Illustration | Laura Mattei
Where most people see junk, Steven Meadows sees art. A mixed media artist from Palestine, Illinois, he’ll be making his first appearance at the Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival March 15-17, along with more than 200 other artists.
“My hometown doesn’t understand me; a lot of people don’t understand me, but I recycle found objects and materials into fish, faces and other things,” he said.
A 69-year-old former general contractor and later wholesale woodcarver, Meadows fell into mixed media while he was “just having fun.”
“I started finding objects and putting them together kind of playfully — a wood carved fish covered in bottle caps for scales, nails for teeth, sheet metal for fins.”
He is also known for his large, expressive faces made from old lawn chairs, with wagon wheels for eyes, bicycle seats for noses and pedals for ears. Examples are pictured on his Facebook page.
“I was playing around it with and somebody walked in and said ‘you should do this professionally,’” he said.
He joined the art festival circuit, sometimes traveling to as many as 20 shows per year but more recently scaling it back to eight or 10.
“I’ve always heard Fairhope has one of the best. I was on the waitlist last year and was called at the last minute, but was 11 hours away and couldn’t make it, so I was really happy to be accepted by the jury this year,” he said. “I’ve had friends tell me I need to do that type of show because the buyers typically are more savvy and more interested in this type of work.”
Glass designer Heidi Barron of Michigan agreed. She’ll be traveling from another show in Florida to return to Fairhope this weekend, but said last year, “I enjoyed the town and patrons so much I’m coming back.”
Since her art evolved from a hobby in the 1980s, she spends several months on the road traveling to art shows, selling her glass sculptures, fused glass bowls and vases.
“You can do so much with glass, and going to these shows you see how the artists all do something different,” she said.
ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
The Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival is a juried art show, meaning exhibitors were chosen blindly by a group of organizers from a pool of more than 600 applications. Now in its 67th year, those who are accepted into the festival are also eligible for more than $20,000 in cash prizes.
In addition to the coveted “Best of Show,” there are 11 other individual awards and one “award of distinction” for each of the 11 categories on display. Those include fibers, functional crafts, graphics, drawing and watercolors, jewelry, mixed media, painting, photography, pottery and ceramics, sculpture, wood and fine crafts.
Judges this year are Donna Cunningham Hawes, Erin McIntosh and Heather Ashworth.
“On Thursday the police department will shut down the streets downtown at 5 p.m. and the artists will start moving in,” said Laura English, one of the many volunteers who organize the show for the Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival Foundation. “It’s a great thing to see; the streets will turn into a whole village throughout the whole downtown. This year we have over 200 artists that will be coming from 24 different states.
“They start applying in July, there is a jury of applications in October and we begin to notify the accepted artists each November, so by the end of the year we have the show put together,” she said. “We try to keep the numbers relative to the categories based on where the applications are coming from, so we have a well-rounded show and everything is represented.”
The foundation sponsors the show with the assistance of the city of Fairhope, the Downtown Merchants Association and the Eastern Shore Art Center, which is simultaneously and seamlessly hosting its 47th annual Outdoor Art Show on the festival’s northern borders. There, nearly 125 additional artists will be featured on the grounds of the art center and surrounding Oak, Equality and Section streets.
It’s the third year the nonprofit foundation has been the primary sponsor of the Arts & Crafts Festival, and all proceeds are used to fund scholarships and various art programs in and around the city of Fairhope.
“Our mission is to promote the arts in the community, and we have awarded more than $42,000 so far, including three $1,500 scholarships to seniors enrolled in the art departments of local high schools. And we also consider other nonprofits that need a donation,” English said.
Those recipients have included the Baldwin Pops, Eastern Shore Art Center, Eastern Shore Choral Society and Exceptional Foundation, among others.
“The other thing we do is a featured artist each year. We look for a local artist to create something unique each year and that’s the artwork we use on the front of our marketing and T-shirts and posters.”
