Joneen Nielsen sat by her collection of repurposed furniture. Beside her, dressers, tables, and small wooden pieces were decorated with wispy images of mermaids and marine life. A mix of ultramarine and cool turquoise gave the furniture a cheerful theme. She looked out at the Quinnipiac River.
Last Saturday, Nielsen was one of over a dozen artists, vendors and musicians at the eighth annual Quinnipiac Riverfest, a souped-up block party for the Quinnipiac River and Fair Haven waterfront that has been running for almost a decade.
Organized by Fair Haven enthusiast and Chatham Square Neighborhood Association (CSNA) member Lee Cruz with several others, the festival brought in hundreds over a few hours. It spanned the Quinnipiac River Marina, with its waterfront view.
The day began with friendly chatter, lively music and nearly 30 stands displaying the colorful artwork of 16 local artists. While kids danced along to a bouquet of strings from Music Haven, Nielsen greeted visitors and walked them through her tidy collection of bright, repurposed art.
Raised by an artist—and an artist who sailed, no less— Nielsen began transforming old furniture using her love of the ocean. Initially, she would rework an object to create something reflective of the beauty she had been exposed to as a child. She’s still doing that today.
“I’m inspired by mother nature,” she said. “I want to honor mother nature and keep things from going in the trash.”
“Its affordable and I want everybody to have art,” she added. “So an event like this is an incredible opportunity and a great way to connect with community. There’s some great artists here.”
Down the line, the work of artistic duo boontucket—that’s artists Connor Wright and Jojo DiMichele—was among some of the most eccentric at the festival. Largely inspired by artists including Wes Anderson and Jack Teagle, the small yet detailed pieces ranged from sharks with aprons and framed portraits of cats and deer.
“I always had a lot of imagination as a kid so when I was older, one day I picked up my pen and let it flow,” Wright said. “I haven't stopped since.”
On a stage in the middle of the action, New Haven band Goodnight Blue Moon played vibrant tones appropriate for the beaming weather. As many danced along to the music, others opted to listen while nibbling away at food from Anastasio’s Boathouse Cafe.
On the other side of the festival, canoe rides and CoCo Rico’s shaved ice cream offered a cool getaway on the sunny afternoon. The River Advocates Of South Central Connecticut provided canoe rides where patrons could take a ride out onto the calm waters of the Quinnipiac River.
Some children ran into the the New Haven Free Public Library’s Bookmobile to snag a quick read others lined up to get classic designs of face paint. Back on the marina, Cruz was also soaking up the sun.
“We especially want people who don't live here in New Haven to see how beautiful the neighborhood is,” he said. “A lot of these artisans are from the area so it's really a way to show off the community.”
This piece comes to the Arts Paper through the second annual Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI), a program of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the New Haven Free Public Library. Over eight weeks this spring, ten New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) students work with Arts Paper Editor Lucy Gellman and YAJI Program Assistant Melanie Espinalto produce four articles, for each of which they are compensated. Read more about the program here or by checking out the"YAJI" tag.