Getting artsy

Published 11:20 pm Sunday, May 1, 2016


SAF 2015 050

Downtown Saluda readies for May 21 arts festival

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Written by Michael O’Hearn

Photos submitted by Cathy Jackson, Benjamin Davies, Jeff Pittman, Jean-Jacques Benoist, Lucinda Pittman and Garold Amsberry


Saluda’s 14th annual Saluda Arts Festival will welcome artists of all types from across the area downtown along Main Street on Sat., May 21.


Returning to the festival this year are artists including Benjamin Davies, Jeff Pittman, Jean-Jacques Benoit, Lucinda Pittman and Garold Amsberry.


Each artist brings their style and medium of choice to the festival to draw in crowds of nearly 4,000 festivalgoers and 90 artists from the Southeast, according to Wendy Hamil, promotions coordinator for the festival.


“It’s the biggest money maker for the town, bigger than Coon Dog Day,” Hamil said. “I would say the bulk of the people who come are local, and with the Saluda festival being concentrated on Main Street it’s accessible for people to get there and find what they need.”


Cathy Jackson is the owner of Cathy Jackson Realty in Saluda and has coordinated the event since its inception in 2003 by the Saluda Business Association. Jackson said the initial response to the festival’s formation was wonderful and it has continued to grow since.


“The response from the community was wonderful and the festival grew in the number of artists exhibiting, as well as the variety of mediums represented,” Jackson explained. “Festival planners expect about 80 artists, mostly regional from North and South Carolina, and a few from Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, to be setting up booths this year.”


Proceeds from the festival are used to benefit the town of Saluda. Some artists choose to sell their pieces at their booths and some do demonstrations for the audience.


Returning artists to the 2016 festival


Benjamin Davies, blacksmith


Benjamin Davies is a blacksmith who lives in Shelby, N.C. and has been attending the festival for four years. Davies is a 19th generation blacksmith from the Daniel Boone family and said blacksmithing is in his blood.


“I used to find it kind of silly to tell people that I’m from the Boone family, but it’s also kind of cool when you think about it,” Davies said. “After graduating from college as a criminal justice major, I became a father and so I decided that I really loved building stuff with my hands and I tried leatherwork and woodwork before taking a blacksmithing class at Haywood Community College. It felt like my niche and something I really enjoyed.”


Davies said what he likes about blacksmithing is the challenge of the medium, but at the same time being able to do whatever he wants to with the metal. He said his “bread and butter” crafts are paper towel holders and hooks, but he is beginning to look at sculptural things such as one-piece crosses.


“I’ve been sculpting cranes like the bird, the herring, and I sometimes I like to do some things that have no particular meaning, but I just want to see how far I can take the metal,” Davies said. “I’m really inspired by hiking in the woods, trees that have branches that reach out 15 to 20 feet and nature.”


The blacksmith plans to do demonstrations at the festival and said he does them because the kids who come to the festival take a big interest in what he does.


“I like to illustrate what happens in the fire and it shows people the process and what I can do with a bar of metal as compared to a welder or fabricator,” Davies said. “I like helping people understand the process.”


Jeff Pittman, painter


A staple of the Saluda Arts Festival, Jeff Pittman is a painter who has attended the festival almost every year since 2003. His studio is located in the River Arts District of Asheville, N.C.


“I do oil paintings, primarily landscapes, of the mountains and things around here and all across North Carolina,” Pittman said. “I’m from eastern North Carolina, and I’ve been here for 20 years mostly in Asheville. I look for a broader range of subject matter, just not abstract, and I do some downtown scenes like Saluda and that was really popular.”


Pittman said he got his start because, as a high school art student, he was never really into drawing because it discouraged him. That is, until he started adding color to his pieces.


“Once I put color to it, things started to come to life,” Pittman explained. “That’s what helped me find my style. My works are vibrant and colorful, kind of like real life, but not overly done.”


Colorful skies, sweeping clouds and the mountains are Pittman’s main subjects when he paints. He also said he does seasonal landscapes, but joked he has not tried winter scenes because it is too monochromatic for him.


“I might have time for another street scene, maybe of Saluda, before the festival,” Pittman said. “But, I will try to find whatever pieces I can fit in my minivan before I take off for the day.”


Jean-Jacques Benoist, photographer


Jean-Jacques Benoist and his wife Susan have lived in Lake Adger, N.C. for 10 years and are enjoying retirement following a 28-year career operating a commercial product photography studio.


Their technique, known as “photography to art,” captures local scenery, towns and nature. Benoist and his wife then add layers of digital paint one at a time on heavy canvas.


“Our process is kind of specific as to how we do things and how we sell them,” Benoist explained. “We don’t wander very far from that particular way of producing our work, so it’s pretty specific on what we do and how we do it.”


Benoist and his wife took a year and a half off following their retirement to volunteer around before deciding to do landscape photography.


“We didn’t really get in the niche of what other photographers do with waterfalls and things like that,” Benoist said. “We wanted to create a little differently and so we settled on doing photography in small towns and we love Saluda. Saluda was the reason we ended up moving here.”


