Directed by a furious fourteen-year-old in a neon jacket, my class pulled into the parking lot at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama. Emerging from the car, a cold gust of wind continuously blew as we waited in a long ticket line to enter the gates. No later than nine o’clock, we entered the marvelous outdoor art forest, and my buddy and I broke from the group to explore.
Two-dimensional, three-dimensional, glass, metal— the art popped out at us seeming to scream, “Come look at me!” or “Come buy me!” Sadly, neither of us had the money to buy such large pieces, so we just admired them as we walked past. Gleaming pieces of glass and jewelry caught our wonder-filled eyes. Some artists yelled for people to come look at their artwork; others waited for them to come in at their leisure. The smell of paint wafted as we saw artists even composing pieces. Like a herd of cattle, the people moved slowly, stretching their necks to see what was inside each artist’s confined white tent.
As we pushed through the crowd, we stopped to gather our questions and tried to pinpoint the section where our artists were located. Unlike the rest of our class, the food area was where we decided to stop first. We were not planning to eat, but the various smells of cinnamon, coffee, tea, and even burgers and fries led our noses to a food truck! With a five-dollar burger and six-dollar tray of homemade chips, we set off to find an artist.
Leonard Jones Jr., or Tin Man as people called him, was our trial run since neither of us had ever interviewed anyone before. We found Jones painting chickens on a piece of tin as we walked up to his tent. His paintings were mostly of African American farm life, and he told us that each painting was based off of his own life. He also told us the reason he started to work with tin was because he noticed that “people liked it better.”
Tin Man didn’t talk to us much, but his assistant did. (The assistant seemed to know more about Jones than the artist would know about himself.) We figured, in the end, that Jones didn’t have to talk much because his art did the talking for him!
Next we visited Robbie Muller, a mixed-media artist. One of his pieces was a little girl in a dress, who was touching her toes and exposing her underwear. Another was a mask of a Jamaican man with dreads and a cigarette in his mouth. Muller explained each piece to us; he made the mask for his daughter who loves New Orleans, and the little girl is his daughter, when she was younger, trying to do PE exercises when he was a PE coach. After he retired from being a teacher and coach, Muller had been really looking forward to making art.
Muller had to be the friendliest artist we met. He even took a picture of us and posted on his website!
Our anticipation had reached its peak and we finally decided to interview the artist we were most excited about: Josh Cote, who sculpts human-sized animals – rabbits, crows, ants, and monkeys – out of recycled wire. His web page had interested us, saying he was raised by gypsies.
“They were more like hippies,” he laughed.
Cote also told us why he sculpted mostly rabbits. “When I was younger we moved and I left my bunny at the house we moved out of. I asked my parents to turn around and they didn’t.”
This was so touching, and I felt tears come to my eyes but held them back. We ended on a high note by asking for a picture of him by our favorite piece, “Old Hare.”
After our exciting day, we took a break just to walk around and look at other artists’ tents. Soon we stumbled upon another one of the artist I had looked into before coming to the festival: Chris McCarthy, a glass-blower. (McCarthy told us that he has a fourteen-year-old daughter, so he fully understood what we were doing when we walked up with a pen, paper, and a recorder.) For him, becoming an artist began with Legos when he was a kid, but glass interested him because he “liked to burn stuff.” He attended college but decided to follow his heart and have a career in glass-blowing. His art happened to be the only art I could afford and is now proudly clinging to my refrigerator!
After our interviews, the festival became less hectic. We visited more artists, of course, and the live old-time folk music being performed in the food area wasn’t bad . . . to my urban ears. Everyone crowded around the food trucks and grabbed snacks to hold themselves until they left for home. We looked around a few more times, making sure we took in every beautiful piece of art there was, before having to take our dreadful leave.