The Kentuck Festival of the Arts, held annually during the third week of October, showcases artists from all over the nation. Folk, visual and contemporary art displays are the basis of the festival, but many crafts – from cat sculptures to robotics or Black arts – can even be observed. The festival features book arts, clay, fiber, glass, and metal arts, as well as mixed media, photography, print making, sculpture, woodworking— even theatre, readings, and dance!
Not to be confused with the state of Kentucky, Kentuck is the original name of Northport, Alabama. The festival began with local artisans who gave demonstrations, such as women who would spin cotton on a wheel. Today, the Kentuck Museum has a gallery shop and painting studios.
The Kentuck festival is shaped in an oval. Entering the park, there is mulch on the ground and white booths and tents shaping the imperfect oval. It may seem like a small area, because of all the tents taking up space, but the park is probably about the size of a football field. In the booths are the artists and their artwork, and in the middle of the festival, a playground for the children is available. The children can also make paper hats, play with and smash clay, and make tie-dye t-shirts ($5) or bandanas (free) for which they choose their own designs, while some pleasant, but busy ladies help them through the process.
Food trucks were stationed on the ends of the festival, flanking the booths. Carneceria y Tienda la Mexicana, Southern Concessions, Grandma’s Kettle Corn and Tea Town Alabama were some of the food trucks prepared to take hungry customers’ orders. I got a six-dollar funnel cake, a four-dollar hot dog, and a three-dollar Mountain Dew.
The festival began at 9:00 AM, and admission cost ten dollars. The two lines of excited people chatted, but while I shared that excitement, mine was mixed with a nervous energy as I would be meeting, in person, people whose art I’d begun to admire online. My classmates and I headed to the right once we’d entered the gates, and my eyes immediately fixated on the very first tent. The pottery I saw drew my attention, particularly to the details in pieces both large and small, and that was my first clear confirmation that this indeed would be a special day.
My friends and I begun in Section A, and as we strolled, our eyes tried to take in the diversity of art, from contemporary to modern art, from traditional to eclectic. The talent and creativity were stunning! Some artists had pieces that were thematic; I saw owls and roosters created from well-worn wood and wiry rustic pieces of metal and also an artist whose entire booth was a collection intricately designed strips of metal in the form of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
Two of my favorite pieces were displayed by an artist in Section A called Miz Thang. One of the two pieces was of US presidents on a rectangular platform, showing cartoonish caricatures of each one, from George Washington to Barack Obama. While that in itself was unique, the interesting part was that, written next to each presidential figure was a little known fact: Abraham Lincoln was the first president to sport a beard, and James Monroe was our least religious president. My other favorite from Miz Thang was the matching set of US First Ladies, which was designed similarly to the US presidents’ piece. I was in awe especially of her depictions of the different hairstyles and dresses: the colorful and stylish hat that Eleanor Roosevelt wore and Hillary Clinton’s hairdo, which looked like a Dolly Parton-style big bouffant.
In addition to admiring all the art, I enjoyed talking to the artists, who were very nice and accommodating. Some artists were impressed that my friends and I were students, and they offered us words of encouragement as aspiring artists ourselves. The nerves I initially experience melted away once I began to talk to them, because I had prepared a list of questions and had researched their inspirations and their feelings about Kentuck.
The first artist I spoke with, Carole L. Fleischman, had sculptures dedicated to the “Mighty, Mystical, Marvelous Cat “ She said that her love for the cats was fueled by always wanting one but instead getting dogs, and that her art is a compulsion of her hands, which just can’t be idle. Despite it being her first time at Kentuck, she said she was enjoying herself.
After this first interview, I became even more excited to hear what my next artist, Tim Hooper, had to say. The Nashville native, who can also be referred to as “Mr. Hooper”, has a love for bunnies and robotics. He was inspired by the comics of Robert Crumb. His narrative work of B-movies, historical figures and American roots music are exceptionally distinct. He also said that he enjoyed the Kentuck festival and he believes that it’s getting better over time. Hooper even compared it to going to Homecoming!
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts gives new meaning to the phrase “a walk in the park.” With the singers and band playing their Southern-style music and the enthusiastic artists greeting guests and explaining their artwork to people who are eager to get a glance of the creativity. Kentuck is more than just a showcase and “art sale”— it’s where festival-goers wish they could hit the lottery and buy everything they’re fortunate enough to lay eyes on.