After purchasing the art tent and printers necessary for their work, they began their work out of Lake Adger and decided to stay close and local with their shows. Six years ago, Saluda was their first show.


“A lot of our work is of Saluda, it just feels natural to us,” Benoist said. “It’s nostalgic for us to do it every year, and it has changed over the years, but we roll with it. We just hand pick the shows we like to do, and Saluda is automatic for us every year.”


Lucinda Pittman, potter


Lucinda Pittman and her husband, Gerald, live in Saluda and Pittman creates landscape pottery pieces for various small festivals like the Saluda Arts Festival.


Raised in Charlotte, N.C., Pittman went to Appalachian State and graduated with an art marketing degree and lived in West Asheville for 18 years, “before it was cool.” Being an artist runs in the family for Pittman as her mother and grandmother were also artists.


Her grandmother was a sculptor and her mother a portrait artist, so Pittman thought she would be a painter, too, before she tried her hand at it in a class and realized it was not for her. It was clay that spoke to her and drew her to pottery.


“I was working in a gallery in Asheville many, many moons ago,” Pittman explained. “I met my husband and we both had regular jobs before I quit my job to start my pottery business.”


Pittman and her husband have worked together in their business, Lucinda Handmade Pottery, since 1991. Pittman and her husband transplanted their business, which started out in a studio on top of their garage, to Saluda in 2004.


“We found this piece of land to put a studio on and put our house on the market,” Pittman said. “We had only built the studio and had to live in the studio with the pottery for a year. Oh, how much fun was that. We had the kilns on one side, the bed on wooden blocks and two TVs with earphones while our house was being built.”


After graduating from Appalachian, she enrolled in classes at Penland School of Crafts north of Asheville, which Pittman refers to as the “400 acre destination for artists.” Pittman describes her artwork as “colorful” and “whimsical” and has been doing the Saluda Arts Festival off and on since moving to the area.


“I love Saluda and supporting all the artists and the town,” Pittman said. “I love leaves, the organic nature, mountains and color.”


Music, dance and other performers at the Saluda Arts Festival


Hummingtree Band


Dave Miles (bass, guitar), Earl Turner (guitar) and Randy Wykoff (mandolin, octave mandolin, and harmonica) came together as the Hummingtree Band in the 1980s. The three singer/songwriters came from diverse musical backgrounds but were able to meld their styles and create a unique sound and musical experience. After only three years, major life changes forced an unexpected hiatus for the band. Then, after 23 years and various relocations, the band realized they lived close enough to get together again for weekend jam sessions. These sessions soon turned into a “Reunion Tour.” Now, performing regularly across the Southeast, The Hummingtree Band has found popularity again, as a remarkable mixture of genres including Americana, rock, bluegrass, and folk, laced with original compositions and a high-energy stage presence.



Debbie C and the B’s

Debbie and Irv Camacho are some of Saluda’s own musical favorites and perform regularly at the Saluda Grade and the Green River Brew Depot. Debbie writes songs that she performs playing on keyboard and husband, Irv plays the drums with Dorrie McKinley on acoustic guitar. They also sing popular and Americana music.


Sound Investment


A favorite band for those who like to dance to classic rock and beach music. Sound Investment adds a new twist on tunes from the Beach Boys, Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, The Four Tops, Young Rascals, Temptations, Righteous Brothers, Kinks, Supremes, Johnny Rivers, Doobie Brothers, Atlanta Rhythm Section, and many more. With Rodney Gibson on keyboard and guitar, Rick Gunderson, lead guitar, Kevin Filson on bass, and Michael Leyshon playing drums, you will be on your feet!


Hogtown Squealers


Brevard’s Hogtown Squealers have delighted audiences and dancers for more than 20 years with their creative exploration of old time music traditions. Their music is flavored with honkey-tonk, ragtime, and “obscure musical miscellany.” Currently the band consists of Tom Anderson (fiddle, vocals), Susan Brown (fiddle), Matt Gardner (bass), John von Stein (accordion, vocals), Keith Ward (guitar), and Gary Wells (banjolyn, vocals).


In their eclectic approach to old time music, they share much of their musical attitude with the early incarnations of the Red Clay Ramblers and the Double Decker String Band. The Squealers are influenced by the early greats of recorded Southern stringband music.


Over Mountain String Band


Formerly known as the Saluda Grade String Band, they are a favorite at the Saluda Arts Festival each year. This string ensemble gathers at different areas of the festival to play historic tunes, popular in the Southern Appalachians before the days of radio. You will want to see their unique instruments and hear the history they continue to preserve.


Dancer’s Extension Spring Concert


The Spring Concert is planned for 11 a.m. at Saluda Elementary School’s auditorium on the day of the festival. Approximately 50 students will perform numbers in the genres of ballet, jazz and contemporary dance. Admission is free.


Balloon Artist and Stilt Walker


For the enjoyment of the children and amazement of all, Balloon Artist Stephanie Miles will create art out of balloons, and Stilt Walker Ananda (Heather Springsteen) will bring a colorful array to the skyline.