The Firebird Story
By Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg
In 2004 the Firebird Festival was born. We were a group of people exploring ways to cultivate the arts in Phoenixville, called The Arts and Entertainment committee – Lynn Miller, Charles Segal, Lisa Muller, Mary Foote, Kathy Bestwick, and me (Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg). We created several of the murals in town. Lynn Miller came up with the idea of the festival, and each of us took on different aspects of the festival. Lisa Muller organized the craft vendors with big support from her husband Paul and made clay bird workshops at the Phoenix Village Art Center. Lynn Miller organized the entertainment. Mary Foote did fundraising and balancing the books. Charles did the website, created t-shirts and other Firebird items, and organized the Firebird booth. I organized the volunteers and was responsible for the building space, and festival grounds. We also involved Mia Bosna, who had annual extravaganza parties, with music and a big bonfire. She took on our procession with her phenomenal drummers and Bill Minazik, the pyromaniac extraordinaire at her parties, took on building the Phoenix. Bill created five of our sculptures. Charles Segal made three, Brett Williams made two, Aidan McDowell made two, Derek Wieneke made two, and I made four.
In 2004 and 2005 we built our Phoenixes on the Phoenix Property Group (PPG) land owned by Walt Logan (now Manny Demutis’ Phoenix Village Apartments). In 2006 we moved to Manny’s property (now the parking lot area of Borough Hall) to make way for promising plans of a 3 stories 900 car garage building. It was a great spot, but tight to squeeze all the people in. The very uneven hill was packed with people in total darkness. Everybody helped each other out, so nobody got hurt, and that speaks a lot of the good spirit of the community. In 2012 we moved back to our first location, now owned by Manny DeMutis, because of the building of the new Borough Hall.
Being in the downtown area was beneficial for the businesses and considered one of the best sales day of the year. We put musicians wherever possible, and our downtown was buzzing with colorful life. In 2013 we had to move to the North side, to Friendship Field. It was nice to have all the space, yet we missed the daily exposure of people driving by the construction site, and downtown suffered with fewer people. In 2014 still in Friendship Field some teenagers lit the Phoenix on fire just before the festival. Reflecting on it, we had all the ingredients for a great festival, and we needed to keep the clay birds burning, so we put a request out on Facebook for people to bring pallets. The response was overwhelming. Soon we had so many pallets, that we didn’t know what to do with, so we decided to build a new Phoenix. In 3 ½ hour we had a pretty cool bird. All of this happened in pouring down rain. The pallets had to be dropped off at the roadside, and carried to the site. The heavy human traffic muddied up the field, so a call was made to Colonial Gardens, and they donated us lots of straw bales, which were spread out in the field. Giant and Acme donated donuts, coffee, and other food items. What was left over afterward got donated to PACS, our local food donation program. It was impressive how the whole town came together, to reclaim what the Grinch took from us. It became something much more than we could have planned.
After 2011 our group decided to quit, only I wanted to continue, so I did. Charles stayed on for a couple of more years as valuable background support. As a blessing, it has forced me to reach out more. We have many good organizations in Phoenixville, and new ideas keep developing with them. Last year the High School made Phoenix models, and the Senior Center created Firebird wands. Neil Phelan from Karate studio usually joins the procession with a Firebird float. Another float is also in the making. The Festival has non-profit status, and used to be under the wings of the Phoenix Village Art Center, when they got replaced by the Soltane community, the Jaycees have adopted us. We are excited of that collaboration, since they intend to take on much of the practical parts of the festival. They are a strong organization, already supporting many of the Festivals in town.
The mission of the Firebird festival is to support the art and cultural life of Phoenixville, and we want to support collaboration among the different good organization in our town. We strive to bring more diversity to our Festival and invite the rich Hispanic and African American cultures in our community to join.
Our first year we had about 150 people and it grew over the years to now 20,000 people, changing it from a participatory to a spectator event, yet there is still a tremendous pride of our festival, that gets many involved. The festival allows for multiple creative contributions, which is a goal of ours. We celebrate our human creativity, and what we are capable of. In the middle of September, we will start building the Phoenix during the weekends. Lots of people come and help, and it makes the process very rewarding. Please come and join us. In middle of November the Art Center will have their clay bird workshops. Around 150 clay birds will be put into the big Phoenix, and Sunday Morning, after feeding the fire overnight, we will retrieve the small treasures. A wonderful part of the festival, that most people are not aware of.
In 2018 we moved to Veteran field on Mowere Road. Over the years we have faced many challenges, but the spirit of the Festival remains strong and we continue to celebrate our town through the myth of the Phoenix!