Activity in the Children's Art Garden. Photo by Page Graham.

A man with curly, brown hair, dressed in white from head to toe, played the Spanish guitar in the courtyard at the Southwest School of Art during Fiesta Arts Fair as children strung colorful beads, finger painted, molded clay, had their faces painted, and created light catchers using fragments of broken glass. A similar light catcher I made years ago still hangs in my bathroom window, a true relic of my childhood.

Kya Phoenix has been volunteering at the two-day fair since 1993, and she said it’s the only Fiesta event she goes to. She stood behind a table of children stringing colorful plastic beads onto elastic bands, helping them choose beads and tie knots when necessary.

“This is the most awesome part of Fiesta ever. You’ve got amazing art from around the world,” Phoenix said. “This is family friendly, its got hands on (activities) for the kids. The main part of Fiesta can get pretty rugged, and this (fair) is safe, friendly, and relaxed.”

Kya Phoenix watches her friend take a picture during the Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Joan Vinson.
Kya Phoenix watches her friend take a picture during the Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Joan Vinson.

On the other end of the school grounds, artists displayed and sold their work to an enthusiastic crowd. A jury panel selects the artists who display their work at the fair, drawing artists from around the nation and region.

Potential buyers pointed, gasped, and walked toward the pieces of art that “spoke to them” while vendors awaited their presence. Some vendors sat on stools next to their booths, welcoming each and every guest, some worked on art while buyers perused their work, and others engaged attendees in conversation, ready to dole out their life stories and inspiration.

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Women in bright cotton dresses intricately embroidered with flowers, known as a Puebla dress, wrangled their giddy children on sugar highs from eating funnel cakes and snow cones. Nearly everyone was holding on to something – fresh squeezed lemonade, chicken on a stick, corn on the cob, a painting, a sculpture, an art creation of their own, or the hand of a lover. The sun was shining and the air was cool beneath the canopy of trees that inhabit the grounds of the school nestled along the River Walk.

Fiesta party flags were strung along the fair’s main corridor, guiding attendees toward a music stage where a crowd moved to the sound of Ruben Moreno’s accordion.

Pastel artist Dale Martin traveled to San Antonio from Oklahoma for the sole purpose of selling his art at the fair. He pointed to various pastel drawings, most of which were landscapes and skyscapes of areas near his house in the woods. He said often times he’ll take photos of the land while driving, a habit that scares his wife when she’s in the car.

“I’m a romantic. If I see a tree glowing with the sunlight hitting it, I paint it,” Martin said. “I love painting clouds ’cause that’s an escape. I like temperature. I like distance. Everything is just light bouncing off of a surface.”

After I spoke with him, a couple of festival-goers approached Martin as he sat on his leatherback stool, legs crossed. Martin opened up a book with photographs of his art and began telling the attendees where the painted landscapes were in relation to his house.

Dale Martin shows his artwork to attendees during the Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Joan Vinson.
Dale Martin shows his artwork to attendees during the Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Each year, a team of judges select the best artist in several categories. This year’s winners are:

  • Contemporary Design: Jay Long
  • Traditional Design: Chris Coffey
  • Quality Craftsmanship: Fred Tate
  • Creative Expression: Gena Ollendieck
  • Honorable Mention: Amy Fly, Shawn Ray Harris

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....