I wasn’t sure what to expect as I stepped carefully into the gleaming hallway of the Gothic-Tudor-style Callanwolde Mansion in Druid Hills. Faint acoustic music drifted down the carpeted green stairs, as light shone through stained glass windows. The approximately 85 artists gathered were there to participate in the second annual Callanwolde Arts Festival, a two-day indoor arts festival held from Jan. 24-25. The festival claims to be “for artists by artists” by giving artists a voice in the creation and operation of the festival itself.
The artists certainly did a great job with the event. I was just the right amount of overwhelmed as I stepped through the spacious rooms of the mansion, each room a piece of art in its own right. According to its website, the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and Mansion was built in 1920 by Coca-Cola heir, Charles Howard Candler, and serves as a “unique arts center and hub of cultural activity for the entire metropolitan Atlanta area.” Along with the exceptional design of the mansion, including strung white lights, intricately sculpted ceilings, delicate chandeliers and draping curtains, attendees enjoyed artist demonstrations, live music and gourmet food trucks including Dominic’s NY Pizza and Roly Poly.
That Saturday, the beautiful space featured sculptors, photographers, painters, glass artists, jewelers and those who had invented their own forms of art. Mike Snowden of Snowden Guitars showed me how to play a one-string handcrafted cigar box guitar. Janet Payne at the Andrews Toffee stall enthusiastically encouraged attendees to try her homemade toffee, the sweet treat a perfect combination of chewy and crunchy. Everywhere I looked, artists sold their wares and applauded the diversity and skill of their work.
And while each piece of art was easily enjoyed in its own right, what I enjoyed most about the festival was hearing about the history and background of the work — the kind of stuff that doesn’t quite make it to the business card but makes for a great story. Allison Richter, a talented wildlife artist, showcased her vibrant oil paintings of exotic birds.
All the while, she talked enthusiastically about different species of pink birds and how she had gotten involved with nature through the Audubon Society as a young girl. Christy Little at The Write Stuff Pen Works talked about the first time she sold her husband’s pens at the local farmers market on a whim.
“I sold one pen for $40 and I called my friend being like, wanna get some pizza and beers?”
Now their professional pen business is incredibly successful.
Only after, she added, did her husband find out about the huge profits she and her friends were making from selling his pens to fund their increasingly inclusive beer and pizza parties. Now, Andy and Christy Little’s painstakingly crafted handmade ballpoint, rollerball and fountain pens draw fans from all around the world. And yet Christy still reminisces about the good old days at the farmer’s market saving up for the next party. “I was very popular,” she said with a grin. “Everybody wanted to be my friend.”
While some businesses might have started out with monetary interests in mind, others approached it from the opposite point of view.
“I have a business degree,” Austin from Southern Botanics explained, “and [Doug] is an attorney. But this is what we really love to do.”
I examined the beautiful display of assorted pressed flowers, plants, leaves, seaweed and shells. “This helps takes us away from all the other crud.” According to Austin, each needed 45 days of pressing in a machine.
While the businesses were certainly different in many ways, they all came together to create a beautiful, supportive community of artistic common interest. Austin commented on the awesome “vibe” of the place as we discussed the event. When one vendor started explaining his backstory, a neighbor overhearing our conversation yelled, “Don’t be so humble — tell ‘em the full story!” The vendor blushed in reply. Whether it was wishing someone a happy early birthday, covering for a neighbor while they were in the bathroom or sharing pieces of toffee, everybody was clearly happy to be there doing and talking about what they loved. Although, they all requested a second to hide their wine before allowing their pictures to be taken. “Wouldn’t want to give readers the wrong impression,” cheerful visual artist Christina Bray said, whose powerful and realistic portrayals of urban landscape captured the heart of downtown Atlanta.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day (with Karen Fincannon’s ceramic section of fat, whimsical flying giraffes running a close second) was running into a group of Emory freshmen at the festival. They talked about how lonely campus felt with the majority of people rushing Greek life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the Emory bubble, and it’s important to realize that events like Callanwolde Arts Festival happen all the time in Atlanta. Between knit ponchos, handmade sterling silver jewelry, woven metal baskets and natural wooden iPhone speaker systems, there’s something for everyone.
– By Emily Li, Contributing Writer