Of all places for world-class artists to convene, swap stories and show off their handiwork, the Fall destination of choice isn’t in New York or California. It is in Northport, Ala., where the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is held every year. For the 43rd celebration of folk art and fine craftsmanship, the festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, the 18th and 19th of October. The gathering of artists is an opportunity to view creations from the Tuscaloosa area as well as folk art from more remote corners of the country. Both nationally and internationally recognized artists will put their efforts on display and try to sell a few special pieces. If a musician catches your area from one of the festival stages, you might pick up a CD to hear more of their style.
A weekend spent at Kentuck is an opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind items of artistic value for yourself, and maybe even cross some names off your list for Christmas shopping. Simply seeing and enjoying the aesthetics of individual artists and meeting the creators in person will be well worth the low fee of $10 per day (or $15 for both days if purchased in advance). Children will have no trouble staying entertained with artistic activities packed into the weekend’s schedule.
A real treat for some festival-goers may be the demonstrations that go along with some artists’ displays. Craftspeople will show and tell the techniques used in their craft as viewers pass their booths, offering a peak into the creative process. As you are walking through the crowd, you may notice a group of folks standing mesmerized. Stop and take a look; you may become hypnotized, too. An artist might take a cast-off chunk of wood and use a lathe to shape a beautiful, handcrafted bowl. For a piece like this, the human hand’s imperfections make it a priceless addition to any home.
Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder and the Kentuck Festival of the Arts only proves the point. There is such a variety of presentations that anyone can find expressions that reflect beauty in their own, particular eye. For example, artist John Tilley’s water color paintings take inspirations from the natural and add just small touches here and there to tranform a blank beginning into an illusion that draws the viewer into a daze.
Mr. Tilley also teaches water color painting for various abilities, where he shares his easy-going and friendly nature so no every student feels comfortable in his class. One warning to keep in mind: If you were to join his class, the first thing he will do is give a demonstration of how to perform a certain technique. It might seem incredibly simple, but when the budding artist goes back to their seat the question will be “What did he do first?” Good luck remembering, and never be afraid to ask.
Kerry Kennedy is a professional potter who will present her talents at this year’s festival. She teaches along with other potters in the area such as Fred Mitchell at the Kentuck Art Center in Northport. Both of the artists mentioned have finely developed skills and take great pride in their creations. As Kentuck artists tend to be, they are both quite pleasant in nature. Even casual discussions with them reveal a deep understanding of the specific chemical nature of the raw materials they work with, and the techniques required to produce something useful, beautiful and valuable. The sight of Kerry or Fred spinning a blob of Alabama clay and into a lovely vase or cup in a few minutes’ time is an amazing experience. Those of us untrained in pottery would splatter that blob of clay into a lumpy mess that would turn out shapeless and unusable. However, with training and plenty of, practice many students have become adequate at pottery. Several have discovered a knack for potting under Kentuck’s guiding wing, even when all previous types of artistic endeavors ended in failure!
The artists described above are examples of the high caliber of presenters at this year’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Altogether, there are over 270 at this year’s gathering. These creative minds did not just chose to take part in the festivities, but went through an application and selection process based on the merits of their creations.
At each end of the festival grounds is a stage where performers play their own music, offering a wide variety of styles and genres as well as spoken-word storytelling. Even for someone who doesn’t care much for the artsy side of things, the music performances would be worth the price of admission and the effort to go. Performances are scheduled for alternate times, so one could even attend a show and then make their way through the art presentations to catch the next show. While walking from one end to the other it would take a rare individual to resist being entertained by the visual art presentations springing up all around downtown Northport.
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts is one of the greatest opportunities to Explore Alabama, and it rolls around only once every year. There will always be an excuse not to head out to Kentuck for the first time, but Tuscaloosans are likely to return once they have a taste of the vast art world concentrated right here in Alabama. Explore Alabama and see for yourself!

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