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Outsiders find a place to belong at Folk Fest
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North Carolina artist Minnie Adkins will have wood-carved creatures such as this one, titled "Appalachian Tiger," on display and for sale at Folk Fest in Norcross.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Folk Fest, a festival of more than 100 folk artists slated for Aug. 15-17 at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross.

Last year, more than 12,000 people attended the three-day festival, which celebrates untrained artists like Gainesville’s R.A. Miller, Summerville’s Howard Finster and scores of folk potters from throughout North Georgia, as well as self-taught artists from around the country.

Steve Slotin of Gainesville said he got the idea for the festival when he stopped by The Soda Shop in Cleveland as he was visiting his childhood summer camp.

In the display cases there he noticed the face jugs by the late Lanier Meaders, who many consider to be the father of today’s folk pottery movement, and decided he wanted to create a venue to promote folk art.

Since he and his wife, Amy Slotin, began Folk Fest, Steve Slotin said art collectors from the South and from all across the United States have taken notice, bringing folk art into their collections.

Folk Fest still gives collectors what it gave them 15 years ago — about 100,000 square feet of folk art — but the festival has evolved along with the genre.

"What has changed is the different kind of art showing up from all over the country, the popularity of folk art now, the acceptance of it as a true art form," Steve Slotin said.

He also said the festival has opened doors for solo exhibitions for folk artists in art-centric cities like New York.

"It’s been a springboard for a lot of artists that otherwise were gone underneath the radar," he said.

Slotin said the appeal of untrained artists is that there is no European influence that tells them the "rules" of art.

"What you see is true and genuine," he said. "If they draw a squirrel or a possum as big as a house, that’s how they see it. If that was where they got their food from, you know why it’s important."

Slotin said folk art’s popularity began to rise in the 1980s, when minimalism also was popular. He said folk art appealed more to art collectors who didn’t get the "white paint on a canvas" mystery of minimalism, and wanted something more to-the-point.

"It is what it is — very big and bold, and it just hits you in the face, and there’s no mystery about it," he said.

Slotin said the continued popularity of folk art can be credited to the fact that Southerners want to hold on to their cultural heritage.

"I think people see that the South is homogenizing, and it looks like the rest of the country. This art reminds us that the South really had its own flavor," he said.

"We had our own kind of way of cooking food and making music, way of talking and, you know, of living, and this art brings it back to us, and I think that’s why this is the strongest art form in America today."

This year’s Folk Fest also will give folk art fans a chance to get to know the artists.

"A lot more artists this year will be in attendance for people to meet than ever before," Slotin said.

"It’s a great opportunity to talk to them and meet them and find out why their life is fascinating, their art is fascinating."

This year’s festival will feature live music from outsider artist Daniel Johnston, whose pen-and-ink drawings, filled with superheroes and googly-eyed frogs, also will be on display.

Johnston, who has had a large following since the 1990s, will perform throughout the day on Aug. 16.

Steve Slotin said Johnston’s music, described by some as "alternative," isn’t easily explained.

"No one’s really sure what kind of music it is," he said. "That’s what makes it so weird."