Could there be any doubt that Savannah is a haven for artists? If so, a look at the list of local artists accepted into the 12th Annual Telfair Art Fair should settle the matter once and for all.
A strict jurying process is used to select participants, who come from all across the United States. In the end, more than 100 were chosen for this year’s fair, and nearly half come from Savannah.
Not only is the show difficult to get into, it’s even harder to win an award. Yet one Savannah resident was awarded the Best of Show award in 2003. And in 2005, Marcus Kenney was awarded the Best in Show award -- again.
His reaction was honest, if not typical.
“Oh, no, not again!” is how he remembers it. “They’re gonna think this is rigged!”
Once he recovered from the shock, Kenney was thrilled. It’s an honor to win -- and the money ain’t bad, either.
But what keeps Kenney coming back to the Telfair Art Fair is the quality of the show. “I feel a shift happening in the art fair that’s moving towards more contemporary fine art,” he says.
“I’m not sure if the Telfair is wanting to move in that direction, but I’m certainly advocating it, as are the judges,” Kenney says. “Having won first place two out of the past three years and second place the other year, I think the judges themselves are sending that message. They certainly aren’t choosing the guy who carves and paints wooden ducks -- no offense, but the patrons are starving for contemporary work at the fair.”
With such an attitude, the fair can only continue to grow, Kenney says. “I envision the Telfair Art Fair evolving into something really special, even on a national level. But it’s gonna take someone who’ll make a lot of tough decisions.”
This year’s Telfair Art Fair is set for Nov. 4 and 5 in Telfair Square. Not only are artworks displayed, they’re available for sale.
Each participating artist is unique. Kenney has exhibited his photography to wide acclaim, but it’s his paintings that have generated the most excitement throughout the U.S. and England.
Kenney collects old, discarded printed material, which he meticulously assembles into works that are whimsical, but disturbing. He addresses controversial topics of the day in images made of materials as diverse as wallpaper, photographs, newsprint, cigar labels, even marble dust.
He finds his materials “in thrift stores, children’s books, Auto Zone, occasionally the Web, but mostly donations from friends.”
“I can get really excited by the most ridiculous things, like a piece of paper that has a scribble on it,” Kenney says. “Let’s see.This is the material list for a painting I just finished: vintage wallpaper, paint-by-number sets, marble dust, vinyl, acrylic, cigar labels, children’s book cut-outs, personal papers, cancelled checks, tape, stickers, car decals, pencil and medium on canvas. That’s just in one painting.”
While Kenney’s been known to scour back alleys and even Dumpsters for materials, he also buys stuff.
“I buy decals from Auto Zone, wallpaper from Home Depot, stickers from Party Central, and I’m certainly not a stranger at Primary Art Supply,” he says.
“I come across material everywhere,” Kenney says. “It helps having three kids. I’ve even utilized my son’s homework assignments.”
The most unusual material he’s used in a painting? “Probably my own hair,” Kenney says.
Next spring, a solo exhibit of Kenney’s work, titled Topics in American History Vol. 1, will be presented at the Jepson Center. He’s still considering and debating whether or not to include photography.
“I’m officially retired from photography, but my background is in photography and I think it’s affected what I do,” Kenney says. “I just couldn’t keep up that intensity that being a photographer requires. Now I’m able to leave the studio at a decent time and hang my Artist Hat up and have somewhat of a normal family life. I couldn’t do that when I was taking pictures. I enjoy the making instead of the taking now.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Lacey B. Campbell, a 24-year-old student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. This is her first time at the Telfair Art Fair.
Originally from Moberly, Mo., Campbell came to SCAD because of its furniture design program.
“Furniture design wasn’t something my family looked as a real major, so I studied ceramics at the University of Northwestern Missouri,” she says. “I think the sculptural aspect of furniture design is what most interests me. You can interact with furniture.”
Campbell makes mostly chairs. “I work with metal, but I’ve used wood and I really enjoy plastics and resins,” she says. “Ideas can come from anything. The negative space is what intrigues me.”
Starting with an idea or a shape, Campbell makes a rough draft, then a model. “If you can make furniture from paper, you can make it from sheet metal,” she says. “From the model, I’ll adjust the idea or even scratch the entire project. Usually the process is looking at it, thinking about it, then making it.”
