Jim Thorpe's Fall Foliage Festival has been evolving, and over the past three years, its current vendor coordinator, Mari Gruber, has guided its evolution toward greater support for her great love American art crafters.

Because of the interest by the Reading & Northern to bring Fall Foliage excursions to Jim Thorpe, the town's 2011 Fall Foliage Festival has been expanded to four weekends. The first three weekends will be focused on crafts, music and food, and the last weekend will focus on the community arts, shops and nonprofits.

When Gruber took over as vendor coordinator three years ago, she felt the festival had become too commercial. She saw that half the vendors were selling manufactured products and many of those products were imported.

"It was an odd mix," Gruber said. "There were some really good crafters along with manufacturers of storm windows.

"There was talk from local merchants about not wanting the festival," she continued. "They thought it took business away at a time of the year when visitors would come to Jim Thorpe because of the beautiful fall foliage, whether there was a festival or not. There were concerns about traffic, overload of the infrastructure, and visitors staying down in the park and not venturing to visit the stores.

"I love the town of Jim Thorpe and I love art," said Gruber a pottery crafter, art therapist, and art show promoter trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art. During the summer, she operates the Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary, where she integrates science and art in a learning environment.

"I love to support the arts and I don't want the American art crafter to disappear.

"I appreciate handmade work and I'm afraid that the American crafter is being put out of business by inexpensive imported manufactured crafts," she noted. "I don't want to see the American art crafter die out. That's my passion. That's my vision to do something that supports the local handmade art industry."

More than ever before, Gruber is acting to transform her vision into reality. During the festival's first three weekends, which began on Oct. 1, she has limited venues to food, live music, and American crafters.

"My vision for the Fall Foliage Festival is a small juried, fine-art craft show that increases in quality every year," she explained.

By juried, Gruber means that crafters are required to submit either photographic or electronic samples of their work, and only good quality work will be permitted, and those that are permitted can only sell what they make.

"Jim Thorpe is a perfect spot for a fine arts festival, a small jewel of a festival," Gruber said. "I think the public loves a good arts festival. Everybody wins with a good festival. It brings more exposure and more interest in our town. It brings people into town and gives them a new reason to come back to further explore, and it supports the fine-art crafter."

The fourth week of the Fall Foliage Festival will be focused on the town and Carbon County. Gruber is anticipating an upswelling of interest that will fill Josiah White Park with "wall-to-wall tents, and spill over into Race Street and Opera House."

It will feature a Taste of Jim Thorpe with food from local restaurants, a mug walk, and booths that offer local nonprofits an opportunity to raise awareness of their efforts and raise money.

Gruber's vision is for Jim Thorpe's Fall Foliage Festival to develop a reputation of being a jewel of an art-craft show in the Pocono Mountains.

"People will come and plan their fall weekends around this festival because it is quality. A festival has to have a unique draw, and then everybody wins."