Ukrainian Refugee to Display Jewelry and Crafts at Brandywine Festival of the Arts

Written by: Betsy Price, Delaware Live 

The Brandywine Festival of the Arts returns to Brandywine Park for its 62nd year this weekend — Sept. 9 and 10 — for its largest show with 250 artisans and 16 food vendors.

The featured artist will be Edwin Lester, a self-taught painter who brings a sophisticated and technically advanced style of realism to his figurative and atmospheric paintings.

The Philadelphia native has exhibited in galleries and museums across the nation. His painting, “Worn But Not Out,” is on the cover of the 2023 U.S. Civil Rights Trail Travel Guide.

But the heart-warming story of the festival will belong to Oksana Pivush, a 47-year-old Ukrainian who left that country six months ago.

Pivush’s new life

Oksana Pivush

She knows little English and relied on the Jewish Family Services to help her settle into an apartment in downtown Wilmington and get a full-time job as a housekeeper at the Hyatt on the Riverfront.

She uses her mobile phone to translate conversations to help her cope with a new country, home and job.

Somewhere along the line, she told her JFS mentor Dr. Lanny Edelsohn that she made and sold jewelry in Ukraine and showed him samples of her work.

He took them to Barry Schlecker, who runs the festival, and Barry offered her a booth at the festival for no charge. Schlecker then introduced Pivush to jewelrymaker Faith Rosenblatt, who is loaning Pivush display materials to set up her booth.

Using short sentences, which are easier to translate, Pivush said Tuesday via Facebook Messenger that she is grateful to Jewish Family Services and Edelsohn for helping her get settled and involved with the Brandywine Festival of the Arts.

She’s always been crafty. As a child, her mom had taught her how to knit and crochet. Pivush grew up making clothes for herself and others.

Then Pivush’s own 10-year-old daughter bought her a book about beading and asked her mom to teach her how to weave bracelets.

“First I had to learn to do it myself, then teach my daughter, who quickly lost interest in it, ” she wrote. “I am very enthusiastic about this craft. After a while I started making bracelets from shoelaces and began to go out to sell it in my city. People were buying.”

Pivush became interested in embroidery and decided to combine microembroidery and knitting to make children’s toys.

“So my skills and hobbies increased,” she said. “I got great pleasure from the fact that I could do it and that people liked it. I started to improve my skills. After a while I quit my job and started doing only needlework.”

The town she lived in is more than 1,000 years old and the site of an ancient castle, she said.

“Near the castle I used to sell my handicrafts to visiting tourists and residents of this city,” she said. “My hobby turned into a small business.”

She was doing it for more than 1o years when the war with Russia broke out.

“Of course, there were no more tourists. People started fleeing the country, especially from the regions that were heavily bombed,” she said. ” There were only refugees in our town, mostly those who had fled to the EU countries. A very beautiful, rich and actively developing country began to turn into a depressing one. People’s incomes began to decrease sharply and prices began to rise dramatically. It became very difficult to live.”

Pivush decided to move to the United States. She packed a few essentials, some finished products and materials for her work.

“And I went to meet my destiny on the other side of the world, alone with a small dog, who is my friend, companion and psychologist,” she said.

Once here, Pivush created a new store on Etsy in hopes it would gain momentum. She had to get a job to pay her rent, which leaves little time for her jewelry and toy business.

“But I hope that in the future I will be able to develop my small business of creating handmade jewelry here,” she said. “I really believe and hope that this festival will help me move forward in this direction. It is a huge incentive for me to keep creating and making new jewelry.”

She puts a lot of love into every piece she creates, she wrote.

“And when people like it, when they wear it with pleasure, it gives me energy and I become even happier,” she said.

Brandywine tradition

Pivush will be among the painters, photographers, jewelry makers, ceramicists, woodcrafters and fabric artists from the Mid-Atlantic, New England, Virginia, Florida and the Midwest.

In addition to art and food, the event features music, children’s activities and pet-adoption opportunities.

As many as 15,000 people visit the festival, held every year on the banks of the Brandywine River.

The event is timed not only to mark the transition from summer to fall but also to signal peak season for home redecorating and the early purchase of holiday gifts.

Schlecker says the festival team has put added emphasis this year on expanding and diversifying food and snack options. This year’s offerings include Asian fusion, vegetarian, BBQ, soul food, chicken, seafood, ice cream, water ice, kettle corn, caramel and honey treats.

Musicians from OperaDelaware will perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Brandywine Park is at 1001 N. Park Drive, opposite the Brandywine Zoo. Free parking and shuttle bus service will be available at Incyte, 1801 Augustine Cutoff.

The festival will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Admission is $5 per day, with children 12 and under accompanied by an adult admitted free. Friendly pets on leashes are welcome at the festival and on the shuttle buses.

For more information, go to or