Home Arts-Entertainment Things to do IT'S FAIR WEATHER THIS WEEKEND FOR ARTS ALIVE



For Matthew Calder, working with wood is not only physical but philosophical.
As an artist, he says, he was attracted first to ceramics and then to wood turning "by the philosophy of leaving part of yourself behind in the piece that you're making."
Calder flew to St. Thomas from England last Friday — the first day the airport here was open in the aftermath of Hurricane Lenny — to vacation in the Virgins at time when he could also take part in the annual Arts Alive Arts and Crafts Festival at Tillett Gardens.
The festival opens Friday morning and runs through Sunday afternoon. More than 30 artists and artisans will be exhibiting their creative wares, and dozens of performing artists will be contributing music, dance and more. In this 19th year of Arts Alive fairs, a number of first-time exhibitors are taking part, and Calder is far and away the one coming from farthest away.
Based in the rural southeast of England, Calder lives in an old house on a dairy farm and has his studio in what was once a manger for cattle. There, he creates pottery-like sculptures from hardwood logs. Using a lathe, he works with "a freshly cut tree while the wood is still unseasoned," he explains. "Once it's roughly shaped, it needs to dry for about a month, then go back on the lathe for sanding and finishing."
The largest piece he's produced was about 4 feet across — "I had to winch it onto the lathe with a block and tackle." At the Arts Alive festival, he'll be showing mainly works that fit in the palm of your hand, along with one that's about 14 inches in diameter.
"Big stuff is really where my heart is," he says. "It's a physical response — you really get the power of the tree; you relate to it."
A self-taught wood turner, Calder aspired to be a potter but could never quite get the hang of it to his own satisfaction. He inherited some tools from his grandfather, a wood-working hobbyist, and found that the "self-expression" appeal of ceramics carried over equally well — indeed, better — with wood.
"I spent a frustrating year burning my fingers on sandpaper, turning out decorative pieces of firewood," he admits wryly, but in the end he knew he had found his calling.
He has produced a series of pieces on an "egg" theme (with the wooden objects "cracking open") and is at work on another he calls "the nurture series," in which "you peek into the interior and find there is another piece inside."
In addition to exhibiting his works at the Arts Alive festival, Calder will present a slide show on how he does what he does, on Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. at Tillett Gardens. It's free and open to the public.
The festival's other attractions include a number of other first-time exhibitors: Watercolorist Anita De la Cruz and "feathers and fibers" jewelry maker Barbara Dieckmann are both coming from Texas. Acrylics painter Alvin Dalmida is from Puerto Rico. From St. Croix, Judy Boldon Bain, co-founder of St. Croix Handcraft Industries, will be showing folkloric and historic Caribbean cultural dolls woven from dyed rattan reed.
Coming from St. John are new participants Yolanda Martin and Alston Smith, who will be exhibiting wood home accessories and mahogany clocks, respectively. St. Thomas first-timer Alvin Dalmida will display African trade beads and hand-crafted jewelry.
New York etchings artist Gerard Lehner, who has taken part in Arts Alive fairs for 15 years, will not only be exhibiting his recent works but also conducting two children's workshops on "Rocking Chair Printing." These will take place on Friday from 2 to 3 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. Kids roughly ages 4 to 12 are invited to get involved in selecting suitable "found objects" or to create their own etchings using carpenters' nails, and then reproduce ink impressions of the images by using one runner of a rocking chair as a printing press.
Another special feature of the festival is the silent auction of one-of-a-kind ceramic bowls that were donated to raise funds for an agency that provides food to the needy — the Salvation Army. This "Empty Bowl Project" was organized by St. Thomas clay artists Gail Schmiedt-Felix and Lynn Paccassi-Berry. Fairgoers can view the bowls and submit their bids (minimum $10) through 2 p.m. Sunday, when the winners will be announced.
And at 3 p.m. all three days, there will be beekeeping demonstrations (with the bees safely confined behind glass) right in the arts complex. (Fresh honey will be for sale, of course.)
There will be live music and local food and drink on sale throughout the three days, and face painting and balloon art on Saturday from 3 to 4 p.m. Hugo Moolenaar's family will be mocko jumbie stilt dancing on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Guitarist/vocalist Gary Key and bassist Sam Osborne will provide music after dark from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, and jazz artist Jerry Harris and Friends will do the same from 5 to 8 on Saturday.
A judging panel will determine the winners of four cash prizes — the David O'Neill Best of Show and Best in Fine Arts awards, the John Lovatt Best in Crafts award and the Ira Smith Best Student Exhibit award.
Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. To learn more, call 775-1929.


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