Under the unreachable distance of the sky and the uncountable number of trees, Kentuck Park in Northport, Alabama, has melted this cold weather with the passion of folk and contemporary artists and professional craftspeople. At the 44th annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts, people can experience the zeal and humanity from their extraordinary works, as well as musical entertainment, food trucks, and free hands-on art-making areas for children, which add warmth to the festival.
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts was founded in 1971 as the Northport Heritage Festival to celebrate the centennial of the incorporation of the City of Northport. During this festival, about 270 nationally known artists present their fabulous works, each containing their own themes and inspirations. Not only watching and touching their works, people can talk with the artists and listen to their ideas and reasons about why they pursue art as one of the most important things to do in their lives.
As the morning went by, people who wanted to feel the warmth and inspiration of great artists arrive to the festival with their excited hearts. Similarly, the artists who desire to show their art are busy explaining their great works to people. In every corner of the park, the sincerity of the artists’ works rise and spread throughout areas around them.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Kentuck Festival is for adults and for kids. Every free activity for children, such as writing a poem, building a birdhouse, creating with clay, and printing a card, is offered to help them to enjoy playing with the art itself. Lost & Found, First Aid, and Festival Information are there to provide for people, as well. The humorous hay bales throughout the park make people laugh and provide a place for rest. Throughout the day, the music draws from deep and diverse sources within Southern culture. They also have a full line-up of readings, skits, and storytelling. The old songs from nowhere and sweet smell of cinnamon buns stimulate people’s senses.
However, being able to talk to the artists is what makes Kentuck unique. While listing to artists’ stories, people can understand more deeply why such great works came out from many artists. Some artists caught my ankle because of their unique and creative works, but in actuality, I wanted their time to talk to them about their work and why.
Kent Ambler always wants to have good interactions with people, and that is why he pursues painting as his job. He was introduced to printmaking through the process of making woodcuts at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and he started to build his career making wood-block prints. He said his surroundings give endless subject matter: his dogs and cats, the woods, and the birds, the list goes on and on. Ambler could not wait to show his works to, and especially to share his observations with, people through the festival. I saw his zeal when he explained his works proudly and specifically. He did not forget to encourage other people who start art as their career, “Always promote yourself, and do a lot of work,” he said.
Kana Handel, whose smile was as beautiful as her works, believes imagination can help people heal. She studied art at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, and came to United States in 1992. Handel evolves the traditional Japanese art form known as ink painting. She creates figurative and narrative works, imagining her own stories while creating her works. Kana loves to approach people with her positive sense of the arts; she said, “Though I cannot make a strong influence on the world, if I make someone feel happy, then that inspires me to create a more positive sense of art.” Lastly, she added, “Keep going and then you will see your true goal.”
Jeffery Kennedy considers his art as “[a]ll about making people smile and to be a unique, fun fine art.” Kennedy graduated from Ringling School of Art, and began to pursue art as a most creative and unusual form. All his works inspire people to smile, interact with the art, and leave with curiosity. He said he loves art, yet more deeply he loves to give happiness to all people through his works. He could not stop smiling while he was answering my questions, and he seemed to enjoy meeting new people through his art. Kennedy gave a lot of encouragement to people and said, “Do what you want to do and stay on that path. Never give up. Keep an open mind and expect new things to happen.” He loved his own art, which inspired himself, too.
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts introduces society to the creative efforts of artists and enhances quality of life in the community, state, and region. Through this festival, people may approach true art more easily. After experiencing the festival, people’s excited hearts became relaxed by the humanity and warmth of the artists and their works.
I am so thankful that they allowed me to talk with them though it was a really busy time. Every artist had their clear thoughts on why they pursue the art in their lives— not just to show off their talents, but to make society even prettier for all people.