Folkfest St. Petersburg Florida, 2008
by Linda Knopf - Southern Folk Art Magazine
Sun, St. Petersburg, Florida, and September combined for a
lively outdoor arts festival. Held in downtown St. Pete, the second annual
folkfest was well advertised with calls to artists in journals like
Vision and Home Companion. Presented by Creative Clay and sponsored
by area governmental bodies and businesses, the message was all about
outsider-produced, accessible art. Over 10,000 visitors attended the two-day
event which was designed to benefit Creative Clay Cultural Arts Center, a
professional arts training program for adults with developmental disabilities.
Thirty-five artists displayed their work under tents set up along the
In the forefront was artist Mary Proctor who has added
paintings on canvas to her repertoire. These works included small bits of
paper, sometimes from sheet music, well glued to her freely painted pictures.
Exuberant, the new pieces continue to convey Proctor’s messages of spirituality
and words-to-the-wise. Her better known large works were also displayed.
Locally recognized and recently honored artist Katherine
Michael showed paintings ranging from bright, intensely colored landscapes to a
series honoring legendary folk artists including Annie and Mose Tolliver and
Bernice Sims. Michael’s work has the feel of “island art” that mixes well with
the St. Petersburg/Tampa environment.
Jack Beverland, known as “Mr. B”, is somewhat of a local
institution; he even has paintings for sale in area antique stores. Beverland
uses fabric paint to produce seemingly impermeable pieces that show a whimsical
and imaginative view of nature and culture. Neon greens and oranges sparkle in
his landscapes. As a sort of missionary of outsider art, Mr. B teaches art to
children with physical or mental challenges.
Jack Beverland (Mr. B)
With the presidential election just around the corner,
political art also made a showing at the fest. Chris Coyle produced a collage
combining the folkfest st. pete “a smile is sho nuff contagious” guitar
with Barack and Michelle Obama as cowboys. Coyle has been painting for more
than a decade and entertained the crowd with his sketches and portraits.
Another local artist, Kerry Topjun assembles mixed media
pieces with messages that range from political to sentimental. Topjun
incorporates her own photos along with found objects to illustrate life’s
Harry E. Strider, “Hes”, produces not quite pop art.
Strider paints abstract as well as representational pieces. He is new to the
festival circuit, but displayed a significant body of work. St. Augustine is
his home town, but Hes also attends shows in North Carolina.
Harry E. Strider (Hes)
One to the most engaging artists, Donald Stone, shared his
wealth of insights about folk art in Florida and the significance of symbols in
his own pieces. Stone, along with Proctor, has been written about in Gary
Monroe’s book Extra-ordinary Interpretations: Florida’s Self-Taught Artists.
Stone’s pieces include orange groves in bright lines and sea worthy ships with
historically relevant details “sprinkled” throughout the pictures.
Less mainstream than some other artists at the fest, K. C.
Bennett is known as “Crossgirl.” Her constructions aren’t especially religious,
not even the stylized, very red devils hanging around her display, but the
description of her motivation to “produce” art is humorous, to say the least.
Crossgirl makes crosses or includes them in the found-object boxes she
K. C. Bennett (Crossgirl)
Blake White is mad about mosaics, mad in a big way. He
enthusiastically covers large pieces of furniture and other structures with
tile, found objects, and bright paint. White even creates mosaic jewelry, but
it’s his massive stuff that catches the eye.
A connection to water is apparent when you look at the work
of Morris Johnson (who signs his art as “MOJO”.) And Johnson clearly loves to
make art. His pieces are loaded with joie de vive. They are sunny, bright, and
humorous, whether cut-out wood figures or collaged paintings with found
objects. Johnson makes good mojo and well represents the atmosphere of this
small festival near the beach. After all, he is a local.
Morris Johnson (Mojo)
Festival Director Jenny Baxley Lee deemed the
a success, but is looking for participation by additional artists whose work is
considered collectible. You may see her or other staff from Creative Clay at
future folk festivals, recruiting artists to come enjoy the fun and sun in St.
Pete next year.