From the first moment I heard about the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, I was curious about what it was. I knew what an art festival was, of course, but I could not imagine what kind of people would be there. So when I stepped into Kentuck Park, I was amazed at the number of artists who were there and that they could squeeze so much of themselves into their small, white tents.
Shawn Bungo is a glass worker whose shapes appear to be aquatic life, such as jellyfish, inside the glass. Using a technique called lamp work, Bungo melts glass with a torch then shapes it with hand movements while blowing the glass. His works looked so real that I briefly wondered if he had used actual marine life or inanimate objects inside of the glass.
Bungo started out making and selling hemp necklaces on the beach with his then-fiancée. One Christmas, she gave him a blow torch to make beads for the necklaces. That slowly developed into larger works through trial and error. Now he can make a medium-sized pendant in about an hour.
Another artist, Kana Handel, made art based on old Japanese art style. When she was 51, she realized that she missed Japan, her home country, and wanted to do something that would connect her to it. Handel’s painting shone with such passion that it demanded my attention and made me do a triple-take. After I saw her work, I had to come back around a second time just to admire it again.
Across from Handel was Madison Latimer, who made paintings of peacocks with large, over-sized cheeks. (She had a truck in the parking lot with them painted all over it.) It was like looking a peacock that got caught in the middle of a meal, putting too much in its mouth. I felt the immediate urge to laugh at such absurdity. Latimer had other paintings with chickens and ducks but the peacocks stood out the most because their cheeks were such vibrant colors.
Ray Bridewell grew crystals from minerals . She “fed” the crystals minerals and grew them over the course of a few weeks. From the way she spoke, I could tell that she had a great love of her work. When she answered one of my question about the formation of the crystals, she immediately showed me what it looked like before it was cut into what people see on her jewelry.
Beth Conklin made Photoshopped pictures using ‘old-time’ photos like the ones you see in scary movies, the ones in those old houses where no one smiles in the pictures (or if they do, you wish they hadn’t). Her pictures had a dark twist to them that made the photos all the more endearing. Conklin also personified this mood in the way she acted and dressed. I could tell from her tone that she probably likes to tell scary stories while drinking hot chocolate!
Josh Cote made wire figures that were impossibly intricate in their design. They ranged between adult-sized to palm-sized, and each one seemed to have its own personality that came to life when I looked at the work. One of his wire figures was a bunny that sat in a wheelchair!
Mimi Damrauer made quilts with bright-colored geometric figures – circles and squares – and though they were plain, they were still interesting. She was so passionate when she talked about them that I found myself willing to stand on tired feet just to listen to what she had to say.
Another quilter, Yvonne Wells, reminded me of my great-grandmother because she seemed to command respect but also knew how to laugh. Wells wore a gray coat and sat in a wooden chair, watching all of the people passing by. As I talked to her, I found out she started in 1975 and has been coming to Kentuck for thirty years! I was amazed, because while she acted like an older person, she did not look like one.
There was James Floyd who had made very abstract and unique banjos out of different parts like boxes, skulls, tambourines, and signs. He played one that had a tambourine on the bottom!.
Sam Ezell made fairly simple-looking art. He talked of how he did splatter paintings earlier in the year, due to a temporary case of partial blindness. People bought them even though he did not think as highly of his splatter paintings. Seeing Ezell’s work was like looking at a child’s drawing after looking at the Mona Lisa. Both are good in their own ways, but child’s drawing is easier to interpret. Though some artists’ works that were impossibly intricate, others like Ezell were rivetingly simple.
Peter Rujuwa made stone statues with vague curves and life-like detail. He had a statue of a family that used minimal details yet abundantly conveyed a message of togetherness.
And some artists were nicer than others. William MacGavin and his friend had didgeridoos and let anyone who came by play one (while other artists would not let anyone touch their work). It had never occurred to me that people made didgeridoos out of materials other than wood and decorated them in odd, colorful fashions.
Kentuck was an eye-opening experience. Every time I walked around I saw something new that I had not seen before. I walked the whole park three times before I saw James Floyd, and I walked it two times before I saw Yvonne Wells. It was amazing to learn that some artists had been coming to Kentuck for many years, some were coming back after changing the direction of their work, and others were fresh new artists.