Using wood, clay, film, glass, metal, acrylic and oil, dozens of artists, including a mixed media artist from Michigan, a painter from Texas, a ceramicist from North Carolina and a carver from Wisconsin, will transform Decatur’s City Hall lawn into an outdoor gallery for the fifth annual River Clay.
A cornerstone of downtown Decatur’s burgeoning arts’ economy alongside the Princess Theatre, the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and the Alabama Center for the Arts, the two-day fine arts festival will take place Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The festival, which in the past attracted 4,000 to 5,000 spectators, will feature 68 artists.
“The community’s support is the primary reason that River Clay is a success. There are so many people who work very, very hard for countless hours to bring this event to the area,” said Mary Reed, a local artist and member of the festival committee. “Citizens who come to the festival and directly support the artists by purchasing their art are the key to the long-term success of a festival like River Clay.”
Among the festival’s new artists is woodworker Shawn Haynes. At 32 years old, the Decatur artist represents the past and present of the city’s arts community.
“This is my first year doing arts festivals and markets. I just want to show everyone that invested in me as an artist what I’m capable of,” Haynes said.
As a child, he took painting and drawing from Jackie Goode Briscoe, a local artist who taught thousands of students over the past five decades. At Decatur High School, Haynes learned ceramics and drawing from Linda Lee and Gary Evans. And, in his early 20s, he worked at a Second Avenue’s Willis Gray Gallery for Kathy Gray and the late Scott Willis.
“That’s where my passion for the arts comes from — just from being around it my whole life,” Haynes said.
Combining the lessons he learned from Lee, Evans, Briscoe, Willis, Gray and professors at the University of Alabama with his passion for nature instilled in him by his father and his previous work as a contractor, Haynes founded his one-man wood shop, Brothers Woodwerks, in 2017.
“I went into construction because I wanted to help people make their homes more energy efficient and more green. In the end, though, I was just doing simple repairs and remodels,” Haynes said. “Instead of changing directions completely, I decided to find something I could do with all the tools and wood I had.”
First, he created colorful wood puzzles. While most people assume Haynes makes the puzzles for children, he initially intended them for another segment of the population.
“I started making these with elderly people with dementia in mind,” Haynes said. “My grandmother suffered from dementia. I saw that puzzles or anything that actively made her use her mind and made her think helped her, even if it was just for a little bit.”
To create as little waste as possible, Haynes fashioned wooden robots from the puzzles’ scrap pieces.
“The robots literally come from my scrap bin. I started them as a joke, but when I placed them on my Facebook page, people really responded to them,” Haynes said.
During an average week, Haynes spends 60 to 70 hours creating art from his Southeast Decatur home.
“I think people like the fact that my pieces are handmade and local. I tell them I’m right across Sixth Avenue and they're like, ‘Really?,’” Haynes said.
One of Haynes’ simpler pieces, a 10-part puzzle, takes a combined three to four hours to make.
After cutting out the pieces with a scroll saw, Haynes sands them with a belt grinder, a Dremel to get into the little edges and a flex sander. He then hand sands them, uses an orbital sander on them, paints them, lets them dry three to four days and sands them again.
Using images drawn by himself and his girlfriend, Decatur tattoo artist Cat Mahathy, Haynes has created puzzles in the shapes of dinosaurs, Sesame Street characters, Mario Brothers images, birds, fish, animals, flowers and more.
“I come up with a lot of my ideas while I’m fishing. I do a lot of the large, prey birds, like herons and egrets, simply because they are out their fishing while I’m fishing,” Haynes said. “I really focus on the things I see out in the wild. I’ve been lucky to live near the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and have probably spent half my life out there. If art never pans out, I’ll be working as a conservationist.”
At the entrance to Haynes’ shop, a 50-pound piece of driftwood is on two saw horses. While fishing at Point Mallard Park, Haynes noticed the driftwood in the water, dragged it onto land to let it dry and, a few days later, carried the piece a mile out of the park.
“When I see a piece of driftwood with this good of character, I just have to grab it. This is the only free wood you get and it’s not really free. You pay for it with sweat, blood and tears,” Haynes said. “The moment I saw this piece, I knew what I wanted to do. I call that my artistic diarrhea — ideas just keep coming.”
Haynes, who plans on incorporating sculptures of fish onto the driftwood, will unveil the piece at River Clay.
“My passion is being outside. When I can create art that showcases my passion for the outdoors, there’s nothing better. Hopefully, through these pieces, I’m passing along my passion to the next generation,” Haynes said.
Along with Haynes, local artists selected for River Clay include Brian Corry, Johanna Littleton, Leigh Ann Hurst, Deann Meely, Martha Marks, Richard Grugel and Rickie Higgins, all of Decatur, Cindy Miller, of Athens, Kristi Hyde, an Atlanta artist formerly of Decatur, and Lindsay Farrer, a Tennessee artist formerly of Decatur.
“River Clay remains popular with professional artists due to the high level of organization, solid sales and over-the-top hospitality that we offer to them. We also remain determined to maintain the high level of quality in the artists who are invited to participate,” Reed said.
Billed as a “come and do” event, the festival will include a children’s tent, student exhibits, artist demonstrations and chalk art competitions.
Chalk artists Adam Stephenson, an Atlanta resident originally from Decatur, Mary Field of Georgia, Mike Williams of Decatur and Jason Sharp of Decatur will create designs based on scenes from the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Williams, who competes in chalk art contests around the country, pitched the idea to River Clay.
“This is our first year to present chalk artists and the plan is to grow this part of the festival,” said Kim Mitchell, director of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.
Beyond showcasing local, regional and national artists, the festival aims to encourage an appreciation of the arts and support arts education through the River Clay Fine Arts Foundation, which awarded about $7,000 to visual arts teachers in Decatur City and Morgan County schools.
“Funded projects range from screen printing and pottery to stained glass and photography,” said Stevi Price, a member of the foundation. “We know that these funds will be used to help inspire our youth and help them develop tools to be successful in the classroom and within our community.”
Admission to the two-day festival is $5 for a weekend pass. Children 12 and younger enter free when accompanied by an adult. The River Clay Rendezvous party on Friday, 5-9 p.m., will offer visitors a sneak peek at the artists’ creations. Tickets to the Rendezvous cost $50. For more information on the festival, visit riverclay.org.
Other arts-centered events scheduled for River Clay weekend include the unveiling of the Alabama Arts Hall of Fame permanent exhibit at the Alabama Center for the Arts, the introduction of the 2019 Hall of Fame class and a concert by The Drive-By Truckers on Friday and Saturday.