This year the featured artist is Gigi Hackford, “a Fairhope fixture for 20 years” whose seascapes, landscapes, still life, abstract and angel acrylic paintings are often featured at the Fairhope Artist Gallery on Section Street. For the official festival art, she painted a wooden sailboat called “Homeward Bound.” It will be available for purchase at the festival merchandise booth.
In addition to the art available for sale, there will be more than 18 food vendors throughout the site, along with a main food court by the Festival Stage on Magnolia Avenue between Section and Bancroft streets.
The Festival Stage next to Regions Bank is the place to find musical entertainment, with 18 acts scheduled to perform, ranging from school bands and choruses to the Zuraka Belly Dancers of Mobile and the Gypsy Pearl Band. Entrance to all events onsite are free, but parking is limited.
Festival organizers recommend using the $5 shuttle service provided by the Baldwin Regional Transit System (BRATS), which will pick up passengers from the Plantation Pointe Shopping Center (Piggly Wiggly), Eastern Shore Village (Big Lots) and Volanta Park. Shuttle riders will disembark at Johnson Avenue and Bancroft Street, a five-minute walk from the festival.
S.D. Meadows Folk Art Gallery | Artist Steven Meadows creates “found art” mixed media pieces from discarded lawn chairs, bicycles and wagons, among other things.
Ancillary events (which may include admission costs) include the Spring Fever Chase 5K on Saturday, the Twilight Music Festival hosted by the Rileigh and Raylee Angel Ride Foundation and pet adoptions by the Baldwin Humane Society and The Haven.
Held on Saturday from 4:30-8 p.m., the Twilight Music Festival costs $30 and features performances from Ross Newell, of the Mulligan Brothers, and the Red Clay Strays at the Halstead Amphitheater on the campus of Coastal Alabama Community College.
Younger visitors may enjoy the children’s area near the K-1 Center and Fairhopers Community Park.
ART FOR SALE
Back to the festival, where Barron said while all artists are interested in obtaining a cash prize, most of them rely on income from their sales to survive.
“I think we all come with intentions of selling something,” she said. “This is a pretty solid show, weather permitting — a sellers’ show — and everybody does fairly well and that’s one reason it has a good reputation among artists.”
Barron also praised the hosting committee, business community and patrons of the festival for their support.
“When [artists] talk about what makes a good show, I look at the town itself; if I like the place or uniqueness of it, the clientele that is there, et cetera,” she said. “But I like to travel and I like to see new things, and arts shows are an avenue to see new towns and places you normally wouldn’t go.”
Barron said she also uses the opportunity to grow her client base by building her email list and networking with other artists.
“I don’t do a lot of southern shows, but this one is unique and one of my favorites,” she said.
The festival isn’t just for traveling artists. Forty-six are from Alabama, including nearly a dozen from Baldwin County. One is Fairhope painter Loran Chavez.
After a career as a professional seamstress including work making costumes for local theater troupes, Chavez said painting “fell into my lap” after she was the victim of a drunk-driving wreck in 1993.
“I sort of picked up a brush to help me work through the pain of the accident,” she said. “I hadn’t done it in a while and it all sort of just came back.”
Chavez said the motions of painting relieve pain and tension in her arms and shoulders. She specializes in acrylics of marine life, painted on shadow box frames built by her husband and canvas she stretches herself.
“My first show was the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores,” she recalled. “At the time I was kind of floundering as an artist, but after I was accepted into [the Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival] it was a big turning point and it became the show I wanted to do every year.
“With it being my hometown, I can go home and sleep in my own bed at night so I don’t have a lot of expenses, but I can also host friends from all over the country,” she said.
“[The artists] will all talk to each other and discuss which festivals to attend and which ones to avoid, and everyone agrees this is a pretty great festival,” she said. “We roll the dice when we enter the show and we hope we can make at least expenses, but I sold over two grand last year, which is really good for me for a weekend. Now I have followers that come back year after year looking for me.”
It’s also a big draw for the community.
“Attendance varies every year depending on weather,” English concluded. “We don’t count, but the [Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce] estimates around 200,000 visitors each year. Most of the hotels are already full, if that’s an indicator. But we’re happy with the size it is now and just hope we can continue to bring everyone out.”
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