I departed from the long, pearly-white pickup truck into the cold, crowded festival, where the entertainment had already begun. As I hiked on the bumpy track, past evergreen trees, and listened to the birds chirp, it felt as though I was enjoying a beautiful day at the park. The southerly wind had breezed through my hair. Country music played left to right, people from all over laughed and chattered about the sensational art. The smoke from grill-fires was in the air, the lemons were squeezed for lemonade, and hot popcorn was popped for the hungry visitors. There was no other place I would rather be on this delightful Saturday morning than the 44th annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama.
Talented artists from across the nation had traveled in vans, trailers, buses, and cars to present their marvelous, magnificent, expensive, precious, bittersweet, creepy, and sometimes simple artworks. Among the many different personalities of the artists, I had to be careful and observe which ones were approachable. On the good side, there were friendly, cheerful, interesting, talkative, and fun people; on the bad side, a few were cranky, unfriendly, weird, or impolite. Three of the artists I had planned to meet had not yet shown up. Tragic. For the most part, though, the artists I did encounter were pretty cool, whether laid-back or hyper.
The lovely, plump, sweet Marian Baker caught my eye first. Her welcoming attitude pulled me right in to explore her fantastic art pieces and hear about her life. Baker began painting eight years ago with small pieces of canvas. She creates her folk-art paintings through an eleven-step process and bases them on family trials and tribulations, so they could be passed down to the next generation.
As an artist, Baker has such accomplishments as displaying her work in shows and having her works featured in five different movies.
The curly-haired Olive Kraus, who was very authentic, “once lived in a desert shack without water or electricity for four and a half years,” and now spends her time doing fiber, sculpture, jewelry, and watercolor on plaster. She has never gone to school for art because she believes artists do not necessarily need any schooling or training, it should just come from them. It took her five years to get into the credulous festival, but has won two awards, including Best in Show, during the four years she has been in.
The cool, laid-back, funny scientist Chris Hubbard was “BORN AGAIN”— as an artist. Hubbard left his career as a microbiologist and environmental consultant twenty years ago when he made his decision to make an art car. He was never in an art class, but he had artist friends to help him get started. The feedback, compliments, and customers encouraged him to keep up the good work. Financial issues can become tough, he remarked, but that personal reward he receives from his admirers motivates him to continue making carvings from the wood he finds and sheet metal.
Known as the “Heaven and Hell Car,” Hubbard’s art car is “a lighthearted expression of good versus bad dichotomy of self, other people, and life in general.” His car can go anywhere: in the middle of nowhere, on grass, in rough neighborhoods, and other places. Viewers have tried to steal objects off his car but some have also protected it.
Another artist that I met, Mitch Berg from Santa Fe, New Mexico, first attended college and earned a degree in journalism. However, when he was younger, he had watched so many cartoons, he was inspired. Berg said, “The adult world is really serious,” and he couldn’t take it, so he had to become an artist.
Berg started off making tiny pieces, and as the days went by, he made progress in his work. Berg works every day, and by the end of each day, he has created a pile of little art that eventually turns into bigger pieces. He says he is very “prolific.” Sometimes he thinks the art that he develops is too strange and people will not buy, but it turns out that they love it! The feedback from viewers encourages him to make more. Berg has been a part of the Kentuck Festival for six years, and it is the most influential place where he has presented his work.
Despite the windy weather and a few moody artists, the Kentuck Festival was not bad at all. There was not one minute when I had become bored and was dying to go home. I was only undecided about what to eat because the pictures displayed were all good looking! Though, I wish I had brought more money because there were a lot of creations I saw worth buying. The festival will come back to Northport, and I encourage you the reader to mark it on your to-do list as a next year’s must-see.