M is for Metal, K is for Kentuck

When I walked into the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, I kind of had an idea what it would be like. I figured it would just be a big park with a bunch of hippies trying to sell weird art. I was sadly mistaken.

As I walked around with my classmates, trying to find the nearest one of our artists to interview, I observed some of the other artists. I was amazed to see all the creativity around me, and the nature around me set a nice tone. What really spoke to me, though, was the way the booths were set up. They were all white tents and inside were the artists’ unique set-ups— like a spontaneous neighborhood.

When I reached the artist who I had come to interview, Fred Conlon, his booth was full of metal garden art. And it wasn’t just regular ol’ garden art— it was actually really cool and interesting garden art! There were trolls and weapons and reptiles. One piece that really stood out to me was what he called the “Gnome-Be Gone,” which were two trolls carrying a gnome away. I walked towards the opposite end of the booth and greeted Conlon. He seemed like an interesting guy with clean mullet in the back of his head— you know, business in the front, party in the back.

I asked if I could interview him, and he and his wife were more than happy to let me.

“What inspired you to become a metalsmith?” I asked. I wanted to get the basics down first.

“Well, I started making pottery, but I was tired of all my pots breaking. I knew there was something more durable so I taught myself how to weld. So I started making stuff out of metal,” he replied.

I also asked if he made any other types of art, other than metal.

“Yeah I do, I do a lot of railing and structural stuff occasionally, but I like to stick to mostly metal.”

Next I wanted to know about the craziest piece of art he’d ever created.

“Probably the ‘Gnome-Be-Gone’ and those are designed to help the gnome population,” he said, jokingly.

“He also makes big Transformers out of automobile parts that are, like, eight, nine feet tall. They have guns, stuff coming out the shoulder, and flames,” his wife added, proudly.

So what is his favorite work, I also asked him.

“I really like this little piece I call the ‘F-Bomb,’ and I also call it the ‘Profanity Prevention Device’ (PPD), so people can drop the F-Bomb instead of saying the actual word.”

I thought the “F-Bomb” was really funny and clever, then I asked, “Do you think Kentuck helps sell to more pieces, or your website?”

“Locally, in Alabama, definitely. It’s nice to come out here and be a part of it. Kentuck has one of the best locations, I think.”

Conlon has a real talent for art. It takes a ton of skill to use rust and fragility to transform metal into something as simple as a helmet or a turtle. I wanted to know from him, “Do you think of art as a passion, hobby, or job?”

“It is a job and a passion for me, I love what I do. I secret to what you have to do when you are an artist is you have to be able to produce art and you have to be able to sell art.”

People like Conlon are giving art a good representation because of his unique style of welding metal. His family is very supportive of him and his work. Conlon’s spin on garden art is a new trend that I believe will have everybody crawling to get his pieces.

“Where do you see yourself and your art in ten years?”

“I hope I’m still doing stuff similar to this. I hope I’m so much not doing the little stuff anymore, that I can train people to make the little things, and I can make the big things more of a one-of-a-kind pieces.”

At the end of the interview, Conlon gave me a neat little trinket to “help me write,” as he said.

After our interview, I and my classmates went to go conduct their interviews. Their artists were really interesting as well: one was a knife-maker, the other was a painter.

At around 11:00 AM, we started getting hungry so we visited the food trucks. One of my classmates got a chicken on a stick, and when she got it was golden brown and steaming, with juice still oozing down the stick. The other got ribbon fries, freshly cut and freshly dipped in the oil, having the season-salt stains on the ends of the fries. Finally, I got a cheeseburger. When I got it, I could tell it was good because the cheese was coming out of the wrapping. Then when I bit it, the cheese seeped in my mouth along with the well-seasoned meat. We were all highly satisfied! To complete our meal. we all bought some fresh squeezed lemonade that had the perfect balance between tart and sweet.

After the delicious food we went around to see if we could find any souvenirs to buy before we had to leave. We stopped at this guy who worked with wood, and It was fascinating what he made with it: bread cutters. He let us try it and it was like a hot knife through butter. It was so neat that I even bought one for my mother.

After that, we had time for one more stop: Sloss Furnace. I heard that you could make a custom piece of molten iron. It cost $10 but it seemed worth it. When I got the block of sand I started carving and came out with it “2k19”— my graduation year.

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