Under the scorching sun and to the sounds of a calypso band, Norman M. Greene worked on a white block of polystyrene with a piece of hot chromium wire. Within minutes, the wire melted the chunk and a nose began to form, then a mouth, a chin and soon the jagged profile of a man's face.
Greene's carving, which he will cover with mesh material and cement, was one of hundreds of sculptures, paintings, photographs, baskets and other crafts created mostly by local artists and on display yesterday at the foot of the cascading waterfalls in Meridian Hill- Malcolm X Park in Northwest Washington.
For the estimated 1,000 people who attended the 21st annual Art-in-the-Park festival, it was an opportunity to relax and watch area artists at work.
Picnickers sprawled on the lawns above the artists' booths. Couples meandered through the Italian garden of statues and an upper terrace connected to a lower terrace by a water staircase.
The festive atmosphere yesterday in the federally owned park was a sharp contrast to the scene at nightfall when drug dealers invade the faintly lit grounds, according to Lt. E. Melanson of the U.S. Park Police.
Meridian Hill Park at 16th Street and Florida Avenue NW was originally part of a large private estate. The land was purchased by the federal government in 1910, and the park was completed in 1936. In more recent years, it has been unofficially renamed Malcolm X Park by local black activists.
The daylong celebration, which featured rhythmic music, local dance troupes and about 40 artists, was sponsored by Tomorrow's World Art Center and funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities and the D.C. Committee to Promote Washington.
Georgette Powell, director of Tomorrow's World Art Center, launched the event in 1966 in the parking lot of a Giant Food store. "There was a need to showcase community artists," Powell said. "It's a way for them to help each other and make contacts."
That is what attracted Greene, 37, who directs a Montgomery County summer youth program. "As an artist, you don't get a chance to show that much," Greene said. "Galleries are hard to get in to. So an opportunity like this you jump at."
Nearby, under a cluster of trees, Lillie Byas was performing an art she learned when she was 6 years old: weaving sweet grass, pine needles and palmetto fronds into baskets.
"All the little boys and girls learned to weave when they were 6," said Byas, who lives near Charleston, S.C., and whose mother sells similar baskets.
Andre Barnes, who was drawing a chalk portrait of entertainer Aretha Franklin while a crowd of children gathered around him, recalled his early artwork. Once, he used red ink to color cars, houses and people inside his yellow raincoat. "My mother killed me," said Barnes, 28, "but I've been drawing ever since."
Festival-goers said they were drawn to the event because they wanted a taste of local talent and a stroll in the park