Each year at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, Kentuck invites Guest Artists to exhibit their work. Kentuck's Guest Artist Program invites a range of traditionally or culturally significant artists who wouldn't normally exhibit their work at festivals. This includes folk artists who are widely collected by individuals and museums, including the Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C.); American Folk Art Museum (New York, New York); and the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia). This program also includes artists who wouldn't normally come to festivals due to economic hardship, inexperience in the art world, or a lack of appreciation for their outsider or visionary art forms. Guest Artists expose emerging artists and festival-goers to traditional craft and contemporary folk art, opening discussion and broadening understanding.
Scroll through to see all the Guest Artists that will be at Kentuck's 52nd Festival of the Arts!
Jon Osborne (new this year)
Jon Osborne is a contemporary artist from Birmingham, Alabama. He is a self-taught artist that uses meditative and synesthesia methods to produce his work. Inspired by music, dharma (the Hindu religious and moral laws governing individual conduct), and urban art—Jon Osborne uses his work to explore raw emotions, feelings, and perceptions while also illustrating the world and human expression.
With his vibrant and compelling paintings, Jon Osborne hopes to bring awareness to art therapy and creativity. Osborne graduated with his Associates of Graphic Communications from Trenholm State Community College in Montgomery, Alabama in 2008. His work has been featured in exhibits such as "The Bizarre & The Beautiful Group Show " at Roots & Revelry Parlor Gallery (Birmingham Alabama), "A Look at Us" Exhibit at Ground Floor Contemporary (Birmingham, Alabama), PaperWorkers Local Fall Group Exhibit (Birmingham, Alabama), and "Face to Face" at Kentuck Art Center.
Amy Lansburg (new this year)
Amy Lansburg is new to the Guest Artist program, but many of you will recognize her work because she's been exhibiting at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for many years. A native to Michigan, Lansburg collects driftwood she finds along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the world's largest body of freshwater, and turns the pieces into vivid and alluring works of art. The pieces of driftwood that she finds most inspirational are those that have been preserved
by the lake's deep, cold waters. Some pieces, Lansburg notes, were submerged in Lake Michigan for over a century before she collected them.
With her artistic eye, the unique driftwood comes to life as vibrant and striking figures. Originally a self-taught furniture maker, Lansburg worked first on making small chairs, then later turned to making expressive figures from the raw and majestic material. Lansburg notes that working with natural materials has lead her down a path of personal growth. Her art requires determination and patience and can be a humbling (but nonetheless incredible) experience.
Michael Banks, a resident of Albertville, Alabama, is a mixed media artist who has attended Kentuck Festival of the Arts for many years. His work has won many honors, and he has been featured in several exhibitions in the United States, including in New York, Denver, and Atlanta. The Hurn Museum in Savannah, Georgia presented a solo exhibition of his work and has a number of his works in their permanent collection. Articles about his work have appeared in Southern Living Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. A review of his Hurn exhibition stated: "Ultimately, 'Michael Banks: Outsider Artist' offers Savannah's most rewarding and penetrating solo show in recent memory. As this unforgettable exhibit clearly indicates, Banks is one outsider artist who certainly has earned the right to be on the inside."
Michael Banks is best known for the brooding, mask-like subjects in his paintings. The lively colors he uses in his work juxtapose the distortion of the faces, which are usually elongated and wide-eyed. He often scratches details and symbols onto the surface of his work, allowing the viewer to interpret meaning.
Ned Berry has never regretted the day he begged a local potter to let him have a lump of clay and a chance to sit down at her wheel to have a try at making something. On his third attempt that day, he made a pot. Today, Ned Berry, resident of Cataula, Georgia, uses both wheel-thrown and hand-built methods when making his works of art out of glazed clay.
Ned Berry's work is now in the collections of two Presidents and in many distinguished collections coast to coast and abroad. He has exhibited in New York and has had several solo exhibitions in Southern museums.
Athlone Clarke (Best In Show 2022)
Athlone Clarke was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1956. He immigrated to the United States in 1985 and, as with most immigrants, almost everything that had been familiar to him in the past ended up being stripped away in order to make room for his new reality.