Each chair takes Campbell about one or two months to make, working four to five hours a day. “There’s a lot of cutting, grinding and sanding,” she says. “The finishing takes a large amount of time, too.”
Eventually, Campbell wants to work with a furniture design firm or an interior designer. “I think it may be a little more like freelance, yet I would still have some solid ground to work from,” she says.
So far, Campbell has participated in an art fair in Marysville, Mo., a couple of student group shows and completed two commissions. “I’m very fresh to the market,” she says. Campbell was invited by the Telfair to participate. “Someone who had seen my work e-mailed me and asked me to participate,” she says. “I knew it was a pretty big deal. I jumped all over it!”
However, Campbell’s a bit worried about the loading and unloading she’ll have to do. “The lightest thing I make weighs 75 pounds, while the heaviest weighs 200 pounds,” she says.
P.A. Kessler of Hilton Head Island will be showing her watercolor botanical art at the Telfair Art Fair. “I’ve been a painter for 30 years, and I’ve been a botanical artist for about that time,” she says.
Kessler’s work is known for its painstaking attention to detail. “In college, I had a focus on print making, with a lot of etching,” she says. “They make you pay a lot of attention to detail. I had an instructor my last semester who introduced me to botanical art. I like the scientific aspect of botanicals and want to carry that to people so they will pay more attention to plants.”
A native of Michigan, Kessler loves examining everything she paints. She has lived in the Lowcountry for the past two years.
“My husband and I were looking for a lifestyle change,” Kessler says. “We were looking up and down the East Coast. As we passed the Hilton Head exit, my husband said, ‘Don’t you have an aunt and uncle here whom you haven’t seen in a long time? How about making a surprise visit?’ We looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we think about this?’”
After seeing an ad for the Telfair Art Fair, Kessler decided to enter. “I’d just gone through the new museum, and thought I’d give it a try,” she says.
Kessler paints about eight hours a day. “I get lost in what I do,” she says. “I become obsessed with it.”
Now Kessler has a new obsession. “I’m starting to do insects,” she says. “They’re as intriguing as plants. When you start looking at an insect under a magnifying light, they are amazing. I’m walking a fine line between scientific illustration and fine art.”
Marie Donze will drive up from Fort Lauderdale to show her work. “I was looking on the Internet and saw the Telfair web site,” she says. “I submitted pictures, but didn’t hear anything. I thought, ‘I tried, but I wasn’t accepted.’ Then I received a letter that said, ‘Congratulations!’ I was jumping all over the place.”
Donze has developed her own technique of reverse painting on glass. “There are many other people who paint on glass, but I do it totally different,” she says. “I use paint and gold leaf and layer my work, layer after layer. There can be 10 to 15 layers in one piece. It’s pretty abstract, but to me it all comes together.”
A native of France, Donze has been in the U.S. for about 10 years. “I have no background in art, but I always loved to paint and use my hands,” she says. “I went to high school and one year of college and studied international business, but I realized it wasn’t where my heart was.”
For years, Donze’s creativity lay dormant. Ironically, it was reborn because of misfortune. “My ex-husband and I decided to buy a 10-unit apartment building,” she says. “What we found was that many of the tenants weren’t paying rent and it had all been covered up.
“We had to evict a lot of people and use the money for repairs to pay the mortgage,” Donze says. “We did the repairs ourselves.
“When you lack money, it’s the mother of creativity,” she says. “I found out I could use my hands. I learned how to do faux finishing on cabinets, how to lay tile and how to do landscaping. I worked 15-hour days.
“Even though it was tough, it made me realize I wanted to make my living through my creativity.” ƒç
The 12th Annual Telfair Art Fair will be held Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 5 from 12:30-4:30 p.m. on Telfair Square. Admission is free. Artworks will be on display for judging and also for sale. ArtZeum at the Art Fair will feature activities for children, including hands-on art activities, face painting, a mini art show and more. The ArtZeum will be open Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sunday 12:30-3 p.m. The Telfair Cafe, by Savor Savannah, will move outdoors to offer concessions.