Men and boys in neon-green vests directed our SUV to a parking spot within a gravel lot outside of Kentuck Park. A wooden fence curved around its shady green innards, and a white tent offered small pink admission tickets. Already from a distance, I saw smaller variations of the white ticket tents protruding from the ground as artists got set up. I purchased a ticket and handed it to a young man in a pink t-shirt, who then directed me past the wooden threshold and returned to his post. Ready to begin my journey, I tread downhill along a dirt-and-gravel road,
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts, founded in 1971, celebrated its 44th anniversary, with over 270 artists present. The festival makes its guests and artists feel at home and a part of a family with ever-friendly greeters and home-spun description of the artistic spirit.
Pine trees towered over the park and gave it immense shadow coverage that contributed to a chill that remained all day. My group of friends and I passed by lines of folk art: pottery, glass-work and wood carvings. We didn’t know what to do with the palette so far because we weren’t interested in these, and we were also anxious. We couldn’t locate the artists we had chosen right off the bat, so we would be winging our interviews. Colorful characters, like a man in a teepee, appeared early though.
Out of the corner of our eyes, we caught sight of a framed work depicting a woman in a white dress and surrounded by children who were holding strings that connected around her neck. “That’s my aesthetic,” one of my friends exclaimed. We rushed over. This tent, with the rustic, yet abstract artwork mounted on the white fabric walls by black wood belonged to Beth Conklin, a digital artist from Birmingham, Alabama.
We exchanged awkward greetings and introductory questions like “How are you?” but I, growing impatient with hollow answers, inquired, “Hey, can we interview you?”
“Oh, sure,” she replied.
As a full-time stay-at-home mom, Conklin practices art with her own vintage photographs and some stock photos as a part-time job and hobby. Depending on this piece, her work might take a few hours to a couple of days. For displaying her work, she stays local with her festivals and generally in the Southeast— as she appears before us in Kentuck.
Talking to Beth Conklin alleviated most of our interview anxiety, and we padded along the path to seek another artist. We struck up conversations with other artists, but did not initiate interviews, though I was partciularly interested in the handmade hatching dragon stand that stood a little ways off from our first interviewee. A man working on an abstract piece also tried to offer us framed pictures for ten dollars, and since I saw a one of a wolf, I considered coming back.
My partner, the one that veered us towards Mrs. Conklin’s tent, motioned us to another artist’s tent. The tent’s walls had three dimensional pieces made with real objects. We stared for some time at the centerpiece, a wine-and-dine with part of a piano and a thick frame, until a tall man with a big and bright smile entered stage-left to greet us. We initiated light conversation about his jazzy art and their historical context, but I again, had to pop the question before we really started writing notes for an interview we hadn’t confirmed, “Can we interview you?”
He accepted, joyously, and then apologized for talking too much before our question. “No, please, continue,” I said with a smile.
Leroy Campbell, a self-taught multimedia artist, hails from South Carolina originally, but in his young adulthood he migrated to New York City, where most of his inspiration derived from with the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.
“I don’t just see your art, I hear the music, the people talking. Like the Harlem Renaissance,” I said.
“It taught me,” he replied with a widening smile.
The Harlem Renaissance had so much to say, and Campbell worked so that his art will reflect every aspect: literature through newspaper clippings, music from instrumental depiction or piano framing and the scene shown itself. He laughed, and explained further what he was trying to convey in his pieces.
Campbell’s inspiration also comes from other people and history, since he wants to have nostalgia in his art, but also knows to stay in the present. After all, “The past is not a place where you live. The past and the future can be a gift to you. That is what art is about.”
Campbell knows that problems are a part of life, but “[t]he creative process forces you to find a solution. Our solution is the beautiful part.”
When he asked us what we were, we replied, “Oh, we’re artists, too. Writers.”
He chuckled and said he had finished his first coffee-table book, My Authentic Self. And after our interview, he assigned us to write books about our lives.
Leroy Campbell left an impression on my group and me, so much of one that we had to ask for contact information and provided us with bookmarks of one of his work portraying a man playing the piano which also appeared on one of the walls.
After that interview, we wandered around the park space in search of another interviewee, but it was hard to top the interviews we had conducted already. The rest of the festival consisted of more folk art and jewelry and the crevices between the booths had smaller, handmade gems that I didn’t bring enough cash for. The tents were laid-out in a circle, so in no time, we returned to where we began.
We got lunch at late ten, and when eleven rolled by, we wandered even more. I began to raise my voice to a whine at that point and demanded, “I wanna do tie dye! Take me to tie dye!” I had requested we do so several times before lunch. Unfortunately my group wandered around, in search for extra artists to interview, but when the group split from a trio to a duo (because of our fruitless endeavors), I finally got my tie dye for five dollars; an alluring, green, yellow, orange and red combination, despite the odd stares I received from the ladies working the booth.
I had but a few minutes to sit and admire my novelty item before my partner and I regrouped with the class to leave, but those few minutes were the ones I dreaded. I felt like I wasn’t done with the festival just yet, like I’ve only experience half of it, partially because I only bought one thing. But then I felt hopeful, because this wasn’t really goodbye.