A walk around the local park is typically relaxing, promising lots of trees, birds and squirrels, and an abundance of fresh, green grass. However, on the third Saturday in October, Kentuck Park is nowhere near a typical park on a Saturday morning. Instead of pigeons and squirrels, the park was packed with paintings and sculptures and other kinds of artwork for the 44th annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
A few of my friends from my Creative Writing class and I were making our first trip around, glimpsing at all the booths filled with art, when I got weary and wanted to sit down. We stopped at the booth of a man who made rocking chairs and who encouraged people to test them out. Reclined and rocking slowly in the surprisingly comfortable wooden chair, I spotted large black words scripted carefully in cursive onto a white background. Though that may sound common, even unoriginal, I was instantly intrigued. As someone who cannot draw and loves to write, I usually find myself scribbling my thoughts or random song lyrics on my papers. The simple sight of carefully written words was appealing and familiar. I left the comfort of the wooden chair and walked over to the booth.
I was finally close enough to read the text, the words felt even more familiar than before. Some of the quotes read, “You’ll stay with me? Until the very end.” and “Help will always be given to those that ask for it.” I brushed the weary feeling off and continued to look through the tent.
On the back wall, a board with sticky notes starting to cover the background read: “Lauren Sparks. Tell your truth. Share your skeletons. I was born a storyteller and I have helped 327 people die.” Immediately thrown off by the last sentence, I paused to sweep the tent for anything that should worry me. When I saw nothing more than the words and paintings, I was soothed and resumed reading. “Help eradicate untold stories.” Her website address and phone number followed. I was hooked and I wanted to know more.
I saw a woman, who I presumed to be Ms. Sparks, sitting at the back, right outside of an opening in the tent. I walked up to her, greeted her warmly, then asked about the board, particularly the statement about helping people die. She explained to me that she had been a hospice nurse, and when people were on the brink of death, they felt they needed to get their deepest secrets off their chest, and regretted it when they didn’t get to. She encourages people to open up and share their stories, not leaving anything left unsaid that they might regret. Then she told me about how people come up and write a confession on a sticky note and tack it up on the board. They are also welcome to go to her website and submit a longer version of their story, and she bases her works off other people’s stories. As I was leaving, she reminded me that I was welcome to write something to put on the board, too.
I scanned the sticky notes in front of me, the most personal thoughts of people I would never know. Three of them read:
Sometimes I just want to run away
and one particularly sad one read:
What will happen when she’s gone and
I no longer have an excuse to hide from life?
I felt sympathy, empathy, and even felt as if I was reading my own feelings scrawled down in unfamiliar handwriting. I debated on it before I grabbed a sticky note and a black Sharpie, wrote, “I am terrified my future will never live up to my or anyone else’s standards,” then left it behind.
On my second trip to her booth, I read the small plaques beside the framed text. My heart stopped when I read the origin of the words, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one from the book series that I grew up with, my favorite series that was there when friends, sleep, nothing else was. This only made me feel more at home in Lauren Sparks’ booth.
It was time to go to my next interview, though I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it as much as my previous one. When I first walked up to Leroy Campbell’s tent, the first thing I saw was a long painting of a beautiful black-and-white piano. Exaggerated and vibrant, it was one of my favorite paintings. I was ecstatic to see that there were smaller versions of the painting in bookmarks— so I shamelessly took three! That’s when the artist himself approached me.
Campbell’s eyes were covered by dark sunglasses but he had a big, bright, warm smile. I was preparing myself to ask him a few questions about his work, but he carried conversation like we were close friends having a chat about life, instead of working through a stuffy, awkward interview. He started off with a little bit of basic information, informing us that he was self-taught.
“I love what I do, it’s my passion.” he said.
It was obvious with the intricacy of each work. It’s impossible to craft things that vibrant and captivating without having experienced those strong feelings first hand. “When you find what you love to do, you are living in the present. There is no past. No future. Just the present,” Campbell said.
He described his work as being nostalgic, fusing history and art, and said, “Learn from you past, learn the lesson, and keep it moving.”
Art as a form of expression is a selfish deed as much as it is selfless. The purpose could be for the relief and peace of mind for one person but if the work is powerful, it can also reach other people, possibly more effectively than it reached the artist. The work I saw at Kentuck definitely reached me in a way I didn’t expect.