As a child, he always believed that objects hold both memory and energy. His belief was further reaffirmed when he came across the Japanese concept of Tsukugami, which are tools in Japanese folklore that hold kami, or spirit (essentially, animated objects). Since then, the ability to tap into the memory and energy of objects has become crucial to his artistic expression.
Clarke believes with great conviction that there is no "have to" in art. He considers himself as embodying the belief that honest art will always attract an audience who is both willing and capable of looking beyond just decorative appeal. When asked what is the greatest lesson he has taken away from all his years as a working artist, his answer is surprisingly simple: "art saves lives". Clarke has been painting for over 25 years, and his work is collected both nationally and internationally.
Gee’s Bend Quilters
Boykin, (Gee's Bend) Alabama
Gee's Bend, also known as Boykin, is a small, isolated town in southwest Alabama known internationally for their incredible patchwork creations and their role in the Civil Rights Movement. The quilting tradition dates back to the 19th century and continues today.
Hailed by the New York Times as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced", Gee's Bend quilts constitute a crucial chapter in the history of American art. Today, quilts from Gee's Bend are featured in the permanent collections of over 20 leading art museums.
Claudia Pettway Charley is a 4th generation quilter from Gee's Bend. Her work, and the work of several other Gee's Bend Quilters, has been featured in national and international museums and has worked in collaboration with brands such as Greg Lauren, Chloe, and Marfa Stance. Those collaborations have been featured at the Met Gala, Academy Awards, and Paris Fashion Week and were written about in publications such as British Vogue.
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Sam didn't consider himself as an artist until after he met Bernice Sims, a renowned folk artist (and Kentuck Festival Guest Artist). During their visit together, Sims instructed him to go home and "paint me a picture." Sam protested, saying "I can't paint a wall," but he gave it a try. Today, Sam paints memories and happy times, with bold shapes and bright colors. In his art, people are dressed up and having fun, the skies are blue, the sun is shining, birds have houses, and chickens come in lots of colors (even purple!).
A few years ago, Ezell woke up one morning with a black cloud enveloping his vision. The doctors confirmed that he had permanently lost vision in his right eye, however, that did not stop him from continuing with his art. Since his diagnosis, Ezell has added large-scale, non-objective paintings to his repertoire. Sam's work is included in collections around the country, including Kentuck Art Center's Permanent Collection and the Hickory Museum of Art. Learn more about Sam by watching these short documentaries: ANEW and SAM, and Hebo.
Lenoir, North Carolina
Theresa Gloster is a self-taught memory artist whose paintings chronicle her childhood years in the small African American community of Bushtown, North Carolina. Born in a West Virginia mining camp, Gloster grew up in the high foothills of North Carolina, where she lived with her grandparents in a household that included 12 kids.
Gloster would describe herself as a storyteller that uses painting and other media to "tell the stories that need to be told." Her paintings chronicle a time of lived community, a time when families worked together to overcome the hardships of segregation and marginalization, a time that Gloster described as one of collective transcendence.
Living with twelve other children dependent on a small paycheck from her coal-mining grandfather, Gloster learned how to convey beauty resourcefully without material that were not readily on-hand. She first began painting on cardboard, tin, sheet, furniture, and thrifted paintings that she could paint over. Eventually, she was able to purchase canvas, but the original paintings are no less part of her portfolio.
The images are neither overly romantic nor overtly critical; instead they're simply —in Ms. Gloster's words—"true." Gloster's work is included in collections around the United States, and in 2021, was awarded a South Arts fellowship.
Chris ‘CHUB’ Hubbard
With no formal art training since grade school, Kentucky native turned current Athens, Georgia resident, Chris Hubbard left a 20-year career as a scientist (microbiologist and environmental consultant) in 1998 to be "born again" as an artist.
This transformation began with his decision to make his art car, which he titles "The Heaven and Hell Car." The car is a light-hearted, tongue-in cheek expression of the good vs. bad dichotomy of self, other people, and life in general. The car is decorated in his first attempts at primitive carvings made of wood and sheet metal. The carvings depicted saints, devils, angels—influenced by his Catholic upbringing.
