Art and Tree Bark

As I neared the entrance, I saw aisles upon aisles of white tents that formed a uniformed roof across the park; skyscraping trees towered over them. Music was heard from the right, and laughter from the left. Soon the bittersweet smell of grease and funnel cakes filled the air.

I looked down at the booklet I was given upon entry. The cover was adorned with intricately painted mermaids.   I looked through a list sorted by artist’s last names for Renee Ford. She was in Tent E-50.

On my journey to her tent, I passed a playground. The loud laughter of children was as vibrant as the colors of the slides.  I traveled along the long path to Renee Ford’s booth and passed food trucks with yelling workers and interactive workshops in pottery, tie-dyeing, and wood-cutting.

After minutes of treacherous pebble- and dirt-kicking, I finally made it to her booth, got out my recorder, and nervously approached.  I introduced myself and apologized for being later than promised.

“No problem,” she replied with a heart-warming smile. Renee Ford exuded happiness and enthusiasm, which comforted me. I asked if it was okay to record and told her how many questions I had. I shortened some as not to interrupt her sales.

Ford’s new Lichen Collection exhibits the beautiful imperfection of nature.  She explained,  “You don’t even realize it’s there. You’re like ‘oh there’s that weird spot on a rock.’ I just find it to be fascinating to look at that tiny thing that’s been growing for thousands of years.”  Through her art she commonly shows natural beauty while still giving her unique touch.

Nature isn’t her only influence though. Both of her children are, too. She told me, “The two  of my children have a creative mind like I do. Seeing the world through their eyes has really brought a different kind of wonder.” They sometimes give her insights and feedback and inspire her with their inspirations.

Ford learned her techniques from Blaine Lewis, a world renowned jeweler who also teaches those skills to aspiring jewelers at the New Approach School for Jewelers. About him, Ford said, “Blaine’s an amazing teacher. He teaches like no one else I’ve ever learned from.” Located in New York, New Approach teaches beginners the art of metal and goldsmith work, along with traditional jeweling. Ford now teaches there during summers and some other parts of the year, to share the knowledge that she acquired while apprenticing beside Blaine. She still works with him today.

As customers began to show up to her booth, I ended our interview and thanked her for her time. I walked along Row E and admired the array of sculptors, designers, and painters. One artist created homemade guitars and strummed them loudly, gathering a small crowd of impressed passersby.

Row E soon became a different row, and that row was different from the others— it was even busier! I dodged people, tent edges, and pine needles, all while trying to admire the abstract art. Almost every unique sculpture caught my eye. I wanted to buy one particular dragon sculpture – an egg with a horned dragon protruding – which was only $75.00. I smiled at this surprise, and then I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to purchase anything alone . . .

So I walked around the corners of tents, following the echoes of an acoustic guitar. I needed to occupy myself to distract from the slight disappointment earlier, and soon came to a set of bleachers where an old man on stage was introducing the next act. I decided to sit down and listen.

Another man, younger, who looked to be in his early 20s, came onto the stage. He wore a loose T-shirt and really tight, black skinny jeans. He introduced himself as Jesse Kramer, then started playing some original country songs. Sadly, these didn’t impress me so I played on my phone. After what seemed like half an hour, I heard some familiar chords that stuck to me— Kramer was singing “Purple Rain” by Prince! This was one of my favorite songs! The rest of his songs were similar in style; they kept me listening intently.

I looked around the bleachers, which were surrounded by food trucks, and spotted a lemonade stand, Dip-N-Dots, and a sweet tea truck. Sweet tea seemed to be out of the question. The line was so long it spread out into the seating area that was behind the bleachers. “Dip-N-Dots it is,” I said to myself as I searched in my purse for money.

As I walked to the truck,  I was greeted with a friendly “Hello!” Everyone that I had encountered today seemed extremely nice. I ordered my ice-cream, made my way back to the bleachers, listened to Jesse Kramer finish his set, and ate.

After his set was finished, I decided to walk around once again. I passed a couple selling giant fire pits. As I came toward their tent, I began smelling the scent of burning pine, which burned my nostrils. I smiled at them and kept heading down the row. As I neared the beginning of Row C again, the smell got stronger. Pine needles and leaves fell like snow along with the small pieces of ash floating in the wind. The initial time one fell on me, I jumped and screamed; an old woman laughed at me and I laughed along. I was starting to enjoy the festival, but I was growing tired. Walking along the aisles turned out to be energy-consuming.

Mindlessly trudging along the concrete path I saw a glimmer of red from the corner of my eye: the playground! I wanted so badly to go play with the little kids, but I knew that I couldn’t embarrass myself alone, so I looked among the rows for my brother to come with me.

That’s when I got easily distracted by a booth with clay statues of little black women. They were all either slouching in a chair, or crossing their legs in dresses. Some even had small phrases that explained their peculiar expressions. These sculptures rooted me. I felt relaxed and calm. I felt as if my great grandmother was one of the sculptures. The artist came out of the tent while I looked at them. She was carrying a baby and she still managed to look happy. I asked her what they were made out of and she responded: clay.  I smiled and left,  then continued down the row.

The exit was close because I realized I was walking down Row A, the closest to the front. I took one good last look at the wonderful art and people. What I anticipated as an awkward tiresome trip, turned out to be fun. As I neared the gate, the volunteers who had greeted me when I came in bid me an equally cordial farewell. Passing through the gates and into the parking lot, the tent roofs could be seen complementing the large trees.

“Hmmm . . . art and tree bark,” I laughed to myself.

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