American Artisan Festival Returns to Centennial Park June 16–18
WORDS John Pitcher
A few years ago, the American Artisan Festival reached a critical crossroads. Its founding director and spiritual force, Nancy Saturn, passed away in 2010, leaving control of the popular event to her daughter Samantha. When the younger Saturn relocated from Brooklyn, New York, to Nashville in 2014, she found that the festival’s usual venue, Centennial Park, would be temporarily unavailable due to renovation. Would Nashville’s handcraft and fine-arts event have to find a new home?
“In the end, we decided it would not be right to hold the festival anywhere other than Centennial Park,” says Samantha Saturn, who spoke recently to Nashville Arts Magazine. “With all the growth and development in Nashville, we felt there was still a place for this event in the city. So we took time off to rebuild the festival in a way that would honor its legacy and expand its vision.”
This Father’s Day weekend, the American Artisan Festival returns to Centennial Park, where it will present its 43rd and most expansive fest to date. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend the event, which will feature a wide variety of arts and crafts, from exquisite paintings and museum-quality jewelry to folksy woodcrafts and pottery. There will also be a major art installation constructed on the mall.
Music will play an especially important role at this year’s festival, with a three-day lineup of Nashville singer- songwriters, Americana, blues, and gospel musicians. “We’re going to have music all of the time,” says Saturn. There will also be plenty of craft food, along with beer, wine, and craft cocktails.
Children will have the chance to make Father’s Day gifts at Kids Hill, where artists will work with youngsters on clay and mixed-media projects. Even dogs will have their day, with a special dog run and dog-feeding and dog-cooling stations set up at the park.
This year’s festival will be truly national in scope, with more than 150 artisans arriving from 35 states. “There will be some familiar faces at the festival, since many of our exhibitors have been here before,” says Saturn. “But most, about 65 percent, will be new, which is very exciting.”
Saturn noted that accessibility is always an issue in the art business, since fine art and top-quality handcrafts can be expensive. Artists at this year’s festival, therefore, will bring a broad sampling of their crafts at all price levels.
Johanna Mueller, a Colorado-based artist who makes sophisticated relief engravings and prints, will stock her tent with art at every price. “I’ll have items ranging from $20 to true collectibles,” she says.
A former Hatch Show Print intern, Mueller likes to quote the philosopher Joseph Campbell who noted that “artists are the modern-day shaman.” In her highly symbolic works, Mueller uses archetypal animal images to tell stories. These wolves, foxes, birds, and other creatures are borrowed from diverse traditions to underscore the similarities between different cultures. “I like to mix symbols from East and West, from Hindu to Buddhist to Biblical traditions, to bridge the cultural gaps we have as humans,” she says.
Arguably, the highlight of this year’s exhibit will be a massive interactive installation at the Parthenon called Grow Love. This site-specific piece, created by San Francisco-area artists Tracy Ginsberg and Theodore Lillie, will be a three-dimensional magnolia-flower labyrinth that will span the width of the mall.
Labyrinths are irregular passageways, like mazes, that archaeologists often find near ancient sites like the Parthenon. Magnolias, perhaps the most iconic of all indigenous Southern flowers, was Nancy Saturn’s favorite blossom. In combining the labyrinth with the magnolia, Ginsberg and Lillie have found a way to connect their installation to the festival’s past and present.
“We wanted to create something that honored Nancy’s memory,” Ginsberg told Nashville Arts Magazine in a recent phone interview. “The fabric walls of our labyrinth will be symbolic of the draped Athena figure inside the Parthenon.”
Grow Love will be both a multimedia and interactive installation. Starting around dusk, video projectors will begin to enhance the labyrinth with light, color, and movement. Images will include magnolias and Greek archaeology, all of which will be viewable from the park and surrounding areas.
Participants who meander their way through the labyrinth’s scalloped petal paths will reach the installation’s communal center, where they will have the option of hanging their own Grow Love tags on the fabric walls. A table near the installation will supply tags, pens, and guidelines for walking the labyrinth.
“We liked the idea of having people create their own messages,” says Lillie. “In that way, they become creators and contributors of the art.”
Painter Bill Turner will have his haunting, oil-on-canvas landscapes on display. Most of Turner’s paintings feature winding roads that cut through bucolic settings. Turner, another Joseph Campbell fan, likes the philosopher’s observation that “the artist’s function is mythologizing the environment and the world.” Not surprisingly, Turner’s roads serve as symbolic paths of the imagination.
Crafts lovers whose tastes run more along the lines of functional art will find much to admire in the works of artists Ron and Christine Sisco and Larry Spears. The Siscos hand craft exquisite bowls and furniture out of mesquite, inlaying many of their works with decorative turquoise stone.
Potter Larry Spears creates his own functional pieces—teapots, bowls, pitchers, and such—that are masterworks of invention. His aptly named Spiked Tea, for instance, is a beautifully fired teapot that uses rusty barbed wire to attach an elegantly polished wood handle. The finished product is a brilliant metaphor of rustic beauty and simplicity.
“I’ve been doing this kind of glazed pottery for over 40 years,” says Spears. “You do something for that long and you get good at it.”
The American Artisan Festival takes place on the front lawn of Centennial Park June 16 to 18. For more information, please visit www.americanartisanfestival.com.