Autumn has inspired artists throughout the millennia. Countless paintings have depicted the glory of fall colors and harvest. Poets and philosophers have evoked it again and again.
“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” - John Donne, 1611
Let this autumnal weekend inspire you with the Driftless Area Art Festival on Saturday and Sunday in Soldiers Grove. The event opens at 10 a.m. both days. Admission is free and there’s ample free and convenient parking.
The tents housing visual art of every medium ring the Beauford T. Anderson Park. As you stroll slowly past, stopping to take a closer look at some piece that has caught your eye, music floats across the grounds from a central tent housing musicians who play throughout the day. Clustered near one end are the food tents from whence issues the aromas of coffee, savory crepes, grilled meats, wood-fired pizza, and fruit filled deserts.
The art festival is celebrating its tenth year of existence and its eighth year in Soldiers Grove.
“The concept initially came out of the Valley Stewardship Vision 2020 meetings (Kickapoo Conversations) held up and down the valley a year or two before the first festival,” said Liz Quebe, co-chair of the Art Festival Committee and an exhibiting artist (oil painting). “A couple of concepts came up that lead to the festival being formed. One was the idea that artists are an asset of the area.”
Quebe and her husband Jerry, an architect, were invited to attend a meeting of the newly forming Crawford County Tourism Council. They soon found themselves on the tourism committee with Eric Freydenlund. It was Freydenlund who signed on the first two artists – Kay Campbell and Virginia Johnson, both of Ferryville – as exhibitors and fellow organizers of the event.
Campbell is still on board, closing her seasonal shop for the weekend to show her pottery and organizing the food vendors.
“I think we really do put on one of the best art fairs in the region,” Campbell said.
Campbell likes to keep her work fresh, creating small series of six to eight pieces and eschewing mass production of her work. She finds a great deal of pleasure in setting up her tent and visiting with the crowd of 5,000 plus who attend.
“The feedback of people coming to the festival, seeing their enjoyment, keeps me coming back,” Campbell said.
Campbell is one of six artists and vendors who have participated every year since the festival was first held in Ferryville in 2005. She is joined by: Barbara Hart Decker (collage), Marlene Meyer (oil painting), William Waite (wooden puzzles), River Ramblers (Jane Keeley and company, music), and Mary’s Berries (Mary Heath, food).
The festival has grown. The number of visitors has more than doubled from the 2,000 who attended the first year. The number of artists is now over 80. And the committee which works year round to create the event continues to looks for ways to create improve the festival.
Visitors to the event have been given a vote in choosing the popular People’s Choice Award each year. And now, in addition, the children will be able to cast their own votes, bestowing ribbons on their favorite artists from among the eighty-five visual artists displaying drawings and prints, collage, ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal works, mixed media, oil and watercolor paintings, pastels, photography, wood art and sculpture.
The works of young artists will also be on display. Over 400 student artists will display their paintings, drawings and pottery in the KidsArt Gallery and the Teen Art Gallery, and artist judges will select some for blue ribbons and cash prizes. The tent will also house a Creativity Zone for painting, collage making, mini-pumpkin decorating and face painting, open all day Saturday and Sunday.
While festivalgoers visit the individual booths or enjoy lunch, musicians will entertain on the main stage.
The Saturday lineup includes: 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the DitchLillies, and 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Patchouli. Sunday will feature the River Ramblers from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and String Ties from 1 – 4 p.m., when the Festival closes.
Hungry and thirsty folks can enjoy food and beverages created by local culinary artists, including Apple’licious Pie Depot, Crepes Jean Luc, The Dawg House, Home Grown Pizza, Kickapoo Coffee, Mary’s Berries, the Driftless Brewing Company, and the combined forces of the Soldiers Grove Lions Club and Ridge & Valley Restorative Justice.
And in the Artisan Edibles Tent, also new to this year’s festival, exhibitors will offer samples and sell their culinary creations for later consumption. Exhibitors, who may also be offering demonstrations or providing recipes, cooking and nutrition tips, include Monique Hooker, master chef and creator of Got2HavPie; herbalists Johanna O’Tigham and Megan Pierce with Tea for the People; Paul Franzen, prize-winning vintner who will sample locally sourced traditional and fruit wines.
Other Artisan Edibles exhibitors will include Viroqua’s artisan chocolatier Lynn Kronschnable; Brian and Carolyn Austin, known for their prize-winning dilly beans and pickled beets; and Driftless Wisconsin Grown, promoter of programs like Farm to School, area farmers markets, an annual Harvest Dinner, and a yearly Farm Crawl.
It takes a huge investment of time and money to make a festival like this happen. A committee of 20 to 25 people meets monthly just to plan the festival. Another committee is devoted to planning the Driftless Gala held each May, which is a primary fundraiser making the event possible. And then there are the additional 50 to 60 volunteers who greet visitors, handle award ballots, tent sit for artists who need a break, fetch food and water for artists, empty trash, help with set-up and cleanup, and more.
In cash, it costs over $50,000. What the gala does not provide is made up for through financial support. Driftless Area Art Festival Partners, who give significant support to the event, include People’s State Bank, Village of Soldiers Grove and the Soldiers Grove Community Development Corporation, Wisconsin Public Radio, and Community Development Alternatives, Inc.
“Our committee is now 10 years older. We would love to have new volunteers step in and help,” Quebe said.
Volunteers do not have to be artists to serve on the organizing and Gala committees or as an attendant at the festival itself.
Full listings of festival sponsors, visual artists, performing artists, food vendors, and contact information are available at www.driftlessareaartfestival.com.