I woke up early Saturday morning in Northport, Alabama with only one thought in my mind: Kentuck was going to be a boring art festival with creepy, weird, dorky people roaming around, attempting to be cool. Those initial thoughts burned in my mind as a teenager in a neon vest with a yellow trim ferociously conducted traffic. The windy weather accosted us as we paid our ten-dollar entrance fee and entered the gates at 9:00 AM.
Kentuck is a juried competition in its 44th year, and rain or shine, the festival commences every third Saturday in October. With a wide variety of art forms, Kentuck caters to every kind spectator. Each artist submits an application for his or her work, and the judges hand-pick the artists for the festival. Getting into Kentuck may be the hard part. Some of the artists have been coming for years, while others are newcomers. I was told that the festival participants, over the years, have become a family.
Going into the festival, my nerves bubbled into my stomach at the thought of having to interview complete strangers. I researched the artists I had chosen to have some background information so I could walk in with confidence and knowledge of what they did. The hard part was writing my questions so I could thoroughly examine each artist as a person and as an artist.
After looking at Kentuck’s website, I navigated my way through many artists’ websites, and looked at some amazing art, but three really stuck out to me: Laurie Popp, a fiber artist from Pulaski, Tennessee; Rhonda Cearlock, a composer of clay from Vandalia, Illinois; and Mitch and A.me Alamag, an artist duo from La Cruces, New Mexico, with their focus on mixed media.
Immediately, the elaborate rows of white tents, towering over my group as we walked the paved path, impressed me. Fall leaves littered the ground from the oak trees that hovered over the park. Folk music played from the large speakers sitting in front of the wooden platforms being used as stages.
By 10:15, spectators from miles around began crowding the path to see the nationally acclaimed festival. Others though, didn’t have as far to travel to see the state treasure. Nancy Terry, a spectator from Tuscaloosa has been coming to Kentuck for twenty-five years. She loves to look at the art in the festival and to find handmade Santa Claus ornaments to hang on her tree.
Walking around the festival, the art hit me with its vibrant multitudes of colors: rose, sapphire, lavender, and jade in mesmerizing combinations. Wires merged into animals with life-like features made me double-take to make sure they weren’t alive. Metal benders effectively captured the images they were trying to portray. Photographers made everyday life contort into significant memories.
I started each interview with one question that I believe introduces the artist as a person and as a creator of art: “What inspires your art?”
Laurie Popp told me, “I have a sheep farm, the wool piles up, and I don’t knit so I have to do something with it. I live on a farm so all the animals and stuff I see and that’s what I make.”
Pure inspiration and the sheer need to do something is the basis of all of her hand woven beautiful creations.
On the other hand, Rhonda Cearlock believes that her creative expression is the ground layer to her work. “Intuition, free flowing creative expression, years in clay, and a bit of a surprise is the foundation of my compositions.”
She does admit that the landscape and farm grounds do play a part in her works. Her dark colored geometrical shapes shine brightly as the sun hits them perfectly.
Mitch and A.me Alamag go in a deep direction as A.me stated that, “People, life, and the psychological aspects of the earth,” are the inspirations in her art world.
They merge personal information with their own creative minds to invent a unique expression of art that holds a dark yet comical version of everyday life.
In response to my question, “How does your art affect your personal life?”
Popp said, laughing, “Its time consuming, but its good therapy.” Art for her is her refuge from everyday life. It’s comforting to her.
Cearlock went with a more generic answer while letting out a small giggle, “I make it.”
A.me, by contrast, said, “It gives me energy.”
“What is your favorite piece?” I also wanted to know.
“My favorite? Hmm… It would have to be my little florist scene,” stated a bubbly Laurie.
“I like my more cryptic pieces.” Rhonda said vaguely.
“I like the most recent pieces.” A.me said to me as I looked at her. I liked A.me’s response because that meant that her favorite changed as her art work grew.
I also asked a personalized question catered to each specific artist. To Laurie Popp, I asked, “How did your interest in animals start? And what animals truly inspire you to create your best work?”
“Umm, I used to go down and spend all my money at the pet store in the city that I grew up in L.A, and then I moved to a more rural city to a farm and started getting all the animals except for my husband won’t let me have a pig because I’d probably won’t let him eat it so pigs are my favorite things to make because they are like dogs. It’s hard to kill them, but I love bacon.”
I asked Rhonda Cearlock about her educational background and influences, and how they helped her succeed in her art.
“Well, I would say that my intuition helps me the most, but knowing the proper and correct way to do it, helps even more.”
For Mitch and A.me: “does making art together help your relationship?”
“It does. It’s like having a child. It helps us work together.”
Looking around for the last time, I figured it was time to wrap up my interviews with one more general question. “What advice would you give to future generations?”
“Find your passion and stick with it,” Rhonda stated with a serious tone.
“Follow your own unique path,” A.me said with a bubbly, calm tone.
Yet, my favorite answer came from the comical Laurie Popp. “Take care of the planet, it’s the only one we have so far.”
After wandering around from booth to booth all morning, my stomach was dying a slow death from hunger pains. But before I could satisfy my hunger, I had to make tie-dye! A station for kids “under the age of twelve” did not say that kids-at-heart couldn’t play.
Running from the tie-dye station like a child at Christmas, we scurried over to the farthest food truck in the festival, after we checked in with our teacher. While the food wasn’t as good as the art, my need for chicken tenders and fries convinced me to spend money on the very expensive (I shall admit) food trucks.
Leaving Kentuck, I knew I satisfied my art obsession. Every booth I saw confirmed that my crooked, unstable stick men would never live up in the art world’s standards, and I should stick to interviewing the professionals.