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Folk Fest draws best of the South
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Folk Fest

When: Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: The North Atlanta Trade Center, 1700 Jeurgens Court, Norcross
How much: $15 Friday includes weekend admission and t-shirt; $7 Saturday and Sunday
More info: 770-532-1115

The 17th Folk Fest, the art festival in Norcross that gives a stage to hundreds of self-taught and folk artists from the Southeast, is scheduled this weekend at the North Atlanta Trade Center.
Steve Slotin, one of the show’s originators, said this year’s festival will include works from well-known Georgia artists.

“You’re going to see the very best in Lanier Meaders Pottery, and his (family’s pieces,) and you’re also going to see great memory painters from people like Atlanta’s own Mattie Lou O’Kelley,” Slotin said.

Work of the late Howard Finster of Summerville, who is, according to Slotin, “probably the most famous folk artist,” will also be featured, along with pieces by the late R.A. Miller, a Rabbittown artist.

“His work is very collectible,” Slotin said of Miller.

Originally set up for galleries and dealers to sell their collections to the public, Folk Fest has grown to attract artists themselves, who are there to sell their own art or personal collections.

Slotin said about 10,000 to 12,000 people attend the festival each year, many of them hard-core collectors.

“There’s a mix,” he said. “Hard-core collectors, people who have been in this field and have known about it, who are looking to find that, you know, masterpiece at the show, to really add to their collection … and then the other half of the group are what I would call either new, beginner collectors or people who have just heard about the show and want to come check it out.”

Slotin said new collectors are looking for something to keep, and later share with their families.

“So they’re no longer looking for things that really match the couch,” he said. “They’re looking for something that they can, hopefully, pass down for generations and that will increase in value.”

Collectors come from across the U.S. to find what Slotin calls “visual culture” — art unique to the Southeast.
“This is the only show of its kind in the entire country,” he said.

“When you think about the Southeast, you think, OK, everything that’s great about America has really come out of the Southeast. The Delta blues gave birth to rock and roll; the soul cooking in the South gave rise to almost everything we consider great about down home eating. The great literature comes from the South. That’s what most of the Hollywood TV shows and movies are based on — that kind of writing.”

So, according to Slotin, it only follows that the country’s great art comes right out of the South, too, and it can be seen at Folk Fest.

“This is the first show that shows the visual arts of the Southeast,” he said.

“This is the only place where people, under one roof, can find Southern Folk Pottery, self-taught art, antique folk art, anonymous folk art, new discoveries and decorative arts … We really have something special here in the Southeast. We had the foresight to recognize this visual culture and protect it and collect it.”

Slotin said that foresight, combined with the establishment of Folk Fest 17 years ago, has thrust Southern folk art into mainstream galleries — and not just galleries in the South.

“I think the collectors here in the South no longer need to use a New York gallery to verify… their art collecting,” he said.

“They can do it right here in the South, and matter of fact, it’s the people from New York coming down here to buy our art.”

Booming art scenes like those in New York and Chicago have begun to accept Southern folk art, Slotin said.
“For a long time, the New York scene and the art scene in Chicago, they would keep this Southern art out of mainstream, but what this show does is it kicks the door wide open to mainstream art and mainstream collecting,” Slotin said.

“It says that this is the best visual culture that this country has ever produced, and it’s right here in the South. And the collectors know it, and they really respond, and they want to come out and protect and collect what is great about the Southeast.”