Evergreen park in Kane has 19 acres of lush greenery and, as the name suggests, tall pine trees. This is where the artists gather each year to sell their wares at the annual Art in the Wilds juried art show.
“We have 40 artists, all in their own white tents,” says Marilyn Blackmore. She grew up in Kane, and is executive director of Art in the Wilds.
“We begin up here toward the corner and we make a giant circle all around this area,” she says, indicating the perimeter of the park. “It ends with food vendors. And we have a huge food tent where people can sit and rest and eat.”
Julie Cleland, president of the board of Art in the Wilds, chimes in.
“There are hay bales for people to sit on,” Cleland says. “So you can sit and visit, or eat your crab cake or your kettle corn – whatever your pleasure. There’s just a very nice, fun atmosphere of being neighborly.”
Cleland is particularly happy about a recent honor bestowed on the festival by Sunshine Artist, a prominent art show magazine.
“Last year,” Cleland says, “Sunshine Artist listed us, based on artist evaluations, that went directly from the artisans at our show to sunshine artists – they listed Art in the Wilds as one of the must-see 11 art shows in the country. So in the 13 years we’ve learned a thing or two, and have attracted a wide variety of fine artists and craftsmen. And we have it on alumni weekend, which in Kane, is the biggest weekend of the year.”
On alumni weekend, Kane Area high school holds their reunions. And Blackmore says it brings a lot of people to town.
“So we get people from all over the country, literally,” Blackmore says.
“We bring about 6,000 people to our shows, so that makes a nice ratio of buyers for the artists.”
And Blackmore says those buyers have a good time.
“The first year we started,” she recalls, ”One of the artists pulled me aside and she said, ‘What’s going on in this town?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘Well, everybody’s laughing and hugging and happy.’ And we know, as artists, that happy people are buying people.”
In addition to the juried artists at Art in the Wilds, there’s also a student exhibit. It’s artwork from high school art classes in McKean and surrounding counties, curated by their art teachers.
“We have a big tent where it’s filled with wonderful student artwork,” Blackmore says. “And they don’t sell their art but they display it. And we encourage them to speak with the artists. If they’re interested in photography, we’d like them to speak with the photographers at the show.”
One of the veteran artists those students might meet at the festival is a potter, Stacie Johnson-Leske. She her shop, gallery and studio are about a half hour south of Kane, in Ridgway, just down the street from the Elk county courthouse. Her shop has beautiful cups and bowls in the window, and sometimes a cat.
“She will often sit in that pink bowl, there,” Johnson-Leske says, indicating a
delicate-looking piece of artwork, with fluted edges and a lacy pattern embedded in the clay.
“She has tried other bowls, but she keeps coming back to that one,” Johnson-Leske says. She’s pretty funny about it.”
And the cat has two feline friends who also hang out in the studio, while Johnson-Leske creates her pottery.
“I have been doing this for about 15 years now,” she says. “I started in Richmond, Virginia. I always enjoyed pottery, and the way it looked. And I always thought it would be a fun thing to try. My husband and I were walking down the street in Richmond, Virginia one day and we saw a gallery with a sign in the window that said, ‘Wheel-throwing lessons offered here.’ And I looked at him and I said ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to try that.’ And he heard me, and for Christmas that year, I got two months of pottery lessons.”
Johnson-Leske says she started off in the performing arts as a ballet dancer. But her ballet career was cut short when kinesiologist examined her in high school, and gave her a terrible choice.
“I could either keep dancing 8 to 10 hours a day,” she says, “or I could walk when I was 30 because I have hyper-extended knees.”
So Johnson-Leske moved from dance into technical theatre. Now she has a BFA in lighting design and works as a professional lighting designer for a ballet company in Maryland, where she travels when they have a show.
But she says her background in ballet finds an outlet in her pottery.
“I liked the hands-on aspects of pottery,” Johnson-Leske says, “and the way the movement of dance transforms into the movement of pottery. You have to be aware of your body and know what you’re doing with your body in order to make the correct movements to make the pottery.”
You can understand the ballet connection when you see the graceful, intricate patterns on some of Johnson-Leske’s newer work.
“It’s different in that its slab-built, rather than wheel thrown,” she says. “I run it through my slab-maker here, which is kind of like a pasta maker on steroids.”
She says she rolls the clay out, “like if you were rolling out pie crust or something of that sort.” And as she demonstrates the process, she actually does take a rolling pin to the clay to get the thickness just right.
“And then I can imprint it with different textures,” she says. “I can cut it to whatever shape that I want. I can create very asymmetrical and interestingly-shaped pieces.”
She says these pieces of pottery are inspired by her love of history and nature. She gets the imprints by pressing antique doilies or actual plant leaves into the clay for a moment. When they’re removed, the imprint remains.
Johnson-Leske is getting ready to hit the road this weekend. She’ll be driving up to Kane for the Art in the Wilds juried fine arts Show. She says it’s one of the few shows she goes to these days.
“As a potter, it is very difficult to pack up all of your pottery that you want to take,” she explains. “You have to wrap up every piece carefully and then be able to put it in a trailer and carry it. And you know there’s going to be some breakage along the way, which is heartbreaking.”
Yet Johnson-Leske says she’s been doing the show in Kane for about five years, now. She says the costs are low enough, and the buyers plentiful enough, that she can make a profit there.
“And I really enjoy it,” she says. “The sponsors there are so, so good to the artists. I can’t even tell you all of the benefits that they have for us. We always enjoy going there. “
Stacie Johnson-Leske and 39 other fine artists gather in Kane’s Evergreen Park this weekend for the 13th annual Art in the Wilds Festival.
Find out more about the Art in the Wilds juried art show at: http://www.artinthewilds.org/
Find out more aobut Stacie Johnson-Leske at www.yourfiredpottery.com