As a result of the many requests from admirers of the art car, Hubbard began creating more "Heaven and Hell" carvings, which he sold out of his car when travelling the country to art festivals and parades. He assembles his work and collects materials while on the road. Thus, he began writing the city and state where he found the material on the back of each art piece. Along with other honors, in 2011 at the Orange Show Art Car Weekend in Houston, TX, the "Heaven and Hell Car" won a Third Place award out of over 250 art cars at the event.
C.M. Laster (Charles Laster)
C.M. Laster (or Charles Laster) grew up in rural Kentucky and "found out" he was an artist in first grade when a teacher praised his drawings on his spelling tests, which he would draw in an attempt to combat his dyslexia and describe definitions when he could not remember how to spell the words. He later became an honor-roll student and president of the Art Club in high school. In the mid-1990s, Laster met Howard Finster and formed a strong friendship—he helped coordinate events and led workshops at Finster's Paradise Garden for several years.
Laster's work is frequently is frequently spontaneous, using only materials that he finds. The result is artwork that reflects his inner struggles. Several of his works include writing, describing his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which flares up during times of stress.
Laster met his future wife, Grace Kelly, at a party. They were friends for several years until Laster moved to Chicago and the two started The Recycled Art Project, obtaining grants to teach children's art workshops.
Today, Laster and his wife along with their daughter, Ruby Elvis Rose, are a family of travelling artists. They ride through the country in their art car, "The Inner-City Galactic Shack-a-llac." Their work is in the permanent collections of the American Visionary Art Museum, The House of Blues, The Bill Clinton Presidential Library, the Library of Congress Folk Life Center, and the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Eric Legge was working at a developmental center for severely mentally and physically disabled patients, when he developed a profoundly spiritual outlook on life and a strong desire to express himself seriously through art. A painter since the age of 3, Legge now creates work that is influenced by nature and his surroundings. His works often add a vibrant touch to the otherwise mundane. "Being able to think, see, and comprehend the world around you, that is a wonderful gift. I guess I decided that painting and creating is the best use of that gift," he says.
As the son of a Vietnam veteran who returned home with three Purple Hearts and later became a self-taught wood carver, Legge grew up creating art. He did not feel the need to pursue a higher education in the arts. He did, however, attend Valdosta State University, receiving degrees in anthropology and philosophy while paying for school by working in a program for special needs people, who inspired him in the way they "lived in the moment."
Eric describes the genesis of his inspiration: "Well, it starts in the heart," he says, "The mind perceives it and the hand gives it shape. I think of it as a trinity, you know—Heart, Mind, and Hand."
Legge’s art is included in the permanent collections of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, the Hurn Museum in Florence, Italy, the Small Museum of Folk Art in Pittsboro, N.C., and many private collections.
Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas
Charlie Lucas (also known as the "Tin Man") is a folk artist whose work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Although he has made art since childhood, only since a debilitating accident in 1984 did Lucas turn to art seriously as a form of personal expression. Lucas makes figural sculptures and mixed media wall hangings from material that others have discarded. He became known as the "Tin Man" in part for his metal sculptures, although Lucas insists that the name mostly comes from the fact he had little money during his early years as an artist, with only 10 ("tin") dollars in his pocket.
Today, Charlie Lucas' art is included in the permanent collections of the High Museum of Art, the Birmingham Art Museum, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. He is featured in the book “Souls Grown Deep, African-American Vernacular Art of the South,” by Paul and William Arnett.
Valton Murray's brightly-colored palettes depict scenes of his childhood home, his family, and the beauty of the rural landscape as he envisions it. Challenged by his battle with epilepsy and the polio virus, he found early and continued success in creating paintings.
Murray's life-long artistic career has led him to the galleries around Georgia, and in 2004, he was selected to participate in an international festival and exhibition hosted by the VSA, the International Organization on Arts and Disability (now affiliated with The Kennedy Center). Valton was awarded a Merit Award at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in 2022.
