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PHOENIXVILLE — Phoenixville is getting ready for its ninth annual Firebird Festival on Saturday, Dec. 8.
The location has changed this year, and the burning of the phoenix will be held on Main Street across from the Foundry building behind Molly Maguire’s in the parking area.
The festival is held to honor the rebirth of the town of Phoenixville and the ushering in of the winter season.
“The town was depressed for many years, then it recuperated with all the arts coming back to town, so it’s like a rebirth,” said event organizer Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg.
“The winter Solstice is the same idea of lightness disappearing, and also at the same time it’s coming back again, with the shortest day of the year,” Stubbe Teglbjaerg said.
Many locals appreciate having a beautiful, giant sculpture of a phoenix, and feel the town should keep it year round. Stubbe Teglbjaerg said that burning it, is exactly the point.
“We’re building something that we really like and that we really think is beautiful...and then we let go of it,” he said. “It’s something in our culture that we aren’t very good at. We hold on to so much. This thing of just letting go, for me, that’s my biggest motivation with the festival. There’s something quite magical in just letting go.”
Stubbe Teglbjaerg added, “I also feel it in the crowd. You can feel an exhilaration that is happening, by seeing this beautiful sculpture just disappearing.”
Numbers for attendance have been rapidly growing each year. A total of 16,000 people are expected to come this year. Last year, 10,000 people showed up for the burning of the wooden bird.
There will be festivities around town throughout the day, and many different artists and vendors will be selling their crafts and wares. There will also be many street performers along Bridge Street. Different musicians are scheduled to perform, including Native American band, Spirit Wing.
The Playing Mantis, a fire dancer group, will also be performing before the lighting of the phoenix.
At 7:50 p.m., a parade of giant puppets, drummers and dancers carrying a torch, will lead the crowd down Bridge and Main Streets, to the culmination of the festival, which is the lighting of the giant phoenix bird statue. The burning will begin at 8 p.m.
Stubbe Teglbjaerg is very excited for this year’s festival.
“Because of the design, it’s such a beautiful bird and it’s brought so much excitement,” he said. “I have more performers this year, more than 70 different performers located around the town. There will be music and story telling and dancing and different things.”
Stubbe Teglbjaerg is looking forward to have Phoenixville native Frank Della Penna play the carillon again with his group.
“I feel very fortunate to have ‘Cast in Bronze’ again this year,” he said. “He’s a big name in America. His instrument is a carillon, it’s 35 bells and weighs 40 tons.”
Stubbe Teglbjaerg said the parade will start on Bank Street by the Colonial and the torch will be carried down to light the bird.
He said there will be a couple of donation booths set up on Bridge Street and that proceeds will go to support the festival.
This year, the designer of the 29-foot high firebird is Brett Williams, a student at the Tyler School of Art.
Williams is a Phoenixville native and is excited to have been chosen as this year’s designer.
“I haven’t really been able to wrap my head around how big the whole festival has been,” he said. “It’s been seeping in slowly since July when I built it. To see the size of it is just really fantastic.”
Williams got involved through Charles Segal, who is a member of the Firebird Festival committee and who has designed three of the festival’s previous birds. Williams first worked on sketches and then built a small model that was 16 by 16 inches big, using tongue depressors.
“It’s a good way to take a look at it while were building it, to understand the engineering behind it as well,” Williams said. “Half of the model is finished and feathered in, where other half you’re able to see the armature of the actual bird, so we could do some measurements there, right off the model.”
Volunteers having been helping the Firebird Festival committee build the large, wooden bird on the weekends.
Williams is impressed with the growth of the festival, as well as the town.
He said, “Last year there were 10,000 people and this year 16,000. Just the fact that we’re getting more and more each year and seeing that progress with the town too, is interesting.”
As for seeing his gigantic sculpture burn, Williams said he is okay with it.
“Going in, I knew the design was for this purpose, where it was more about getting the community to come together to see this happening,” Williams said. “I view it more as a performance piece, rather than a long lasting sculpture like my other work.”
As with previous designs, dozens of tiny clay phoenixes will be placed inside the Phoenix. The Phoenix Village Art Center hosts a clay bird making workshop, specifically for the event. The birds will be placed inside of the base of the statue.
“We built a little kiln in the base of the bird on one side,” Williams said.
There will also be a box of wishes, that will be placed in the chest area of the sculpture, to be burned with the rest of the bird. Community residents will be able to write down a wish to contribute to the sculpture.
More information and full schedule is available at Firebirdfestival.com.
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