In the middle of a forest, an art festival by the name of Kentuck emerges every year. A trail of dirt is carved out through the middle of forest so that, where there is not a white tent set up, there is a tree to block the sun, though on this chilly Saturday I would have been thankful for a few rays to beam down on me. The dust from the ground found a happy home on my black combat boots. The rocks made a hobby of stabbing me in the foot every few minutes, but the artwork was too much of a distraction for me to even really notice that my feet were at war with the ground.
The first tent that caught my attention was one set up in the front of the festival. A tall man with two hoop earrings, grey sneakers that almost looked loafers, slacks, and white framed glasses named Roger “Ab the Flagman” Ivens was the owner. I realized immediately why he was given his name because all of his pieces were 3-D patriotic canvases. He had flags and bald eagles, all with elements that popped out. On one of his flags, each stripe was stacked against the one in front of it and the stars sprung out from the blue as if they were jumping to be put back in the sky.
Across from his booth was a center for kids to make tie-dye t-shirts and bandanas, more than likely to keep them happy so they wouldn’t complain to their parents about being ready to go home as quickly. The kid’s area also harbored a musical petting zoo where the kids could go make all the noise they wanted to and not get scolded for it.
Walking deeper into the festival, I noticed the stage area where many old-country singers such as Debbie Bond and the Trudats played music while people ate the ridiculously over-priced food. By ridiculously overpriced I mean ten dollars for two chicken tenders and curly fries that had been dipped in old grease one too many times handed out by snappy workers that were just short of outright rude.
The next booth that caught my attention was that of Leroy Campbell. Mr. Campbell was a friendly guy with a shaved head and a grey beard who sported shades and a smile. I didn’t even have to ask him a question because he was eager to spread the joy that he got from doing his work. He painted pictures of African American silhouettes that were faceless, except for a mouth and maybe a pair of glasses or a beard here and there. His reason for not adding the rest of the face onto the work is because he believes that the face is up to the person viewing his piece. He lets his audiences imagine the face anyway they would like to. Once the picture is painted, he attaches various instruments to it such as a harmonica or half of a guitar or a piano keyboard that gives the work a jazzy vibe. He also paints on pieces of newspapers to add history to the pieces and give them a setting. However, it was not only the work that kept me in his tent; it was his personality. He had a passion for his work, but many people can have a passion for what they choose to spend their lives doing.
What stood out about Campbell was that his passion for his artwork gave him a passion for life. He even said that sometimes he’s anxious to get to sleep at night because he knows that the sooner he sleeps, the sooner he can wake up and get back to working on his latest piece. He said that “finding your passion leads to finding your purpose in life.” The whole time I was in his booth he spoke eagerly of not only his artwork and how much he loved it, but of his life lessons and how those lessons affected what he did. Campbell explains that life is about evolving and growing and learning. He believes and advocates that if something in life happened that was a setback, it shouldn’t be harped on; it should be looked at as a learning experience. Art is his way of finding solutions to problems in order to help evolve as a person. When I left his tent, I had a new outlook on life! It was like going into church with my heart heavy and leaving feeling relieved.
Another person that spoke to me was Lauren Sparks, a former hospice nurse. I was attracted to her tent because her sign read, “ I have helped 327 people die.” At first, this made me slightly hesitant about the person I was about to meet, but my interest was piqued too high to keep walking.
Reading the bio she had tacked to the wall, I learned that while being a hospice nurse she had found that too many people die with things on their conscience that they never said. Her booth had a bulletin board with a stack of sticky notes and pins next to it so that people passing through could write their confessions on it, so they wouldn’t have to live with it on their chest. This amazed me because though she did have artwork for sale, which were mostly words on canvases, she had set up something to help people. She wasn’t all about selling her artwork and making a profit, she was about making a difference.
Kentuck isn’t just about the art, it’s about the story. Each artist has been through a different struggle and that struggle is then bled onto a canvas. From Lauren Sparks’ wall of confessions to Leroy’s aged pieces: these people don’t paint or sculpt or put their soul into their artwork for a paycheck, they do it for the sole purpose of expressing.