Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Brian Gray’

Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival Celebrates 50 Years – August 9-11, 2019

50th LogoArtists, Entertainers, and lovers of the arts have been attending the Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival for 50 years. It’s come a long way from that preliminary festival, which was held on the courthouse lawn.

Musical Group R

Entertainment at that first festival was provided by “The Group” with Mike McWilliams, front, Don Mercer, Mike Kennedy, Mike McVicker, and Dale Brenning.

   The one-day downtown Salt Fork Arts Festival was sponsored by the Greater Cambridge Arts Council with Dr. Milton Thompson the president and Don Mercer serving as coordinator. Its goal was to promote all the arts including acting, music, literature, and art. The Best of Show that year went to Nancy Lewis of New Concord for a still life. The evening was spent dancing in the First National Bank parking lot.

Sue Dodd R

Sue Dodd demonstrated her painting skills under a tree at the park at an early festival.

   August 14-17, 1969, the festival moved to the Cambridge City Park as a four-day event. It was advertised as the First Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival. That year the newspaper stated there were four tents and 65 artists. Entertainment varied from YMCA Gymnasts and Bexley Puppet Theater to Cambridge Barbershoppers and Sweet Adelines.

Jack Taylor saying thanks R

Jack Taylor says thanks to Bob Amos, Lois Craig and Art Marr who had major roles in that first Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival.

   Arthur Marr served as chairman of that first official festival with assistance from Bob and Hannah Amos and Mrs. Lois Craig. Mrs. Claude Nickerson and her committee were in charge of the artists while Bill Coffey handled the performing arts. The Cambridge CB React Club took charge of parking and patrolling. Pavlov Music provided background organ and piano music and Scott Funeral Home provided seating. It was a real community effort.

SFF Fences

In the early years, paintings were displayed on snow fences.

   The Cambridge National Honor Society and members of the Key Club helped by setting up chairs, tables and snow fences. In those early festival days, pictures by artists and student artists were hung on snow fences for display. Young artists have always been a popular and important feature of the festival.

SFF Laura and Rodgers

Pictured at a reception at the Lekorenos home are Shannon Rodgers, Laura Bates (wearing a Rodgers/Silverman dress creation) and Jerry Silverman. Photo by George Lekorenos.

   It was in 1969 that Newcomerstown native, Shannon Rodgers, renowned dress designer for Hollywood stars, gave a donation to the festival and in 1971 began sponsoring the Shannon Rodgers Award. This award was open to all artists at the festival and was voted on by the public. When this endowment ended, the award became the People’s Choice Award.

Mary Beam

Mary Beam painted a picture of the courthouse from her front porch.

   Craftsmen demonstrating their crafts at those early festivals included basket weavers, blacksmiths, ceramic artists, woodcarvers, ironworkers, gem cutters, leather workers and many more. This was to be only the beginning of many years of outstanding juried art at the festival with only hand-made pieces of art being accepted.

SFF Paula Burlingame, Sandy Carle and Bonnie Perkins - Children's Art Fair

Paula Burlingame, Sandy Carle, and Bonnie Perkins make plans for the Children’s Art Fair.

   Crafts were a popular addition at those early festivals as well. In 1971, classes in macrame, woodcarving, leaded glass and apple dolls were popular. Adults enjoyed making quilted potholders and stained glass hangings. Everyone felt a sense of accomplishment.


Marie Lekorenos, local artist and passionate supporter, kept scrapbooks of those first festivals. Those scrapbooks supplied most of the information in this article.

   In those early years, the Pilot Club, an international service club of women, served as volunteers to give artisans a break while selling their wares. Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotary provided refreshments on the midway selling hot dogs, ice cream, sno-cones, and cotton candy. Church groups, YMCA, and the hospital auxiliary had food stands available in the big pavilion for hungry visitors.

SFF Dick SImcox Big Band 1980

The Dick Simcox Big Band appeared several years at the festival.

   Entertainment included many musical groups as well as a performing arts group from Salt Fork Barn Theatre performing excerpts from “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”. Cambridge Community Theater also did several children’s presentations. Even the Cleveland Opera Theater came several years and performed “Barber of Seville”.

SFF Frankie Yankovic America's Polka King

Frankie Yankovic, Polka King, drew one of the largest crowds ever.

   A performance that many remember was that of Frankie Yankovic, America’s Polka King. Frankie played the accordion and had two gold records – “Blue Skirt Waltz” and “Just Because”. The crowd for this performance was the largest ever remembered at the festival.

Carol and Bob R

Carol and Bob Jones were singing at the festival years ago. Carol is now Festival Director and Bob is Entertainment Coordinator.

   Back in 1986, Bob and Carol Jones presented a musical program at the festival. Today Carol is the Festival Director and Bob is Entertainment Coordinator. Their enthusiasm for the 50th Anniversary has led to a memorial “Pedestrian Gateway” being constructed at the park at a point where most visitors enter.

Briani Gray R

Brian Gray and his wooden toys have been an attraction over the years.

   While it has been great fun to look back at those early years of the festival, it’s also pleasing to know that it still has the same basic roots. The Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival continues to be a juried festival with several artists from those early days still displaying their art.

Russ and Virginia (2)

Russ Shaffer and Virginia Price have displayed at the festival since its early years and will be there this year. Virginia just celebrated her 99th birthday.

   Entertainment continues every hour in the Performing Arts Tent or the Big Pavilion. Craft classes for students and adults are held in the small pavilion throughout the weekend. Admission and parking are still free.

