wreath or artwork that guests could pay to purchase without having to go through the bidding war.
Before, "You just kind of had to pray if there was something that you really wanted that you got the high bid," Morley said.
Crone hope the “Seal the Deal” price would generate some excitement.
In the past few years, the festival has also accepted holiday-themed artwork as well as wreaths.
Some 2018 pieces were even a hybrid, combining artwork and a more traditional wreath. Vintage Christmas postcards are nestled in the greenery on one wreath. A round, domed-frame artwork takes up the center of another.
Crone hoped guests would “appreciate all the generosity of our [wreath] decorators and the people who put in so much work…. making it a holiday tradition for Westminster.”
More information about the festival can be found at carrollcountyartscouncil.org or by calling 410-848-7272.