By: Deane Bowers
You do not want to miss the 43rd Annual American Artisan Festival on Father's Day Weekend June 16-18. Think about that for a second: 43 YEARS! “Longevity” and “art festivals” don’t often appear in the same sentence. That Nashville has supported the American Artisan Festival for 43 years speaks volumes about the Nashville community, about the art, and about the creative force that brought it all together. As a first-time participant coming from Charleston, South Carolina, I was curious to learn more about the Show and its history. After interviewing several local Nashville artists, as well as the Festival Director, Samantha Saturn, I now understand why this Show embraces the heart and creative soul of Nashville.
Pictures of Artwork from participating artists
To appreciate the American Artisan Festival, you need to know more about its founder, Nancy Saturn. Nancy Saturn founded the show in 1971 with the concept and mission of bringing the entire Nashville community together in a free family-friendly event to celebrate American handcrafts. Her novel idea was to provide a venue where the public could connect directly with the artist and experience first hand the magic and beauty of their creative process. She made art accessible to all by breaking down barriers and cultivating these relationships. This still remains the mission, some 43 years later.
Newspaper clipping of Nancy Saturn upon opening The American Artisan Gallery in Nashville.
As one of Nashville's first gallery owners, Nancy Saturn saw art as the special fabric of this city and valued its beauty, function, and ability to unite people. Nancy was a collector, a promoter, an educator and an ambassador to the visual arts community in Nashville. The American Artisan Festival, which was an offspring of her American Artisan Gallery grew out of Nancy's early love for Appalachian Crafts which evolved into a passion for National Crafts. As a National Craft Retailer, Nancy traveled the country meeting and discovering new artists and celebrating their craftsmanship. Nancy Saturn sadly passed away in 2009, but her creative spirit and foresight still resonate throughout the Nashville community.
Nancy Saturn, her husband Alan Saturn and Samantha Saturn
Nancy’s daughter Samantha Saturn now leads the effort with the goal of having a “43-year-old brand new show!” Samantha got her start working alongside her mother and remembers working in every aspect of the show from booth sitting for artists to running the Coke booth with her high school friends back in the 80's. Over the past two decades, Samantha became more and more involved with all aspects of running this event and has loved immersing herself in everything related to the Festival. It was a gradual and natural partnering working side by side with her Mother as she learned the fundamentals. From traveling around the country to other craft shows to meeting new artists, to being exposed to the operational side of this event, Saturn has developed an exemplary skill set over the past 20 years.
The American Artisan Festival is synonymous with Centennial Park and will be making its return to the Park after a four-year break while the Park underwent major renovations. When the Park was unavailable during this period, the Festival did not seek alternative space. In Saturn's eyes, there was no alternative space to Centennial Park. Saturn adds, "Bringing back the Festival is about celebrating the mission my mother Nancy Saturn set forth as a pioneer and art advocate. She showed all of us that connecting with artists, learning about their process and collecting their work feeds the soul." Saturn believes the Nashville art scene has experienced a creativity explosion over the past decade and the arts are electrifying and energizing the community like never before. The American Artisan Festival was here at the beginning but is excited to be a part of this new energy and to welcome 150 fine art and contemporary craft artists from around the country representing the highest quality of work including painting, photography, mixed media, garden sculpture, ceramics, glass, wood, furniture, metal, jewelry, wearables and so much more. It is Saturn's hope that this will be an easy, lovely, family oriented day in the Park that will offer something for everyone. In addition to presenting the best fine art and contemporary American handcrafts, this year's Festival will also feature great music by some of Nashville's most talented musicians presented by SESAC, free children's art activities and fantastic food, beer and wine offerings. This event is free to the public and is visited by more than 30,000 local residents and tourists each year.
Some of Deane Bowers artwork
And speaking of creative energy and legacies, the Festival will blend the traditions Saturn's mother created with exciting new elements such as a site-specific art installation entitled GROW LOVE which is an 80ft labyrinth in the shape of a Magnolia Flower (the Magnolia was one of Nancy Saturn's favorite trees and is a primary tree around Centennial Park). This will connect the Festival to the Parthenon and be a way for visitors to walk this work of art and collectively connect to art as a community as well. The way the Artisan booths and the performance areas have been laid out will feel like taking a walk through an enchanted forest and festival goers will experience the Park and the Pantheon in a whole new way. On the hill under the shade of the trees, there will be an entire area designated especially for the kids with several children's art booths including ceramics, crafts, story hours and face painters to captivate even the most energetic little ones.
Nancy Saturn, the founder of the American Artisan Festival was the Sun that shown brightly on this Festival, but her daughter, Samantha is Saturn. The planet Saturn is known for its beautiful rings and is the only planet with this unique feature. And like the beautiful rings around Saturn, The American Artisan Festival will feel like a beautiful, supportive, inclusive, creative ring around Nashville.
I am certain this will be one of the most positive, uplifting experiences I have ever had as an Artist! I am honored to be a part of this amazing celebration and I know I will feel the warmth and energy of both the Sun and Saturn all weekend long!
Deane Bowers is an Environmental Folk Artist whose work transforms dull, broken and discarded material into bright, colorful, Eco-Friendly Art. Her joy comes from finding each individual artifact and unleashing its potential by assembling unrelated elements into a cohesive whole. The excitement and creative challenge is using ordinary items and giving them artistic relevance that is completely different from their original purpose.
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