By Keysha Drexel
Crestline Park artist Sally Powell says it is only natural that she’s an exhibiting artist at a festival that celebrates the environment, ecological stewardship and the unique beauty of nature.
Sally is one of dozens of artists scheduled to make their work available at the seventh annual Moss Rock Festival in The Preserve in Hoover. The festival begins Saturday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. and wraps up Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.
“I’ve done shows all over the Southeast for years,” she said. “So, this time year I decided it was time to do a show here in my own backyard.”
Situated among the peak fall foliage, the festival will feature Artists’ Row, a sea of white tents which will house thousands of works of art.
The artwork will be made from natural or recycled materials and, like Sally’s work, will depict or have been influenced by nature.
Sally said most her work features some depiction or interpretation of nature. And her artwork is not created on typical canvases. Sally embraces all of nature with her work, painting scenes on pieces of imperfect wood. She mixes plaster with the acrylic paint she uses to create her one-of-kind pieces that beg for a closer look.
“The texture is interesting, I think,” Sally said. “It adds another dimension to the artwork and gives another dimension to people experiencing it.”
Her work gets more texture from the wood panels she paints on.
“Some of the panels have knots and the surface is not perfect, so the wood really becomes part of the piece,” she said.
Sally said her smaller paintings are popular gift items because they give the recipient a small, unique piece of art.
Sally said she is currently in her “bird phase” and paints lots of scenes featuring feathered subjects.
The bird phase, Sally said, started ironically enough on a day that is all about the bird—Thanksgiving.
“On Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, I was out on my deck taking pictures of all these big, beautiful blackbirds that had gathered out back,” she said. “It was pretty cool because I was shooting in color, but the light was just right and I got a great silhouette image of the blackbirds. I didn’t know then if I would use it for my painting or not.”
Sally said she has been taking nature shots for several years and uses the images she captures with her camera to inspire her work in other mediums.
“I am always trying to look at things in a different way and see the potential to translate that to a piece,” she said. “But sometimes, the inspiration just comes from so many different places and you are really surprised how it all connects and comes together.”
That was the case for the inspiration of the bird phase, Sally said.
“I took these pictures at Thanksgiving and really didn’t think about them, other than they were cool and I was glad I got them, until a few months later,” Sally said.
Then Sally ran across the blackbird photos and said it all clicked. She heard one of her favorite musical artists sing one of her favorite songs, “Blackbird”, at a live show.
“I’d seen Paul McCartney in concert that summer and then there were the blackbirds on Thanksgiving,” she said. “I knew that was what I was painting next when I found those pictures.”
But really, Sally said, she should have known she would be painting birds eventually.
Back in 2004, she was all about eggs.
“Yes, that was my egg phase,” she said. “That’s when I painted lots of eggs, lots of eggs in nests.”
On her almost literally evolving themes and style, Sally said one friend told her that with the bird paintings, her “eggs had finally hatched.”
“I guess you can really say that with me, the egg came first,” she said.
Sally said she also loves to paint trees and tree limbs.
“I do paint lots of trees with bare limbs. I love the lines of bare branches,” she said.
Sally said she is a true believer in the idea that artists’ environments affect their work.
“I paint outside on my deck with all the trees and the birds and the sounds and smells and sights of nature,” she said. “That’s what inspires me and where I work the best.”
Sally said she saw direct evidence of this on her journey after graduating from Mountain Brook High School.
She attended the University of Alabama, where she took art classes. She also took art classes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham before trying her hand at interior design.
Sally moved to Atlanta to work in interior design and did not paint for a while.
“At that time, I would go to an art show and think to myself that I should be doing this,” she said. “But I didn’t paint for years during that time period.”
Sally moved back to Birmingham from Atlanta in 2001 and slowly found her way back to painting. She said her work in interior design in not something she regrets and in fact is something she thinks has helped her art career.
“Interior design actually helped me, I think. I think it taught me about colors and showed me how to think about colors in a different way,” she said.