‘Missionary’ Mary Proctor
In 1994, three of Mary's family members were trapped and killed in a house fire from which Mary escaped. A year later, Mary received a spiritual message: "the door is the way." Following this calling, she painted three doors in memory of her family, placed them in her yard, and caught the attention of a collector. These first creations by Mary led to a show in New York that solidified to her that creating art and spreading her message was her calling.
Her work has been featured in the American Visionary Museum, Raw Vision Magazine, the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, and in Kentuck's Permanent Collection. In 2015, she was voted Folk Artist of the Year by the Folk Artist Society of America. Mary sees herself as a missionary, and her goal is to use her art to spread her message.
Grand Bay, Alabama
Ruth Robinson grew up in Grand Bay, Alabama on a farm growing corn, picking cotton, raising chickens, and farming with a mule. She started painting at age eight. During her teenage years, in the 1960s, all of her paintings were lost in a tragic house fire. Years passed, and Ruth raised six children while managing an antique shop and working as a substitute teacher. It wasn't until the early 2000s, when Ruth was taking care of her elderly parents, that she returned to painting as a way of relieving stress.
The subjects of Ruth's paintings are frequently people from her past, especially members of her family and neighbors. She once said, "I was fond of these elderly folks because they had so many great stories and a lot of knowledge about the world. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to bring them back to life in my paintings."
Her paintings have been exhibited in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta; and her work is included in Kentuck's Permanent Collection.
Dr. Bob Shaffer
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans self-taught folk artist Dr. Bob has made the phrase ‘Be Nice or Leave’ as much a part of his identity as the found objects he transforms into his artwork. Half Crow Indian and half French/German, Dr. Bob was born in Kansas in 1952 and came to New Orleans via Lake Pontchartrain. It was while he lived ‘across the lake’ that he became familiar with the alligator, an image that appears repeatedly in his work. Prior to being a full-time artist, which he did not achieve until after 30 years of age, Dr. Bob worked a variety of jobs, which enhanced his craftsmanship and powers of observation necessary to express his vision.
Jim Shores is a self-taught, Georgia-based artist who creates sculpture, assemblage, and environmental art from found and discard objects. He has worked as a full-time artist since 1996. That same year, he attended his first Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Each piece of scrap metal and material he collects has a unique origin. Sometimes, he has had a piece of material in his collection for so long that he is "almost disappointed" when the complete work sells, reflecting on the creation and construction of each figure.
Jim likes to have fun with the names of his pieces. The names are usually related to the source material. He once created an American Flag out of crushed soda cans and titled it Ameri-can Flag. His works range from six-inch round faces to three-foot angelic sculptures.
His work is in the permanent collections of the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA), Polk Museum (Lakeland, FL), and the House of Blues (Orlando, FL).
As a child, Della made up stories and characters, many based on her mother's recollections of growing up in North Carolina during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Wells used these stories to escape the uncertain realities of her mother's mental illness and her father's rage. Eventually, she used her parents to inspire the collage art she creates today.
In 2010, a play about her life was written for a performance at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Her work was also included as an illustration for a book being published by National Geographic. Wells' work is exhibited in Europe and throughout the United States in folk art and outsider galleries from coast to coast, including Outsider Art Fair in New York City.
WHAT: the 52nd Kentuck Festival of the Arts WHEN: October 14 & 15, 2023; Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 9am-4pm WHERE: Kentuck Park 3501 5th Street Northport, Alabama 35476 TICKETS: $15 single day pass, $25 weekend pass, kids 12 & under get in free.
Tickets & VIP Package sale starts August 1, 2023.
The 52nd Kentuck Festival of the Arts is October 14-15, 2023 at Kentuck Park in Northport, Alabama! This one-of-a-kind festival is a southeastern arts and culture hub featuring more than 270 artists, live music, spoken word, activities for children, folk and contemporary craft demonstrations, food trucks, and local craft brews. The Festival was recognized by the Alabama Department of Tourism as one of the top-ten events to attend in Alabama, was named "Best of Bama 2022" by Alabama Magazine, and named a "Local Legacy" by The United States Library of Congress. Kentuck was also featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Southern Living, American Style Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler.