Growing up, I loved the idea of camp. I always imagined the long, restless rides to the middle-of-nowhere, hoping that the kid next to me would stop creating whirlwinds of dirt and dust with his shoe. I couldn’t wait to sit around the campfire on a moonlit night, praying that I didn’t wet myself because the dark reminded me of a devilish abyss. More so, I was amused with the thought of saving everyone from the camp’s star-studded, arch-nemesis like Billy Harlan in the Goosebumps episode, “Welcome to Camp Nightmare.” I’d always wanted to burn out as a hero.
Traveling to Kentuck gave me the chance to relish that feeling I’d once had. My childish anticipation was building up, as I stuffed myself into the corner of my Joslyn’s minivan. I swallowed the bittersweet idea of this being the final year of hearing Dickson’s “You got your Kentuck artists yet?” ricochet off the walls of my brain, then asked another Mia to buckle my seatbelt. What started as a giggly “pass me the snack bag” charade eventually transformed into the tedious task of trying to catch Ashlee and Mia sleeping on film; I couldn’t count on my fingers how many times I had to scoot over in order to watch Mia’s head topple and jerk upwards in a tiresome frenzy.
Two years ago, I dragged myself out of my bed in the wee hours of the morning, slogged through the cold rain to this unknown land, not fully comprehending what I was doing. Now, I was glad to have the sun meet me head-first at the Baymont Inn; The outside features reminded me of an old Renaissance castle, the ones writer’s talk about in a scary nonfiction piece, a place that becomes haunted by an unforeseen soul a thousand years later.
The morning of Kentuck was chilly but I swallowed my pride because I really wanted to wear the striped dress I had on. I told myself I’d be the first in Joslyn’s car, if push came to shove. I knew the morning’s drive wouldn’t be long, since we were only a few minutes away, but I put in my earphones and prepared my mind for what seemed like a long day.
When we arrived, I noticed the grassy field we’d parked in my tenth grade year; I grimaced, thinking we’d park there the second time in a row. Instead, a young boy, mashing this green stick in the air, directed us into our designated parking lot. At last, we were here!
The setup of Kentuck reminded me of the Montgomery Zoo. Trees skyrocketed through the air at uneven heights, families were scattered in different places, and the fresh dirt from the ground met the soles of my shoes with no remorse for how much my granddad and I had spent cleaning them the day before. The day’s journey started with Jasmine by my side; we were off to find Marian Baker, a mixed-media specialist who had fallen in love with blockhead art. In tent C-30, we were greeted with a “Hi! How are y’all!” from a short woman, who exclaimed that she could talk her life away. I laughed and thought about how much I loved her sweet, Southern drawl. I was even more impressed with the fact that she not only loved what she did, but was financially self-sufficient!
The first piece she ever painted was of her grandmother from the Great Depression; this didn’t come as much of a shock since I’d already known that much of her work was either “family inclined” or “materials inclined.” Everything comes into fruition under an hour through an eleven-step process, starting with her husband sanding the boards first. The feedback she was getting from the outside world proved her commitment; Baker has been in cities like Palm Beach and Chicago, doing one or two shows a month. Plus, a few of her paintings had been featured in movies. Even on a lukewarm morning like that, she made it easier to feel happy.
Not too far along the way, roaming around the outer, back part of her pastel tent was Olive Kraus. In retrospect, she reminded me a lot of Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. I could tell she had an inquisitive and eclectic taste to her simply from the way her hair was pulled into two, messy pigtails; it was like looking at art itself. Keeping in mind that she’d lived in a desert shack without water or electricity for four and half years, I calmly asked if she was, in fact, the “infamous Olive Kraus?”
Kraus scrunched her eyebrows and replied, “Yes, who’s asking?”
Pleased with not only her presentation, but her quick wit, I smiled, expressing my reasons for being here.
Kraus’s roots in the arts were etched in her soul; her parents were both artists, and she majored in art history in college. In 2012, after what took her five years to qualify for Kentuck, she won Best of Show for her fiber sculptures of livestock; before flat painting (which is her muse as of now) she dabbled in things like jewelry as well. She said that much of her motivation came from her profit and she enjoyed looking at art in the dark, this way everything flowed into fruition.
After lounging around for a few minutes, I said my farewells but was stopped by a few words that hit me like a hot flash: “Move to Brooklyn and make a movie with Spike Lee because that’s the vibe I totally get from you.”
My thank-you spewed out in short, choppy squeals; I couldn’t believe she’d said that!
No, I hadn’t gotten my hand on s’mores or defeated any villains hiding in “eerie lakes” or vacant cabins, but I had become my own lion heart. In these interviews, I was giving these artists (on their everyday hustle and bustle to make a living) an outlet to exceed their own work— a voice, this voice allowing them to express verbally what they had dedicated their lives too. The sun, this time hitting the reflections of my black platforms, followed me home. Camp Kentuck 2015 was over and done.