Shortly after settling in back in her home state, Sally went to an art show at a girlfriend’s house. That night, two of her girlfriends encouraged her to pick up her paintbrush again and get her own show ready to exhibit.
With a little help from her friends, Sally said, she got back to her first love.
“But even then, even when I was getting ready for that show at Kay Williams’ house, I was never thinking that someday I’d be painting full time,” Sally said.
But that’s exactly what happened. Sally threw herself into her artwork full time. Then she moved to the beach, near Seaside, Fla., where she opened an art gallery.
“I really wanted to give other artists a chance to show their work, a place to earn a living through their work, and it was what I wanted to do, too,” she said.
But soon, Sally said, she discovered that running an art gallery left little time for the creative process.
“I didn’t have time to work on my own stuff, and so the art gallery didn’t last very long,” she said.
But the art gallery experience taught her a lot, Sally said, like how artists’ work can be directly affected by their immediate environment.
“I think that’s when I started painting trees for the first time,” she said. “The trees there weren’t like the trees back home. They were these gnarly, twisted little scrubby things, and my work at that time also had a lot of these saturated blues from the sea and sky, too. So that’s a great example of how my work is affected by my environment.”
Sally said nature has always influenced her artwork. Growing up in Mountain Brook, Sally said, she took art classes as a child. And one lesson always stands out in her memory, she said.
“I remember our art teacher taking us up to the top of Red Mountain, and we sat there and painted these nature scenes,” she said. “I remember her telling us to look closely at the view.”
Sally still has the landscape she painted that day. The last time she looked at it, she noticed something else about it.
“I noticed that in that landscape I did when I was 8 years old, I let the paint drip, so I have all these drips on the painting, and then I look at some of the paintings I do now and you still see the drips. I just let the paint drip, just like I did back then. It’s kind of funny,” she said.
In a lot of ways, Sally said, her art is driven by that little girl who grew up in Mountain Brook.
“As I kid, I was always outside playing,” she said. “There used to be a little creek that was next to our house in Crestline, and we would build forts and dams and play out there all day. I don’t even think that creek is there anymore.”
For an artist who thrives in and flourishes under the influence of nature, Sally said she is excited about being a part of the Moss Ross Festival, which highlights art at the same time it aims to open a discussion on sustainability and green living.
“For me, nature is so interlaced with my art that I feel it’s important to have things like Moss Rock that get us to think about nature and how to take care of the environment,” she said.
Those attending the festival this year can do just that at the Eco District, a signature event of the 2012 Moss Rock Festival.
Sustainability, good design, innovation and “green living” will be the focus at the Eco District, where experts can answer questions and those attending can learn about making their homes energy efficient and get composting lessons from local organic growers and community gardens.
The Eco District will also feature demonstrations and information on how to recycle old electronics, how to become an urban or suburban gardener and a chance to purchase fair-trade items.
There will also be a chance to win an eco-friendly home makeover in the My Green Home Giveaway.
Organizers said they expect more than 10,000 visitors to visit the 350-acre Moss Rock Preserve for the 2012 festival.
The festival will include more than 150 exhibitors and several other activities, including food, live music, guided hikes and a geo-location scavenger hunt.
Live music on the Crescent Stage will feature performances by local and regional musicians. Those attending can grab a blanket or chair and hear the music from the front row or listen to it as they explore the rest of the festival.
The Café by the Woods will have local foods and drinks. There will be beer tastings in the Beer Garden. The Nature of Cakes Expo and Juried Competition is an exhibition of artfully designed show cakes based on the 2012 design challenge theme of “Alice in Wonderland.”The guided hikes will give those attending a look at some secrets spots in Moss Rock Preserve with the help of Friends of Moss Rock Preserve. Hikes will head out at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and will include the Introduction to the Moss Rock Preserve and Moss Rock Backcountry tours.
Sally said she thinks the festival will give people of all ages a chance to do what she hopes to accomplish with her artwork.
“What I really hope people experience when they look at my work is a calm, a peace,” she said. “I hope it makes them realize that they need to slow down and really appreciate the beauty that is right in front of us every day.”