At the feet of ancient, weather-worn trees glistened two-hundred and sixty-five white tents, standing where they had not stood a day before. They shone elegantly, freshly glazed in a soft misting of morning dew. As the sun rose, the tents stood quietly, anticipating the day to come. The crisp October morning’s breath couldn’t have smelled better.
One by one, the artists toted their long-awaited exposition pieces through the compact forest, traveling from the world of normality into the realm of creativity. They were finally among their people. The odd, the new, the oddly new, and the newly odd pieces found their tents, and awaited the coming weekend with a bursting excitement.
It was finally time.
The 44th annual arrival of the Kentuck Festival greeted the chilly morning with the resounding thuds of nails being driven home and people bidding each other good morn. An otherwise comfortable chill was hazed by the harsh early-autumn gales that permeated even the hardiest windbreaker. Only true connoisseurs of art would crawl from their dens to arrive so early, but the artists were already waiting for the first of the group to stroll by.
“When it comes to art, I just get out of the way,” said Mitch Berg, one of those artists, who works in glass. He answered smoothly when I asked about his process. A Peter Pan-like character, Berg stood comfortably, arms crossed, with a twinkle in his eye. His small stature and unassuming appearance contrasted with the confidence he carried like a badge of honor. As this was his sixth year, Berg explained how his methods differ from his artistic peers.
“Sometimes my art isn’t even done, but I bring it anyway to see what happens.”
Berg’s work circled around glass-blown pieces with chipped edges, depicting strange and somewhat morose apparitions. His panel of colors ranged from vibrant hues of soft orange to striking jet black, resembling the color scheme of a New Mexican desert where Berg was born and raised. He gives the colors new roles to play in each piece.
“I like to take normal things and give them a twist.”
Constantly toying with the expression of his medium, every piece has a name along with a particular flavor that either makes prospective customers grimace or beg for more. Apparently, it is often the latter. Upon being asked whether or not other people’s opinions affected him much, Berg admitted that “people’s opinions do affect me a lot,” but he made it clear that he always did whatever he could to keep his art consistent. Growing up, cartoons were his strongest source of inspiration, meaning that none of his pieces are very somber.
Despite studying journalism through college, Berg realized that he took writing far too seriously. Berg’s dilemma was one that artists can encounter in their early careers: a lack of confidence. It was only after ditching the writing scene when Berg discovered that molding and shaping glass to fit the contours of his bursting mind was what he truly enjoyed. Now, with a comfortable confidence, he returns to Kentuck every year to “see if I can outdo the crazies with my crazy.”
Another artist keen on the dynamics of art itself was Mark Mohrenweiser. New to the festival, he quietly stood in the back of his stark tent, polishing his next piece with care. Mellow in nature, Mohrenweiser spoke with a calm air, pensively answering each question comfortably. His medium, encaustic art, focuses around adding layers to create new dimensions. Encaustic art fuses wax, resin, and light pigments on the surface of paint, giving it a multi-dimensional effect that is smooth to the touch. His painstaking process was described to be a long transfer as he actively adds more and more layers.
“Some of these have twenty to one hundred different layers, depending on the size, of course,” Mohrenweiser said, gesturing to the wall, as he showed various rectangular frames hanging on the tent. Their faces seemed to ripple as though they were water-frozen in the midst of a disturbance due to the beeswax causing the picture’s surface to appear uneven and restless. Using various shades of beige, several of the layers he incorporated were words and song lyrics delicately overlapping one another. It was elegant in a new way, allowing its admirer to feel and experience the tangible aspects of the art, instead of staring from afar.
“I like textures,” Mohrenweiser simply stated, when I asked why he decided to work that way.
By noon, the festival was brimming with prospective customers, all searching for whatever reached out to their senses. Wooden sculptures, wire rabbits, and welded wonders were scattered everywhere, looking nearly as exuberant as the artists who brought them to life. Mitch Berg and Mark Mohrenweiser stood out, together, as people with personality and passion for their medium. One was bursting with energy and liveliness, while the other approached it with a serene reverence; however, this contrast only proved how the festival ties people together. The ability to collect such a sundry of artists in one place without the area spontaneously combusting is a beautiful idea! They could exist in harmony and thrive collectively, bathed in an atmosphere of individuality. The difference of one tent compared to the next was often staggering, giving the aimless wanderer a sense of adventure.
Mohrenweiser stated very clearly, regarding his approach to individuality: “I do not choose to follow, or else I’d always be chasing.”
With that strong mentality, it became apparent that the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is not simply a place to find and sell art—it has become sacred ground that houses some of the most creative individuals in the nation once a year.