A bright June sun graced Arlington County’s inaugural Festival of the Arts on Saturday, the perfect backdrop to welcome a new community event to the neighborhood. Hipsters, boomers and young families with strollers browsed paintings, sculpture and crafts on display, noshing on barbecue and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches from food trucks that lined Wilson Boulevard. A mobile bar in the center of Clarendon’s Metro Plaza sold beer, wine and mimosas.
On Sunday morning, a downpour threatened to cut the outdoor festival short. The artists and organizers, however, were unfazed by the early-morning storm. As the rain receded to an occasional drizzle, canvas booth walls were drawn back to reveal oil paintings and watercolors; ceramic sculptures were carefully removed from protective boxes and set back out on display.
“We’re troupers,” said photographer Tom Wachs of University Park.
“Everyone here is a professional artist. We travel extensively,” said jeweler Robin Markowitz of Rockville. “Weather conditions are part of the package. Unless it’s a hurricane or a tornado, we’re good to go.”
The juried art festival featured artists from the Washington area and around the country, working in a variety of media. Ira Lances, from Passaic, N.J., was pleased to sell several pieces of his “upcycled” clothing. Lances, a third-generation tailor, sews scarves, vests and other items from recycled fabrics and textiles on his grandfather’s Singer sewing machine to create a reversible handmade chenille.
Working on a loom set up inside his booth, Verne Yan demonstrated intricate Chinese silk embroidery to passersby. Yan says the technique has been used in China for hundreds of years, “but color-by-number, like kindergarten.” Yan says he has transformed the craft into art. His work includes an embroidery portrait of a reclining nude that could be mistaken, at first glance, for a photograph.
The artist Farhana Hussein of Buchanan, Va., creates watercolors based on another centuries-old technique, one used by artisans of the Mughal era (designers of the Taj Mahal) to create miniature paintings. Farhana, as she is known professionally, developed a facsimile of the traditional Mughal gold painting technique to create her watercolor miniatures. Her husband points out one painting of a sprightly bird that veers more towards a Southwest color scheme. “She was inspired by a Rod Stewart concert,” he said.
The festival took place alongside the Clarendon Metro station on three blocks of Highland Street. “This is a fabulous location,” Markovitz said, noting Arlington’s particularly urban, educated demographic and the proximity to public transit. She added, “The restaurants and stores have been very welcoming, so that’s a real bonus. We had great crowds.”
Matt Hussman, executive director of the Clarendon Alliance, said the organization hopes to hold quarterly events such as the popular Mardi Gras parade to encourage foot traffic in the Clarendon business district. “We’re a transitional area, with new construction, lots of businesses changing. We want to see people on the street, and when we do an event like this, it does bring people on the street.” The Clarendon Alliance will receive a portion of the proceeds from liquor sales, as will the Arlington Arts Center, which also raised funds through sales of a donated watercolor print of Clarendon by artist Cheryl Summers.
Tom Wachs was pleased with sales of his photography at the festival. Wachs, who has displayed his work in art shows since 1980, said the festival had “the best quality variety show I’ve done in this area,” noting the mix of media on display.
Two Clarendon residents who walked to the festival from their home agreed. “The artists are clearly very talented,” Michael, the guy, said. “None of it is . . . what’s the word? Kitsch,” the woman, Lynne, added. The Arlingtonians had braved the light rain Sunday morning to return for a second day of browsing. “I love the idea of community events,” Lynne said. “Plus, we were on the way to Whole Foods,” Michael added.
Some artists displayed work as functional as it was artistic. Richard McCollum of White Forest Spoons in Bryn Athyn, Penn., designs and carves kitchen tools that solve common cooking dilemmas, such as wooden spoons made with notches that rest on top of a soup pot between stirrings. He also makes kitchen tools specifically for the left-handed cook. “I designed that for the CIA,” McCollum told a startled prospective customer. McCollum explained that the flat, long-handled cherry wood paddle is a required cooking tool for all beginning students at the Culinary Institute of America, in New York.
At an art festival, however, purchases are more often decorative than practical. Jim and Jennifer Kirkpatrick drove to the festival from Lee Highway, toddler in tow. They’re moving to a new home in Arlington on Friday and wanted to brows items for the new place: McCollum’s kitchen utensils for lefties; jewelry; and possibly, Jim said, a “big ceramic frog.”