The announcement that we would be going to the Kentuck Festival of the Arts created a looming cloud of anxiety over me. Meeting new people has always made me nervous, and this assignment would cause me to interview an adult I’ve never seen before. I always joke about people scaring me, but it really wasn’t a joke.
On the day of Kentuck, I stood on the sidewalk outside of our school with a group of my friends and tried to rein in all my nerves and mentally prepare myself for the new experience. I was going there to interview Kerry Leasure, and from what I had gathered so far in my research, she seemed like a sweet woman, and I prayed she retained that sweetness in person.
We loaded into our designated cars, and Mason, Jay, and I rode with Mr. Shimp. During the two-hour drive, we jammed to music and joked about different signs on the road. Definitely an interesting drive . . .
When we arrived at the festival, I hobbled through the uneven terrain with my friends Molly and Denise. Unfortunately, I was appointed to give directions. Ironically, I have no sense of direction, but I stared at the map anyway, trying to find where we were, Then we began walking to our first stop: Connie Ulrich.
While Molly interviewed her, I gazed at the surrounding booths and fell in love with a picture of a black-haired Day of the Dead woman. After five minutes of staring, I gained the courage to talk to the artist, Leslie Wood. She had a contagious love for her. She even showed me ways to plan out art pieces with a journal and gave me a card for her online classes. I didn’t have enough money to buy the beautiful painting, but meeting Mrs. Wood was just as amazing.
After Molly finished, we continued our trek, for Denise to meet Fong Choo. His booth contained colorful artwork that originated from clay and ended in glass-like structures. While Denise did her interview, Molly and I talked and looked through other booths, and we were lured into a booth with the bright and colorful glass art of Larry Hamilton. We both picked out pendants and left with our bags and his business cards.
There was a perky, blonde woman conversing with her friend.
I slowly walked to her as my friends left to explore.
When I reached her, she gushed to her friend that she was being interviewed, and her excitement let the majority of my nerves melt away! I awkwardly asked her if we could start, and she said yes.
When I asked Leasure if I could record, she joked around about not liking her voice, which allowed me to see how good-natured she was and that we shared some similarities. I asked the usual questions, and tried to keep myself from stuttering. As we talked about different places she has shown her art, her graciousness could easily be heard.
“What was Market Noel like?” I asked her.
“Oh, so fun! The Junior League of Birmingham is such a supporter of new and emerging small businesses, and them giving me that opportunity was just a real boost to my self-confidence and my, like, decision to keep going with my ideas.”
It shocked me that she needed confidence because walking into her booth had me spellbound by its ability to convey messages and transport me places, and I told her so in my stuttering yet gushing tone. I also learned that she went to Hollins College, which coincidentally I know about from submitting to their Nancy Thorp poetry contest. She was both an English major and a kindergarten teacher, which influenced her works, “I just find words very inspiring.”
After learning that, I asked her about quotes and we spent two minutes excitedly talking about how we both enjoyed reading and writing them down. After this we shifted to her “system”, which wasn’t one at all: “I dump it all out on a table and I wait for it to come together.” And as radical as that sound, they still all come together to form nature themes, trading themes and even party themes.
As she spoke about the beginning of her art career, when she switched from selling vintage jewelry to making it, she showed how family-oriented she was. “It was good because the kids and I shared a room and they could paint and do Play-Doh on one end, and I got to play around with my stuff at the other end. And shows are on weekend so my husband is home from his job so we do a little child care exchange but this doesn’t take me away from eating lunch with the kids or helping with homework or, you know, doing all the things I want to with the kids.”
Like my Auntie Mo, Leasure enjoys antiques because of the better quality and because she doesn’t have heirlooms of her own. We had to pause as she talked to her customers, and Leasure was just a cool, happy-go-lucky person joking around about a pouch necklace she made. “Isn’t that cool? Yeah, you can keep your stuff in it.”
Her music taste was definitely interesting, too. “I like . . . eclectic Americana, alt-rock, bluegrass, but not country, and I don’t like pop. And I like the stuff I listened to in high school . . . ,” she said.
The best part of the interview, after getting a gauge on Mrs. Leasure’s personality had to be in asking her, “How did [jewelry making] show you the best of yourself?”
“Because I didn’t— I never dreamed of it. It wasn’t something I set out to do. I didn’t, I wasn’t like ‘I want to be an artist’. [ . . . ] Like when you find something within yourself that you didn’t know you could and someone else loves it the way you love it, yeah, it’s really magical, it’s just been a bizarre experience,” she said with fond expression, then added, “And you just never know which direction life’s going to take you, so I think it’s a good lesson in just saying yes. I found like my craziest instinct is definitely the one to go with. Yeah, don’t say no to it.”
That resonated with me, especially during high school where it’s all about thinking of the future and we’re told to make practical decisions while we have impractical dreams. Here’s a woman who is extremely successful in both business and life, doing what she loves without even having a degree in art.
After the interview, I looked around Kerry Leasure’s booth and found a gold-chained necklace with a pendant of a blue bird in flight on a gold disk and a blue and clear jeweled flower hanging under it, and I totally fell in love. What a symbol of flying free, and saying yes to the crazy!