The Rising and Razing of the 2011 Firebird

Preparations and workshops are underway for the Phoenixville Firebird Festival.

A beloved annual event of the Phoenixville community, the Firebird Festival is uniquely symbolic among its street festival brethren.

Gearing up for its eighth year, no other festival so represents the roots or the spirit of Phoenixville like this, both honoring its namesake and a community that has risen, shiny and bright, from the ash.

This year there will be some changes to further highlight the singularity of this procession. The "burning" question so many are asking is “Why is the bird all the way up on that hill?” To answer this and many other questions, we spoke to Emma Peabody from the Firebird Festival Committee.

What’s Different This Year?

Getting back to that question about the bird being up on the hill, Peabody says “Well, we chose to put it so high up for greater visibility,” she pauses to laugh, “and it’s startlingly visible. But with such a huge crowd last year and a hopefully bigger crowd, we thought it was important to have it be so visible.”

What else is different aside from the startling visibility of the pièce de résistance? The design itself is different than the Firebirds of the past, Peabody explains.

“Interesting difference: this year’s bird design shows the bird in an earlier stage of its emergence. It shows the bird rising from the (vantage point) of a shoulder-up view.” 

Some quick stats on the bird, which designer Charles Segal has named "Sylvia." She's 24 feet tall and has a beak more than eight feet long. Workers gather on weekends to assemble the sculpture.

There will also be a larger number of vendors and musicians this year, and they hope all of the Phoenixville community, old and new, will participate.

“The egg shakers are new this year, too,” Peabody offered, leading to the inevitable follow up question: what is an egg shaker?

“Egg shakers are a new tradition for kids ages 8 to 12. They’re hollow clay eggs with clay balls inside that rattle when shaken," Peabody said.  

The noise of the rattling will generate excitement in the crowd as the Firebird lighting draws closer, much like noisemakers are used to hype crowds at sporting events or New Year's Eve parties.

How to Get Involved

Egg Shakers: Speaking of the egg shakers, these are not being shipped in from a factory in China. Rather, the community’s children are invited to participate in being egg shaker makers, hand-forming them with clay to be fired and retrieved before the festival.

Egg shaker workshops are $20 and take place on Nov. 26, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and Dec. 3, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. A workshop on Dec. 1 has already been filled. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made by calling 610-983-9430.

There are also Firebird Clay Bird making workshops for folks ages 13 and up. These workshops are $25 and the various dates and times are available on the PDF file at the top of this article. The workshop on Nov. 29 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. has already been filled. 

"All others have availability but we encourage folks to register soon," said Kathy Bestwick of Phoenix Village Art Center. 

Firebird Wands: Organizers are also hoping to expand the Firebird Parade. On Nov. 12, artist Victoria O'Neill will host a workshop where kids and adults can construct Firebird wands for the parade.

"Plans are in place for a larger, longer, and more organized parade than in previous years," according to a press release. "A flame captured from the Soltane Bakery oven will be ceremoniously carried by torch, accompanied by drummers, musicians, large puppets and more, all along Bridge Street and down to the bird site.

"Flying bird makers will gather with their birds, into a flock, at The Children’s Plaza on Bridge Street, and fly into the parade as it passes by on its way to the lighting of the bird."

Suggested donation is $5 per wand, and you can check out the event page on Facebook here.

Volunteering: Volunteers are still needed to help out at the festival. Find out more about current opportunities by e-mailing Henrik Teglbjaerg at henrik11@verizon.net.

Of course, the easiest way to get involved is to attend the festival itself. Looking for something to wear? This year's Festival T-shirts are now being sold. Contact the Art Center for retail outlets and availability.

If You Go

When: Saturday, Dec. 10

Time: Special events begin in late morning with the lighting of the Firebird estimated for 8 p.m.

Where: 300 block of Bridge Street

Cost: Free

More Info: Follow the bird's progress on Facebook

True Phoenixvillian November 10, 2011 at 02:33 PM
What does this represent? I'm from Phoenixville and I have no clue on the meaning behind this event. It reminds me of a KKK rally. You build something that represent a place you claim to truly love. Then you set it a blaze and chant like a true rally.
Stephanie Nattle November 10, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Gwyn Michael November 10, 2011 at 02:56 PM
@True Phoenixvillian Please use the link provided above to learn the mythology of the Phoenix. This is a rebirth story that represents the revitalization of Phoenixville, which was named for the myth. It is symbolic of growth and positive change having nothing to do with a racist rally. The event is inclusive of ALL people wishing to see Phoenixville thrive.
Ele November 10, 2011 at 03:21 PM
It makes me so sad that it reminds you of a KKK rally. This feels like a traditional winter act -- lighting fire against the darkness. Just as you put lights on a Christmas tree or light a menorah or set off fireworks for new year's day.
Victoria O'Neill November 12, 2011 at 02:28 AM
I love the Firebird Festival and look forward to making wands at the workshop on Saturday November 12th. We are hoping for at least 100 people to make them and then come be in the parade.


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