Where art meets asphalt
Main Avenue Arts Festival turns 12

Crowds fill Main Avenue, perusing the art work displayed in the four-block Artist’s Marketplace at last year’s Main Avenue Arts Festival. Now in its 12th year, the festival draws local, regional and national artists plying everything from pottery and fiber arts to jewelry./Photo by Todd Newcomer.  

by Jules Masterjohn

It has been known by many names and made its home on Main Avenue, literally on the asphalt and along the double-yellow line, for more than a decade. Some call it “Art on Main,” and an increasing number of downtown merchants call it a record sales weekend. Regardless of how it is known, the 12th annual Main Avenue Arts Festival is definitely the place to go to get a taste of what is so delicious about our community: a mingling of tourists and locals, young and old, taking to the street for visual, auditory, gustatory and social delights.

“I’m really glad that I pushed as hard as I did because this festival has turned into a world-class event,” said Laurie Dickson, a local photographer, business owner and one-time Durango Arts Center board president who, 13 years ago, lobbied the DAC Board to get behind the festival.

Those in town who are regular attendees of the arts festival know that it is a “happening” arts celebration. However, last year, Sunshine Artist Magazine, a national trade publication for traveling artists and craftspeople, also discovered this and showcased the festival. The article reported that Durango has “friendly townspeople” who “appreciate high quality” arts and crafts, which translates into “wall-to-wall buyers.”

This is the third time in the last seven years that Durango has been mentioned in national publications that focus on arts and culture. In 1998, Durango placed among the Top 10 in John Villani’s “100 Best Art Towns in America,” and in his recent 2004 edition, the Main Avenue Arts Festival and the DAC are featured prominently.

Brian Wagner, executive director of the Durango Arts Center, the presenter and benefactor of the festival, agrees that the festival draws a high caliber of artwork. “In recent years, the selections by festival jurors have raised the quality of artwork to be found,” he said.

Of course, there would be no arts festival without the artists and craftspeople who want to come to our friendly and eager town to share their creative work. These high-caliber artists and craftspeople come to Durango only once a year, giving locals just one opportunity to peruse a diversity of unique, handmade expressions in clay, glass, metal, fiber and wood as well as paintings, drawings, graphics, photography and sculpture. There is truly something for everyone and every pocketbook.

However, the selection process is a competitive one, and not all who submit an application are chosen. The 100-plus artists and craftspeople in this year’s festival were selected through a jury process overseen by DAC board member and fiber artist, Ann Norris. Four local arts professionals comprised the jury committee: fiber artist, writer and teacher Ilze Aviks; local ceramist Peter Karner; Norris; and myself. We sat in a dark room with score sheets in hand for six hours viewing more than 1,200 slides. It’s a difficult task to quantify a creative person’s work, yet it is the industry standard. “Numeric scores are good because they reduce the possibility of subjectivity,” according to Norris. The scoring criteria used defined levels of skill, innovation and perceived appeal of the work to the community.

Painting by Tirzah Camacho

Old favorites selected for this year’s festival include Durango potter Rebecca Barfoot, who has moved beyond her sassy, wheel-thrown and altered “Dancing Girl” pitchers to making everything dancing. “My throwing has become looser, more gestural,” she explains. “I am having more fun.” Barfoot uses a potter’s wheel to make her pots then alters them using a technique familiar to seamstresses and tailors, cutting darts to reshape the once round forms into energetic and wiggly oval-shaped pottery. Her glazes, thin and translucent, reveal the body of the clay and add to the sensual nature of Barfoot’s work.

Lisa Pedolsky, returning for her fourth festival, looks forward to this year’s event. “The festival is such a wonderful opportunity to make myself visible to the community,” she said. “I have been busy promoting my work out of the area, and I am glad to participate in the home-town event.” Pedolsky, who recently returned from her first time participating in the prestigious Cherry Creek Arts Festival, will offer new work as well as her well-loved small and simple handbuilt, functional pottery. Her newer works, a series of tall bottles with lids, command attention with their highly contrasting geometric surface patterns.

In the realm of fiber art, the work of Durangoans Heather Laurie and Pat Smiley also will be present again this year. Both women are seasoned professionals, and their work reflects their expertise. Laurie, whose elegant scarves are sold at the DAC Gallery Shop, lovingly paints silk using saturated, colored dyes, turning colorful sheets of fabric into one-of-a-kind scarves, reversible jackets and other silk apparel. Her unique designs are flowing and soft, intended to inspire the feminine aspects of its wearer.

The leatherwork of Smiley is distinctive, combining hand-painted leathers with rare beads and artifacts she collects on her travels. Her bags, belts and jewelry are fun and well-made.

A few of the new local faces this year include Tirzah Camacho and Christopher Webb. Camacho, a painter and recent Fort Lewis College graduate, has taken two recent juror’s prizes for paintings in DAC juried exhibits. Additionally, it is her design that graces this year’s festival posters and T-shirts. In her paintings, Camacho utilizes a narrative style combined with smartly arranged, colorful compositional elements to create commentaries relating to her life experiences. The juxtaposition of images is thought provoking, presenting timely and serious issues. She explained, “I enjoy that my work moves people and shows them a forgotten or overlooked story.”

Webb, a woodworker, uses gorgeously grained woods to create attractive turned vessels, covered boxes and custom furniture from his Bayfield studio.

If local scenery interests you, check out the work of local photographer Darel Crawford and the watercolors by Bayfield painter John Coker. Other returning artists include photographer Lanette Hartmann, collage maker Beth Gordon and jeweler Karl Jacobson, all from Durango.

Perhaps, this weekend as you are cruising the Artist’s Marketplace doing a little early holiday gift buying, you may even consider conducting your own jury process. When you’ve tabulated your scores, you can reward yourself by sipping a cold one from a local microbrewery and listening to one of the many regional musical groups playing the Main Stage. Or stop off with the kids to get your faces painted like mountain lions at the Creation Station. For me, a special treat each year is the simple act of striding down the middle of Main Avenue, unencumbered by autos. For one weekend each year, four blocks of Main Avenue are transformed into a vibrant marketplace, reminiscent of a metropolitan pedestrian mall or an old-time town square, central to its community’s life. •



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