Visual Arts

Woodland art fair freshens up

The AFB Art Fair @ Woodland Park has made many changes since it began in a parking lot 34 years ago, most notably a name change this year from the longtime moniker Woodland Art Fair. It has grown to be a prestigious, well- attended event that attracts a variety of artists from around North America.

This year's fair will have several new attractions, including a bike valet run by several area cycling groups, and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour in the Kid Zone, where animatronics in their simulated environments will be on display.

Along with the new name, which organizers say is indicative of American Founders Bank's continued sponsorship of the fair, these features put a fresh face on this classic event.

But there also will be the tried-and-true attractions, including live music organized by the Division of Parks and Recreation, and, of course, the tremendous artwork the fair has been built around.

This year, the park hosts 200 artists representing 12 mediums. The artists are carefully chosen by the Lexington Art League, which "ensures a freshness so our patrons discover new artists and new artwork every year," said Allison Kaiser, the LAL's executive director.

The juried process is competitive, to ensure the quality of the work being shown. Of the artists selected this year, 51 are from Kentucky, with others from as far as Florida, California and Ontario.

Verne Jidong Yan of Toronto was interested in traveling to the fair because of other artists' recommendations, which shows the fair's far-reaching influence. As an embroidery artist, she makes hand-stitched, beautifully colored pieces demonstrating extraordinary skill.

Such attention to detail also is a hallmark of Harrodsburg ceramist Michael Frasca, nationally recognized for his perfectly formed pieces and their delicate, blooming colors.

"We try to keep a diverse mix of mediums, keeping patrons and artists in mind," Kaiser said. This consideration has produced an eclectic group of artists who have taken traditional media and made them their own.

Six months of preparation have gone into the fair, creating an event that everyone can appreciate. Kaiser says she is proud of the new features and the group of artists assembled. "This year is going to be a beautiful fair because we have so much different work," she said.

Made more affordable

Woodworker and furniture maker Mark Whitley of Smiths Grove, in Warren County, has developed a style based on the work of the Shakers and the late Japanese-American furniture maker George Nakashima, which through elegant line and impeccable craftsmanship elevates the craft to high art.

"I try to be aware of everything out there and, in the midst of that, create something that is original and genuine," Whitley said.

Like Nakashima, Whitley uses organic pieces of wood with architectural bases. Nearly everything is made of walnut or cherry, and Whitley makes a concerted effort to use mostly wood harvested in Kentucky.

He has attended the past two fairs and has been well rewarded, winning the award of excellence and the prize for best woodworking. "It seems that my work fits well in that part of the state," he said. "It's my favorite outdoor fair."

After winning the award of excellence in 2007, "I was humbled by the experience," Whitley said. "It helped me know I was on the right path."

Whitley has worked this year to show pieces that have his usual high style and design but are easier on the wallet. He will show more affordable wall shelves, in addition to new designs of bar stools, rocking chairs and tables.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to constantly be reinventing my work," he said. "You'll never see my booth the same two years in a row, that's for sure."

Looks like the real thing

First-time Woodland attendee Jennifer Ivory's work came as a surprise to her when she was in architecture school.

"I don't remember how the idea occurred to me, but my bug collecting and model building got intertwined," she said.

Her work is original: watercolor- and ink-drawn insects sculpted into startlingly realistic 3-D forms and mounted on stark white backgrounds.

"The whole point is to make it look like I've gone out and caught the bugs," said Ivory, who lives in Niceville, Fla. She began making the insects as gifts. "There was never any plan behind it," she said. "It was just a neat, cool thing I'd make that was unusual."

Part of her enjoyment of working fairs, something she's done for the past five years, is the initial surprise when people see her booth. Some think the bugs are real, which has prompted Ivory to put up a sign: "No insects were harmed in the making of this product."

Even those who are squeamish about insects are soon overcome by the beauty and detail of her art.

"You can just sit there all weekend, and people will tell you how wonderful it is. They just light up," Ivory said. Still working as an architect, she says of her art, "What I get out of the fairs is a completely different thing, with positive feedback."

The insects also elicit emotional responses. She has found that butterflies and dragonflies are especially symbolic for some people. "I hear the best stories." Ivory said.

This year, fair-goers will be able to see her traditional work, as well as newer, more ambitious pieces. One piece is 5 feet square and includes 144 insects. Ivory also will debut a snake and a spider.

One in a million

Matthew Adelman is another artist with an unusual approach. He offers the average person a chance to own any number of tiny paintings that eventually will fit together in a million-piece work titled One. The piece will be so massive, it will be able to be viewed only on his Web site,

"My painting is so unique," Adelman said. "There's been nothing like this done before."

A painter from Oberlin, Ohio, Adelman has taken the form in a new direction, encouraging participation by the average fair- goer. He will show 10,000 1-inch painted squares. They are priced at $10 each to ensure that almost anyone who visits his booth can own a piece of his work.

"The whole point of doing this painting, the idea was, me wanting to make my artwork accessible," Adelman says.

Sacrificing full creative control, Adelman gives the buyers a chance to be involved with the work. "We're all told the painting is put together, not taken apart," he said. "But you're encouraged to touch it, to interact with it."

Once the chosen squares are sold, all Adelman owns is the photograph, to be added to the larger online picture.

To create his work, Adelman fits the solid-wood squares tightly together, 6,000 pieces at a time, and paints them in a non- representational way with oil paint before separating them for individual sale. "As I make it, I deconstruct it," he said.

The pieces are scattered in dozens of countries. The purchased squares are photographed for the Web site, where the owners can add information about themselves and their involvement with the piece.

"The beauty of doing an art festival is you have people of all ranges," he said. "Almost anyone can participate in my painting."

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