From paintings to pottery and everything in between, the Highlands Art & Crafts Show was one of the most diverse displays of handmade products in the six-year history of the semi-annual event. Developed, organized and coordinated by long-time Highlands resident and business owner, Cynthia Strain, the exhibition, held at Highlands’ Kelsey-Hutchinson Park last Saturday and Sunday, had something for craft lovers of all ages and persuasions.
As attendees strolled through the grassy aisles between tents, they could see beautiful paintings using dirt as the medium rather than oil or water colors.
“Dirt — it’s what we’re made of after all,” said Gene Albritton of Earth Studio in Whittier, N.C. “Unlike using paint to portray the colors of Earth, I simply use the pigments of our beautiful Earth and merely move dirt around the canvas to form a unique piece of art.” His painting of a cross is open because, “The Lord spoke to me when I was painting it. He told me to leave it open since he opened the way for me.” Many of Albritton’s paintings are framed with his own handmade rustic frames made from old barns and cattle pens.
Karen Chamber’s husband Tim has a screen door business in Highlands. In her business, KTC, she gathers her husband’s scraps and creates beautiful, framed pieces of art on screens.
Where’s Your Bag? is the question that is also the name of Deborah Bryant’s operation in Cashiers. She weaves decorative purses, stoles and other accessories with hand looms.
John W. Moore, from Greenville, S.C., was a first time exhibitor displaying intricate, detailed carvings from cottonwood. His display included faces, figures, and bowls.
Jim and Vicki Smith of Sautee Nacoochee, Ga., make, show and sell birdhouses. The sign above their tent reads “JV Rustic Birdhouses.”
Petty Shepherd brought her authentic, hand-woven African baskets to the show from Kingsport, Tenn. Her business, African Hut, also features jewelry, soap stone, Batiks, carvings and other African items.
Johnny Lynn from Cherry Log, Ga., takes beautiful photographs, primarily of landscapes and nature. Using a large HP machine, he prints them onto canvas using oil pigments. His company, Visionsgates Photography, features “oils on canvas,” but they’re photographs, not paintings.
Vicki Ferguson is a selftaught wildlife illustrator with a background in biology, wildlife rehabilitation and citrus production. She holds a doctorate in entomology and plant pathology and previously worked as a consultant for growers and agrichemical companies and taught college courses in biology and environmental biology. She gradually went from the formal constraints of scientific illustration to the freedom and creativity of her current work which focuses primarily on wildlife images but also includes a wide range of domestic animals and garden themes. Most of her drawings are done with either graphite or colored pencil. Pat Taylor, Highlands magistrate and resident potter at The Bascom, brought several pieces of his pottery offerings to the show.
The event even had a special attraction for children. Patricia C. Daum from Lakemont, Ga., provided face painting for the youngsters. Her company, Patti Cakes the Clown, offers all sorts of face paints, including well-known figures such as Spider Man.
It would be hard to single out one highlight of this show. But those attending were certainly drawn to artist Marcus Thomas’ exhibit. Thomas, a quadriplegic, paints beautifully, holding the brush in his mouth.
At an early age, Thomas developed a strong interest in athletics, camping, fishing and model aviation. He had a seemingly insatiable thirst for adventure. In 1985, he received a degree in commercial recreation with a goal to become an activities director at a resort. Three months later, Thomas saw that goal thwarted and his world turned upside down. While snow skiing, he fell and slid head first into the base of a tree, breaking his neck at the fourth cervical vertebrae. The crushed spinal cord left Thomas completely paralyzed from the shoulders down. After a year of recovery and a determined pursuit for a fulfilling life, he discovered the art of painting.
For Christmas 1986, Thomas received a set of Crayola watercolors. Without prior experience, an adventure began that has provided tremendous enjoyment. Through painting, Thomas remains active outdoors, visually absorbing all that nature provides, documenting interests and sharing his passion for life.
“Sharing this passion is my wife Anne. Without her love and tireless enthusiasm, the artistic pursuits and happiness that I cherish would not be possible. Having been together for 17 years, we have battled to find direction in our bizarre, difficult and sometimes chaotic life,” said Thomas.
‘An intense part of that direction has been Anne’s incredible effort to discover methods for showing what I have accomplished with a paint brush. The marketing of originals, limited edition prints and an always growing show schedule has paved the way to our current strength,” noted Thomas.
Strain started this twice-a-year Art & Crafts show six years ago, holding it on the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. “I’ve been a crafter for a long time,” she said. “I know that it’s difficult for crafters to earn a living by selling their merchandise to a store and then receiving only a percentage of the sales when they occur.”
Strain, a photographer and framer herself, owns Mill Street Gallery, located in Village Square, just behind the Kelsey- Hutchinson Park, the home of the show.
“The first year we had the show, we had 25 vendors. Almost all of those 25 are still exhibiting. We have so much talent in this area that we limit exhibitors to those within a two-hour radius of Highlands. You wouldn’t believe how many we turn down. This year we had over 80 artists (all space sold out), and I do believe it has been the best show we’ve ever had.”