It's sort of our version of the San Antonio River Walk, only much better (no inebriated crowds or shopping carts in the water), and this year's The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival has a strong showing of Texas artists, many of them local. From Houston, metal artist Terry Fromm is showing jewelry, while bronze sculptor Harold Siefert has several whimsical pieces, including Killer Shoe (looks like a shoe but with a ready-to-bite-you alligator head for the toe), houses that act like humans (one plays the piano) and flowing dress forms.
Other locals include Barbara Mason from Frisco, with florals in the drawings/pastels category, and, from Kingwood, Cynthia Hendrickson, whose jewelry is inspired by her passion for texture and color. Amanda Armistead Pechacek, also from Kingwood, draws upon nature to create her 2-D mixed media paintings.
The festival – which features 200 national and international artists in a variety of disciplines including clay, digital art, fiber, glass, 3-D mixed media, photography, prints and wood – also offers opportunities for emerging artists, including John Quigley (Tomball), Stella Coupe (Rosenberg) and David Stein (Cypress). Many Austin-based artists also show at the festival, which is a great way to check out some keeping-it-weird artists without making the drive west. This year's theme is "Escape to a Weekend of Art and Music," and the organizers have lined up several bands with Latin influences.
One painter, who has shown at the festival for the past four years, received quite a surprise last year. “The organizers, the grand poobahs, asked if they could have a word with me,” says Julia Gilmore, who hails from Toronto. She thought, “Oh no, what have I done wrong?” It turns out it was good news: they asked Gilmore to be the featured artist in this year's festival, and she accepted. “I'm pretty tickled pink.”
Her work resonates on many levels and, in spite of her current residency in Canada, has a touch of nostalgia and Americana, with images like an old Kodak or Brownie camera, a Pepsi-Cola can, a tractor and Brunswick bowling pins. The oil paintings are big and bright, with rich colors and textures, as she uses a palette knife instead of a paintbrush.
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Gilmore, who was raised in a small town in New Hampshire and spent time in Montreal before moving to the Caledon Hills, says she paints what she knows. “Just the everyday, taking the prosaic in every day and elevating to an iconic imagery. I paint the world around me.” She's expanding her world just a little bit for this year's show, as she has a new series of paintings that are definitely Texana, including longhorn steers, Lone Star Beer and bluebells (part of her floral series). “I've been working really hard on a special Texas collection,” she says. “I'm hoping to get to work on the taco painting, but the clock is ticking. It's becoming like a symbiotic relationship; not only am I bringing art to The Woodlands, but I'm bringing some of Texas back with me.”
Gilmore says that she does a lot of shows across the country, and that this festival is extremely well-juried. “The audience is getting the absolute top-notch artists.” Gilmore, a single parent, will be making the drive down in her lime-green Honda Element, with her teenage filmmaker son Adam and her border collie Lucky along for the ride.
The festival kicks off with First Look Friday with Latin-inspired bands, chef demonstrations and interactive family activities. The first 2,000 visitors will receive a postcard featuring Gilmore's work, and her Escape! painting will be auctioned off at the Art Dash Party, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival is Friday, April 8, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, April 9, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, April 10, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., along the Woodlands Waterway and in Town Green Park, 2099 Lake Robbins, The Woodlands, woodlandsartsfestival.com. $15 to $75.