The first day of Kent’s 18th annual Art in the Park began Saturday with occasional raindrops that soon gave way to blue skies and sunshine.
Thousands of visitors of all ages filled Fred Fuller Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to browse among 101 booths displaying the work of regional fine artists, hear musicians perform on two stages and munch on food sold by vendors from bourbon chicken to Starbucks. With no fee for admission or for event parking available across the street on the west side of Middlebury Road, the art festival will continue from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
As music from country to jazz emanated from the main stage and the Back Wood stages, visitors also saw ice-carving, pottery and airbrush demonstrations and re-enactments of Middle Age duels by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
An afternoon preview unveiled the Kent Bicentennial Sculpture, a 4-by-6-foot, 500-pound relief cast in bronze created by Kent artist George Danhires. Danhires crafted raised images in the piece depicting symbolic and actual figures inherent to the city’s history. The work will be dedicated Sept. 25 and permanently installed downtown between the gazebo and The Pufferbelly restaurant.
"I’ve done a lot of pieces. This one is more complex in portraiture and more complex in narrative" than any of his previous artwork, Danhires said.
Youth attending this year’s event have their own place to create art, in the "Young at Art" pavilion, where volunteers lead children in crafts activities.
In the youth artists’ tent, 18 students from third grade to senior grade levels were selected to take part in Art in the Park this year. Judges also selected top picks from the third-through-sixth-grade categories and the seventh-through-12th-grade categories. Emily Harsh, a senior from Paris Township, and Finn Kaine, a fifth-grade student from Kent, each took first place in their categories for their artwork, each receiving gift certificates to All Media Art Supply. Harsh created beaded jewelry and hair barrettes while Kaine created magnets of glass and colored paper.
Among adult fine artists at this year’s Art in the Park, judges selected winners based on the overall quality of the work displayed in their booths. The Best In Show award was given to Joe Leonard of Nelson for his custom woodcarving. First place went to Jeff Oxley of Cuyahoga Falls for his photographic collages; second place was awarded to Brad Phelps of Newton Falls for his stoneware; and, the third-place winner was Linda Grubb of Salem for her glasswork.
Oxley said he creates each of his prints from photographs of various surfaces, adding color digitally to "build them up."
"I was a painter for about 30 years. Now, it’s all stored on my hard drive and takes less space," he said.
In his sixth year as an Art in the Park participant, Oxley said he enjoys the venue.
"This one’s more laid back than other festivals. Plus, the music is great," Oxley said.
Sponsored by Kent Parks and Recreation, Art in the Park also is supported by local businesses and volunteers. Two-day attendance each year, on average, includes about 15,000 to 18,000 visitors. Planning for this year’s event began last November, said Nancy Rice, event coordinator for Kent Parks and Recreation.
As they headed to their car holding their three purchases from their first visit to the annual festival, Stow residents David Stanek and Lauren Lautzenheiser said they enjoyed themselves. Lautzenheiser smiled as she pointed to one of the three prints they’d selected, one by photographer David Muckensturm showing a view of The Pufferbelly from the railroad track.
"We got that because it’s where we went on our first date," she said.
For more information about Art in the Park, visit the Kent Parks and Recreation website.