   Set aside some time to join the 50th Anniversary celebration this August 9 -11. Wander through the artist displays in beautiful Cambridge City Park. Have lunch or pick up a snack as you sit and listen to some fine entertainment provided by talented vocalists and bands. Don’t forget to find a special treasure to take home with you to remember this special anniversary.

   50 years is cause for celebration! Make plans to attend this memorable occasion.

The Salt Fork Arts & Crafts Festival is held annually the second weekend of August in the Cambridge City Park in Cambridge, Ohio. Cambridge is located at the crossroads of I-70 and I-77. There are several exits so watch for signs leading to the festival or the city park.

Handmade Wooden Toys for the Young and the Young at Heart


Look for this welcome sign on Dewey Avenue when you pay a visit to the Cambridge Wooden Toy Co.

The best kept secret in Cambridge” describes the Cambridge Wooden Toy Co on Dewey Avenue. Here Brian Gray creates toys and trains with craftsmanship difficult to surpass. He’s been making these extraordinarily detailed carvings since 1976, first in his basement and then in a small shop beside his home.


Big Boy from Union Pacific, carved in 2014, was an engine that could pull a hundred cars filled with coal.

Brian grew up in Seattle, where his father worked as a fireman on trains. As a child, Brian used to ride the switch engines around the train yard. He and his brother would play being engineer and fireman. Having a father in the railroad world, gave them many opportunities for train rides.

Therefore, Brian acquired a passion for trains that has never been squelched. His main inspiration for carving engines came from Ernest Warther, world’s master carver of Dover. When Brian told his brother about how he would like to try carving, his brother’s response was “I’m tired of hearing you talk about it. Do it.” And that’s what Brian did.


Brian holds a Domeliner Dinner Menu from 1958. This was from the first class section where meals were served using china and silver.

Over the years, Brian studied engineering and when drafted into the Army, studied General Engineering there. Upon the end of his military service, jobs were scarce. A friend told him they were hiring in Cambridge at NCR. With his engineering background, Brian decided to give it a try…and has been here ever since. 


Brian drills the window in the cab of My First Choo-Choo, a new pull toy this year.

Woodworking has been his hobby for years. Sometimes he did carpenter work building decks and gazebos or remodeling houses. But Brian wanted to do something where he had the freedom to choose what he made.

1982 was the first year he made toys. In 1983, he decided to exhibit at the Salt Fork Festival. There he sold almost all the toys he had made, plus he won first prize for an oil field tractor trailer with a bulldozer on the back. That success made him decide to work five hours each day making toys before heading to his regular job. Brian has been participating in the festival ever since.

But making toys and trains isn’t his only pastime. He also does upholstery and repairs wooden furniture. When visiting, Brian was refinishing the arms on chairs for the Barnesville Library.


For 33 years, his toys have been displayed and sold at the Salt Fork Festival. The 2016 festival was particularly hot so Brian donned a sweatband.

His specialty engines are carved intricately from wood. Some of these engines have won first place at shows such as the Ohio State Fair, Salt Fork Festival, and Tri State Woodworking Show.

Each year Brian makes one new wooden engine to add to his increasing collection, which he displays for those who visit his Great Steam Locomotive Engine Museum. All the engines are made on a 1-18 scale out of walnut. Right now there are seven large locomotives in his museum.


Alaskan Railroad #557 has won three awards so far. It’s the most detailed engine he’s ever done.

His Alaskan Railroad # 557 won first prize in woodworking at the Ohio State Fair in 2016. This was done in memory of Brian’s father, who worked as a fireman on the rails of Alaska.


A child would enjoy rocking in this bi-plane, Snoopy’s Flying Circus.

Rocking horses, cascading marbles, and many wooden toys make great Christmas gifts. No nails are used, just wooden pins, and he’s careful that edges are rounded and smooth for the child’s protection. His toys are so strong, they last for generations. Brian has been making these toys for over forty years. Presently, he makes 72 different toys in his shop.


The Railroad Toy Box is the perfect place to store a child’s toys. It even comes with 6′ of track. The child’s name can be added and the boxcar number is usually the child’s birthdate.

While Brian sells his toys, he’s doesn’t do his wood carving for the money. Many hours are spent to make each toy and sometimes he figures he makes about $1.50 per hour. “I love doing it. I keep my prices low. Haven’t changed prices in five years.”


Brian checks out the blueprint for next year’s engine project.

The blueprint is ready for next year’s engine project. The Golden Spike National Historic Site sent him the blueprints of the original engines on a CD. Then the map department printed it off 1- 18 scale. He’s going to do a scene for the first time. It will be two engines meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the driving of the “Golden Spike” connected east to west.

Brian still has a dream for a place in Cambridge where he could display his trains, and other local train enthusiasts could find a home for theirs as well. His eyes are on the original Train Depot as the perfect place for a museum to attract visitors to our area. Keep dreaming, Brian, you never know what the future may hold.


Musical Marble Trees entertain children and adults with their cascading musical tones. It’s hard to resist putting one more marble down its branches.

At his small museum, children and young-at-heart adults are free to play with the toys. There is no cost to visit so head up to 515 Dewey Avenue and walk inside. You’ll be amazed at such talent right here in Cambridge.  Then you’ll want to share this “best kept secret” with your friends.

Cambridge Wooden Toy Co can easily be reached off old Route 40 through Cambridge, Ohio. At the west end of town is a viaduct over Wills Creek and the railroad tracks. The Toy Co is straight south of here at 515 Dewey Ave. 



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