Fowler takes top prize at Makins preview

Ken Manning chose legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton as the muse for his latest woodcarving and Sutton in turn granted the 11-year craftsman the Traditions of Appalachia award in the Showcase of Artists at the Mountain Makins Festival in Morristown.

For a 20-year artisan woodcarver, it might be no great surprise to win a Best in Show award. But the prize at this year’s Mountain Makins Festival went to Gordon Fowler of Morristown, for a type of artistry he discovered just a year ago.

“I’m tickled to death,” Fowler, a first-time participant in the festival, said.

He discovered the Ewer, or water jug of antiquity, while completing a crossword puzzle.

“There’s also a hand-blown glass piece at the Knoxville Museum of Art that’s just gorgeous,” Fowler said. “It’s long and slender and elegant and the spout just goes on and on forever, it seems like; and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something like this in wood.’ So that was my inspiration for this shape.”

The outside of vessel is shaped first, then the top is cut off to hollow the base and neck with a wood-turning lathe and a specialized hollowing jig. The rest is a lot of hand carving and seaming, according to Fowler, who said he kept no record of number of the hours involved. The final shape was developed over the last year, and he plans to pursue similar designs with his higher-end work in the future: pitchers, water jugs and teapots.

Fowler said festivals like Mountain Makins play an important role in their communities for several reasons.

“Just to educate the public and give the artists the opportunity to sell their work and show off their work and to help grow the craft community, it’s very important,” he said.

HomeTrust Bank and Vice President/Market Leader Mary Ruth Whetsel sponsored the Showcase of Artists at the Festival, enabling host Rose Center to award cash prizes for the top awards.

Whetsel congratulated the artists who were recognized just prior to the festival’s Preview Party on Friday evening, including longtime participant Ken Manning.

Manning finished up his piece carved from butternut, honoring legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, the day of the Showcase and earned the Traditions of Appalachia Award.

“A couple of years ago, a guy wanted me to do one, so I finally tried it,” he said. As for when he began woodcarving, Manning said, “I was old. My daughter really got me started, we went to a class or two, and I just kept doing it. It’s really my hobby. I build and that’s my therapy. I do this and forget about all the aggravation of the day.”

David Hansard earned the Craftsman Award for the bowl he turned from the raw materials from a tree in his mother’s front yard in Brockland Acres. The piece was fashioned from the fork of two huge limbs, is 26 inches-plus in diameter, sanded to 1,200 grit and finished with multiple coats of Liberon finishing oil. He started in the early 1990s and has demonstrated on the Rose Center front lawn during the festival almost as long. He has previously won Showcase awards.

“I like to do a little bit of extra work on these pieces because I like participating in the showcase,” Hansard said. “I love the Mountain Makins; this is my hometown, so I see a lot of people from days back.”

Marily Williams creates off-loom bead weaving, or free hand pieces. Her first effort at producing wall art earned the Creativity Award.

“I do mostly jewelry, but I am starting to branch out. Last year, I got best new artist, so this year I had to do something to top it,” Williams said. She hails from Treadway and spends an average of 15 to 20 hours per week on her art.

“It’s my meditation, my therapy,” she said.

Sara Brobst, a mixed media artist from Knoxville, was awarded Best New Artist. She created her piece from bits of old magazines, belts, bike spokes, clocks and parts of vintage cheese boxes.

“The piece took longer than I anticipated; because I had a vision and I definitely did not go in that direction, so I said, ‘Let’s re-do this,’” Brobst said.

Judges for the Showcase were Jennifer Stoneking-Stewart and Sally Smith.

Stoneking-Stewart earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Tennessee, followed by a Master’s degree in fine arts from Clemson University. She has exhibited works nationally in juried, group and solo shows. She is an instructor of arts at Morristown East High School.

Smith holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design and has worked in the field for 25 years. She is the owner of Mantelpeace Studio and teaches calligraphy and its related arts at the University of Tennessee, in the non-credit courses division.

The scene in Prater Hall just prior to the 6:30 preview party on Friday included the sounds from the stage by the 10-member musical group, the Knoxville Area Dulcimer Club, as they warmed up their instruments. Later in the evening one of their performances would include a wistful, longing tune played on a saw blade, via a fiddle bow.

Clay Krummel reminisced briefly about his days with the Rose Summer Players as his daughter Melissa Wheeler, Rose Center board member, worked in the kitchen to assist members of the Rose Service Guild with food preparation and service at the opening party. Some of those children and youth would reconnect with Krummel during the seven years he and Wheeler provided the food service at Walter State Community College – “The experience here at Rose Center meant something to them,” Krummel said.

At 7:45 p.m., leadership, both past and present, of the Mountain Makins’ festival, gathered in front of the Prater Hall stage to lift a glass in memory of festival co-founder Bunny Gherson, who passed away Friday morning.

Memories and ongoing warm friendships among crafters and guests continued through the evening; the warmth growing to the point of necessitating the opening of the Prater Hall doors, allowing the night air to sweep through the festivities.

The street lights on West Second North street illuminated the tents on the Rose Center lawn, their tops billowing in the quickening breeze. Departing guests were obligated to open the umbrellas they had stashed near the benches at the Prater Hall doors to ward off the light rain that greeted them.

The sounds of volunteers cleaning large trays from the buffet table and preparing the large pots of coffee to be used on Saturday morning rang out from the kitchen, as guests continued to mingle among the vendors and fall decorations in Rose Center until after 9:30 p.m. The festival continues today, featuring demonstrators and vendors throughout the center and on its lawns.