Northport festival showcases acclaimed artists

Desi Gillespie, Staff Reporter

Northport’s Kentuck Park and Art Center sits at about a five-minute drive away from downtown Tuscaloosa. Its namesake art festival brought artists of all mediums to the area this weekend, along with a multitude of art enthusiasts.

Over 200 volunteers and employees oversaw the vast and complex event. Artists apply to attend the prestigious festival each year, and are selected via an anonymous panel of judges, with the festival organizers inviting additional critically-acclaimed artists or returning contest winners.

Last year’s Best-of-Show artist, Nicario Jimenez, returned to this year’s festival. A renowned artist featured in the Smithsonian, Jimenez creates boxes of figurines arranged in intricate folk narratives known as retablos.

“I started out with my grandfather and my father when I was five [or] six years old,” Jimenez said. “My grandfather created with a religious, Catholic meaning mixed with the Inca culture.”

Jimenez is from a village of the indigenous highlands people of Peru. He now lives in Naples, Florida, creating retablos of religious and political subjects that gain international acclaim.

“When my grandfather [made retablos], there was a message, a religious purpose,” Jimenez said. “When I moved to the city in Peru, I was always thinking, ‘Wow, there’s… a different kind of message.’ And when I moved [to the United States], there’s always something, also a message. I’m making social commentary… this is, for me, art.”

Many UA students were among the 10,000 people at the festival, volunteering or visiting the various booths. Lou Terlikowski, a first-year grad student in poetry, volunteered at the Black Warrior Review on Saturday.

“I think there’s a sense of community in art,” Terlikowski said. “It brings everyone together and gives them something to talk about, and then it’s just fun… I think [the festival] gives you a good opportunity to see the interactions of the community and also see how large the art community is [in Tuscaloosa.]”

Seventy-eight Alabama artists were featured in the festival, including Tuscaloosa’s own Yvonne Wells. A quilter known internationally for her massive storyteller quilts, Wells won Best of Show at Kentuck in 1999 and has been a regular ever since.

“I began quilting out of a need to use my hands,” Wells said. “We had just put on a large addition to our house and put a fireplace in, but it wasn’t keeping my legs warm enough… so I made a coverlet, striped, out of stuff that was in the house.”

Wells has been featured in the International Quilting Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her works are striking in their simple beauty, containing everything from everyday scenes to political messages.

“I get my subjects from several places: religion, sociopolitical [events], children… there are times when they’re just drawn from what I’m feeling,” Wells said. “I think [art] has a great role to play, because anytime a person is doing art, they’re either expressing something from themselves or something from their community… a lot of times people can’t verbalize what they would like to say, but they can draw it out or do as I’m doing and put it on a quilt.”

The importance of the cultural convergence at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is not lost on its organizers. It is widely seen as a cultural hallmark for the Tuscaloosa area, giving it a place within the international art community.

“Within this two-day period, Saturday and Sunday, the festival makes a $5.5 million economic impact on the surrounding area of both Northport and Tuscaloosa,” Kentuck Art Center’s marketing manager Ashley Williams said. “But it also brings such uplifting experiences to the community. People come here and talk to artists and then they leave feeling refreshed and renewed, or at least I know I do.”

For information about next year’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts, visit