After listening to the older Creative Writing students talk about their artists and the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for an entire year, I had high hopes. I was expecting vibrant red and flashy yellow booths, almost like a carnival, with loud music and exotic artworks.
Early in the morning, our class set out for Northport, and when we finally arrived at Kentuck, all I could see from the parking lot were spots of white where the tops of the tents peeked out and brown patches of pine needles. The banal white booths were almost completely hidden by pine trees. The corners of my mouth involuntarily sagged. So this is what Kentuck looks like, I thought.
However, when we actually walked into the festival, it was like entering a different dimension. The plain white booths were filled with eye-catching pottery, paintings, jewelry, photographs, and other artworks. There were people spinning fibers and others strumming handmade guitars. Everywhere I looked, I saw delicate glass work and metal structures. I would have been completely at loss about where to start if I hadn’t already planned an interview.
Once I saw the pictures of her jewelry online, I knew which artist I wanted to meet. Connie Ulrich has her own studio in Huntsville, Alabama, and has high ratings from her customers. She makes jewelry based on natural features and landscapes. Her jewelry is captivating—metals and precious stones woven together to resemble rivers and trees. That morning, at Kentuck, I was finally able to meet her after weeks of anticipation.
When I found Connie Ulrich, there were several people checking out her jewelry, but she still took time to let me interview her.
“What do you do if you make mistakes?” I asked, since she works by hand with expensive materials. She responded that she doesn’t really make mistakes, even though she works by hand, because whenever she messes up she can just go with it and create something new.
Obviously, nature isn’t perfect. No mountain or tree is perfectly symmetrical. I asked her about this, and whether she would include nature’s imperfections in her work. She said it would be part of its beauty, and that she’s not really one for symmetry anyways. When I looked closely at her work, it shows the unevenness of nature, but that’s what makes it unique.
I then asked Ulrich why she used nature for inspiration.
“I’m fairly simplistic. I think I can find beauty wherever I look,” she said.
“What in nature stands out to you?”
“Trees,” she replied, almost immediately. “I mean, I love trees. I have a whole series based on trees. They’re beautiful, and a very powerful symbol. They have a lot of different meanings to different people.”
“I saw online that your passion started when you were in high school. How did you actually get into working with metals?” I asked.
“Well, I took art metals in high school,” Ulrich explained. “And I just loved the process of working with my hands. I just fell in love with it.”
I then went on to ask if she incorporated emotions into her art. She said that, when she first started her career, her creations were for the purpose of selling, but now they come from her heart.
“At some point I just decided to make what came from within, and it worked,” Ulrich said.
When I was doing my research, what really stood out to me was her series titled “Road Kill.” The name was already interesting enough, but the pieces in the series were hypnotizing. They weren’t elegant and shiny like Connie’s River Landscape series, but the layered bronze and silver metals had their own charm. I asked her if she could explain more about the series.
“I was just having fun with it. It’s work where I can just play,” she said. “When I started the series, I came up with a statement saying, when I’m out riding my bicycle, I would find things on the road, some that I picked up and some I ignored. Later I had to go teach somewhere and I needed to make a teacher project for their exhibition. So I made one (from the collected scraps), and it just started flowing out and I came up with a whole series.”
Obviously, Connie Ulrich is no ordinary jeweler. She’s also an artist, who designs and creates the essence of each piece.
“Did you ever consider just being a jeweler, instead of an artist?”
“I just knew I loved jewelry, and went for it,” she said with a smile.
At the end of the interview, Connie gave me inspirational advice: “Just love what you do, and go for it. Follow your dreams! Make it work.”
Connie Ulrich is an artist worth looking up to. She makes her jewelry by hand, the design for each piece coming straight from her heart. She’s not only able to turn discarded metals into art, she can also see beauty in nature even with all of its flaws. After just one interview, I was already looking forward to the rest of the festival.
For the remaining time, I stopped at numerous booths, checking out glass works, pottery, and even didgeridoos. One woman was spinning fibers with a spinning wheel at her booth. Another artist sold broomsticks that looked like they were straight out of a Harry Potter movie, and yet another booth had a carved doll that looked so real it was creepy. The festival was a chain of booths each filled with a different surprise. Even though I was exhausted from walking around, I couldn’t stop. The different paintings and sculptures seemed to be compelling me to go and take a closer look.
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts was worth driving two hours squashed in the back of a car. The music, the art, and the conversable artists made leaving painful when there were still other booths to check out . . . I’d only gotten a taste of art, and I was left starving for more.