Fiesta Art Fair attendees check out Dakota Pratt's sculpture. Photo by Page Graham.

If it is the third weekend in April, that means that it is once again time for the Fiesta Arts Fair 2014. This event is always near the top of everyone’s to-do list in April. Situated on the beautiful Ursuline Campus of The Southwest School of Art (SSA), 300 Augusta St. at Navarro, the show is still going strong at 41 years and counting. This event continues to be an important aspect of funding education programs for the nonprofit school, an internationally recognized program that maintains the highest of standards.

The fair began  Saturday morning at 10 a.m. and continues until 6 p.m.  Worry not, it re-opens Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is $10 and $5 for children 5 – 12.

As always, the SSA can be relied upon to present a quality event. There are approximately 120 exhibitors in a broad range of media from painting, drawing, mixed media works, ceramics, glass, as well as wearable media such as jewelry, fiber and leather goods.

One of the distinguishing features of Fiesta Arts Fair is the laid-back crowd. Photo by Page Graham.
One of the distinguishing features of Fiesta Arts Fair is the laid-back crowd. Photo by Page Graham.

The artists in this show are juried each and every year, and must compete to represent — no space is automatically assured, although top prize winners are invited to show again. Thirty eight percent of exhibitors this year have never shown at SSA.

You will see some local favorites such as ceramist Diana Kersey. We stopped to chat during set up on Friday, amid piles of her colorful and intricate works.

Works by Diana Kersey available at Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Page Graham.
Works by Diana Kersey available at Fiesta Arts Fair 2014. Photo by Page Graham.

In fact, this is one of the best venues to catch her at this year in San Antonio.

“This is one of my favorite shows to do. I love the school, I teach here,” she said. “And no matter how many times I do it, I always get new customers who say, ‘I’ve never seen your work before!’”

Of course, Kersey is well recognized for her architectural ceramic public works projects like the Mulberry Street bridge in Brackenridge Park. This show is a terrific opportunity for you to add to your Kersey collection. Or get one started.

Southwest School of Art faculty set up the raffle booth. Photo by Page Graham.
Southwest School of Art faculty set up the raffle booth for Fiesta Arts Fair 2014. Photo by Page Graham.

We carefully picked our way through artists unloading vans under beautiful clear blue skies. We keep our fingers crossed for continued good weather throughout the weekend. This is a side that the public doesn’t typically see. Imagine, the cargo that represents your livelihood has been painstakingly loaded along with all that is necessary to show the work and sell it in a 10 foot by 10 foot booth. One must be prepared for all conditions — wind, rain, heat, cold. It is as if a 21st century gypsy caravan has exploded in the middle of downtown San Antonio. But trust me, these folks are far from gypsies.

It is romantic to think of the life of an artist on the road, isn’t it?

Open roads and freedom, seeing the sights of the country, coast-to-coast. Doing the art you love for a living, waking every morning being brilliant and talented over your first cup of coffee. Glamorous collections, fabulous friends, creative freedom. Right? Think again, it’s not all hearts and flowers.

We stopped in to say hello to veteran fiber artist Starr Hagenbring. Her work is more couture than off the rack, a fanciful collection that insures you will stand out in a crowd.

Starr Hagenbring in show mode. Photo by Page Graham.
Starr Hagenbring in show mode. Photo by Page Graham.

The work is intricate and well made, and would stand out as a wearable art treasure in any closet in the city. She does the Fiesta Arts Fair when she isn’t doing the Smithsonian Craft Show. She reminisces about the first time she did the show around 1997 or ‘98.

“I was living in California at the time. In the middle of the desert near the Arizona / New Mexico border, I had a flat. I was just about to start completely unloading my van and then I heard the second tire go. That’s when I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew I would be calling a flatbed tow truck instead.

“Long story short, I finally got in around midnight before the show opening. I was staying with this woman who was a friend of a friend whom I had never met. We became the best of friends and we are friends to this day.”

Selling to the crowd at Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Page Graham.
Selling to the crowd at Fiesta Arts Fair. Photo by Page Graham.

We laugh. Trust me, when this happened, she wasn’t laughing. But again, that is the nature of pursuing your life as an artist in this way.

Full disclosure: I made my living as an artist this way for more than 20 years. Travelling to shows across the country, selling my work directly to the public or through galleries, coast-to-coast. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t have an ability to laugh and tap into your resilience, you won’t survive.

I ran into leather artist Greg Roche and his lovely wife Sarah. We squeal with delight. Their two young boys are in tow, the eldest with a flip book of Shakespearean insults in hand. My how time flies — this one was in his mama’s belly when we last met, and now he is as tall as she.

