By: Sophie McHugh ’18
A farmer with a metal boneyard. The mother of a slime mogul. A published backpacker. The woodworker of The Pines. These storied artists are among the many who gathered under the white tents of this weekend’s Art on the Green festival.
Scheduled between the Gallery Crawl and the Concert on the Green, Art on the Green is the centerpiece event of North Mecklenburg’s April Is For Arts, a month-long celebration of the county’s art and culture. This past Saturday and Sunday, 50 artists from near and far showcased their work for a steady flow of patrons on the Village Green. The show has been a recurring affair for 12 years now; according to Davidson’s Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming, it has morphed alongside the town that hosts it.
Interested in learning more about the show’s evolution and the people who give life to it, I asked Fleming to point me in the direction of some longtime festival fixtures. She happily and enthusiastically gave me some names, and so began my walk along a the line of insightful, accomplished folks who vivified the 12th annual Art on the Green festival.
My first stop was the tent of Jane Ellithorpe, a talented painter with a degree in computer programming. She’s worked with ink and graphite, but her favorite medium is clearly watercolor. Her tent was decked with beautiful aquarelle landscapes, some of which, Ellithorpe explained, capture places which have now been demolished or drastically altered to clear space for parking lots and development projects. Ellithorpe’s works may very well be some of the last records of these time-swallowed spaces of Mecklenburg county.
Ellithorpe was among the group that organized the first Art on the Green. While in its early years anyone was welcome to showcase their works, artists are now required to anonymously submit a small portfolio to a jury before they are either approved or denied entry. Ellithorpe cites the transition to juried selection as one of the biggest sources of change in the event’s history.
“Wouldn’t that be awful if one day I wasn’t accepted!” said Ellithorpe, with a laugh—she has safely procured a booth each year since the festival’s genesis.
Acknowledging that I was only speaking to those who’d come through the process as victors, it seemed to be a common sentiment that the addition of a jury made for a better, more enjoyable show.
“A juried show makes the difference,” said Ellithorpe, letting go of her previous worries.
“I like doing juried shows,” echoed Marty Harris, one of two photographers featured at the festival. “They’re very selective so it’s a nicer class of artists and crafters. Some other shows have what I call church bazaar crafts. It’s a lot of stuff that people don’t even make, they just get it at a warehouse or online and then they sell it. I prefer to be here, where everything is made.”
Unlike Ellithorpe, Harris has only been coming to Art on the Green for the past two years, but he’s been travelling the festival circuit up and down the east coast for much longer. Before that, he backpacked through North Carolina for three years, documenting the sights and souls he encountered along the way. Harris tried for years to get his photojournalism journey published, and in 2014 he finally released his book, What The Road Passes By. Flipping through the book and browsing his booth, I easily got a sense of the personal connections he develops with his subjects. There’s a print of a black cat on the brink of bolting, who agreed to stay put just long enough to grant Harris one quick snapshot. There’s a page with a photo of a woman at a cash register captioned with the quote, “You’re walking across the state? Boy, you’re a damn fool!”
Crazy or not, a sense of community seems important to Harris.
“At a huge show with 100 or so vendors you can kinda get lost. So a small show like this is always nice,” he reflected.
Further down the line, I met one artist particularly embedded in the local arts community. The gorgeous works bedecking Elie Bou Zeidan’s tent reveal his personal journey to the Green. Painter Bou Zeidan was born in Lebanon, spent much of his life in Paris, and now lives in Cornelius where he’s opened his own art studio: Studio Elie. Like his friend Ellithorpe, who teaches classes at Studio Elie, Bou Zeidan has an affinity for landscapes and still lifes.
Beckoning me to view his works from afar and then to practically press my nose against the canvas, Bou Zeidan gave me a crash course on his stylistic approach. He has a knack for rich, radiant strokes of acrylic, capturing his subjects with thick colors such that it’s hard to believe the real thing could ever surpass.
This type of enthusiastic trust was not uncommon among artists on the Green. Another painter, Daisy Schenone, welcomed me to touch her work outright. When I met Schenone, it was her first year at Art on the Green and only her fourth year painting at all. She began painting as a means to bond with her daughter. Of course, you would never assume she was a novice from viewing her collection. Shenone, a landscape designer by trade, paints a series of enticing visuals evocative of ethereal sights and scenes. When she told me that her grandfather was also a painter, I suggested that her natural talent could run in the family. Schenone bolstered this theory with further evidence: her middle school-age daughter is something of a natural creative herself and runs a lucrative business selling homemade slime on Instagram.
The more people I talked to, the more I heard a similar “accidental talent” narrative.
Gerald Campbell, a full-time farmer, started making charming, steampunk sculptures to put use to the “metal boneyard” that had accumulated on his farm (and those of his friends and neighbors). A pair of pigs made from freon bottles with lawnmower blades for ears exemplify the sort of work he’s been doing for seven years now.
Bob Millikin, a retired social worker, told me that although he first tried woodworking as a freshman in high school, it was 50 years before he returned to the craft. “Sometimes I have a plan, and like many plans, they change. Sometimes there’s a lot of trial and error, and sometimes, eureka!” he said while explaining to me the intricate and sometimes improvisational nature of using a lathe, a woodworking tool which he has access to at the in-house studio of The Pines retirement home.
From these encounters, it would be easy to characterize the talented folk of Art on the Green as dedicated eccentrics and leave it at that. But that would be a disservice to the nature of my conversations with them. Every artist I approached was more than happy to share their time, stories, and wisdom with me. I learned the basics of the lathe, encountered lawnmower parts as I’d never before imagined them, and stroked a masterpiece. When Art on the Green returns to Davidson next April for its 13th year, consider visiting for a stroll between the rows of white tents that shelter innumerable unique works, many effervescent artists, and a whole lot of stories.
Sophie McHugh ‘18 is a Communication Studies major from Atlanta, GA. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Every artist I spoke to had some sage advice about feeding one’s passion for the arts. Here, I relay it for our readers:
“If you enjoy doing it, just try to do it.”
—Gerald Campbell, standing by a T. rex he’d made out of tractor parts.
“If you find something you enjoy, keep working on it, and be patient.”
—Bob Millikin, woodworker of The Pines.
“Just decide to try it and see what happens!”
—Crystal Crowder, who designs unique, quality pieces of jewelry.
“Art is in your heart. It’s heart. It’s not easy. You have to close your eyes as an artist and create, and not think about the business side.”
—Elie Bou Zeidan, an art teacher in practice and at heart.
“In this day in age you have to look at what’s paying right now. You have to take that creativity and put it in other forms.”
—Jessica Ballard, a dexterous painter with a degree in management information systems.
“It’s just kinda something you decide to do and if you like it, you do it.”
—Paul Vliet, the retired owner of a model plane company who now crafts dazzling, ornate pens.
“The main thing is, if you have a dream, don’t ever give up on it.”
—Marty Harris, whose own dream is now available on Amazon.
“If you get yourself a hotel pad and a number two golf pencil, you can draw anything you want to.”
—Jane Ellithorpe, on the joy of the basics.
Finally, and perhaps most pertinently to our anxious yet artistic audience of Davidson students:
“Follow your heart, and getting A’s is not everything.” —Daisy Shenone, standing beside her original painting of a stone-lined trail disappearing into a unknown world of sunset and forests.