The Roche Leatherworks booth stays consistently packed throughout the event. Photo by Page Graham.
The Roche Leatherworks booth stays consistently packed throughout the event. Photo by Page Graham.

We briefly reminisce about old times and old friends. Greg started out selling leather on the streets of San Francisco in 1972. Greg remembers, “I didn’t know anything about leather when I got started. I knew nothing. Except maybe getting into trouble, but art saved me.”

He first got into the prestigious American Craft Council show in 1979. “Oh, I was awful. I didn’t know what a real quality show looked like, but boy did I learn! And I kept getting in.”

When I ask if the boys will follow in their footsteps he says, “Oh, they might do art shows, but education comes first. They must learn everything. And NOT leather!” Just an observation: “art show kids” are usually exceptionally bright, well educated, and socially adept. I am always amazed.

In contrast to Mr. Roche who has been in the business for more than 40 years, we run into Natalea Wall and Kelly Murphy who comprise “Revoluccia.” They also handcraft bags, and have been doing it for four years. They are a repeat at the show this year, “It was awesome last year. We love San Antonio!”

Natalea Wall and Kelly Murphy unloading their van. Photo by Page Graham.
Natalea Wall and Kelly Murphy unloading their van. Photo by Page Graham.

The plates on the van indicate they are from Utah. It was a 30-hour drive. From here they will go to a show in Dallas and then on to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, one of my personal favorites. It will be their first time there. They are young and spirited.

They describe how they started out doing farmers markets in Utah. And yes, that is a continuing theme, across the generations. There is talk of “the graying” of the craft movement. But today, we see lots of young faces sprinkled in with the older and more experienced hands.

The fact is that no matter your age you must have the stamina to bounce from studio to the road and back. The artists represented in the show range from individual studios, working by themselves or with another partner or a few helpers. This is the beginning of the show season and there will be no rest for the weary. By the same token, if you see an artwork that you fall in love with – BUY IT.

There is no “end of show.” If they don’t sell it here, they will sell the piece next week. I’ll let you in on a little secret. You won’t miss the money, but you will miss the piece. The special feeling that I have when I walk into a room, surrounded by the work of gifted and imaginative artists defies description. It is a “rush.”

Dakota Pratt takes a break from setting up his work to talk to Tami Kegley. Photo by Page Graham.
Dakota Pratt takes a break from setting up his work to talk to Tami Kegley. Photo by Page Graham.

Dakota Pratt, whom I dub the king of the architectural bottle cap, is in his fourth year here at Fiesta. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, he has relocated to Austin. “I definitely miss aspects of the lifestyle,” taking a brief break from setting up his whimsical bottle-cap furniture, giant bananas and cherries, “but I am getting a lot more work done in Texas. It’s better for my career.”

Pratt relates that this is the sixth show that he has done in eight weeks, starting in California in March. “After this, I will have three weeks to get ready for a show in Beverly Hills, as well as a gallery show in San Francisco.” He laments that his stock is somewhat down, but that so far, “San Antonio has been a good solid show for me.”

This year’s show has a few new twists and turns that we should all look forward to:

  • Faculty Art Raffle. The talented faculty of SSA has put together a collection of work for this first time ever raffle. The tickets are only $10.

  • The Children’s Art Garden is a perennial favorite for generations of San Antonio children. This year the kiddos will have fun with “The Young Masters Project,” exploring the works of Dali, Monet, and Kahlo. There will even be an Easter egg hunt on Sunday!

  • Don’t miss King and Queen Anchovy, Steve and Jody Newman, on Sunday afternoon.

  • Johnny Hernandez’s La Gloria and La Fruteria will be serving up good eats at SSA for the first time. Mmmmmm! Muy sabor! The Corn Wheel and Roasted Kernels will be serving up fair food favorites like roasted corn, sausage, and funnel cakes.

  • Also, keep an eye out for two food trucks, The Institute of Chili and Chocollazo, San Antonio street food favorites.

Having fun in the Children's Art Garden. Photo by Page Graham.
Having fun in the Children’s Art Garden. Photo by Page Graham.

So, gather up your friends and family and head over to The Fiesta Arts Fair. And as you wander in and out of the artists booths, take a moment to reflect on how truly amazing these individuals are and what it takes for them to be here in San Antonio with us. Reflect on the good work that the Southwest School of Art does in our community. Not just today, but year in and year out adding to the aesthetic literacy of our city. And don’t take any of it for granted, not for a moment.

*Featured/top image: Fiesta Art Fair attendees check out Dakota Pratt’s sculpture. Photo by Page Graham.

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Tami Kegley

Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession...