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Monday, May 21, 2018
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St. Pete fairs reflect diversity of ‘folk art’

ST. PETERSBURG — On Central Avenue, St. Petersburg’s Rebekah Pulley sang soulful ballads with her four-person band as a crowd gathered, eating barbecue and sipping local craft brew.

About a mile away at waterfront Vinoy Park, people gathered beneath a tent to hear Japanese guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto strum a searching guitar solo. They ate Columbian empanadas, Polish pastries and Korean barbeque.

Two festivals held this weekend in St. Petersburg demonstrate the broad definition of folk art, a form of traditional, often self-taught music, food and visual craft that may appear on the one hand as delicate Bosnian crochet work and, on the other, playful paintings of Batman or Snow White.

In the case of Folkfest St. Pete, a two-day event in Central Avenue’s Edge District that continues today, folk art means local painters representing their dreams or childhood memories on brightly painted canvass.

“There’s folk music of all kinds and folk art of all kinds and the definition is wildly varied,” Folkfest organizer Charlie Bari Bachmann said.

“There’s a self-taughtness to everything you’re seeing here, even if it’s a fine artist.”

The event, in its seventh year, benefits Creative Clay, an art studio on Central’s 1100 block that seeks to help artists with disabilities practice their craft.

Folkfest brought out six musicians Saturday and there’s another five lined up today with styles ranging from bluegrass to reggae, including Tsukamoto, who played at this weekend’s other folk-related event, the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair.

That fair brought out artisans from dozens of nations around the world, with special emphasis on food. It ended Saturday.

Most of the handicrafts on display there were for cultural education rather than sale, such as a variety of intricately crocheted doilies traditionally made by hand in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“It kind of represents life itself,” said Elida Mujic, a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Cultural Center of Tampa Bay in Largo, pointing to a piece that was carefully woven outward from a central point.

“You start at one point and you never know where life is going to lead you, so it’s a lost road.”

Mujic fled her home country in the 1990s at the outbreak of a three-year war in her home country and eventually emigrated to the United States.

Nearby, members of Florida’s Hmong community explained the making of pa ndau, a handmade quilt with a sequence of images that tell a story.

At Folkfest on Central Avenue, Tampa artist Katherine Michael says her series of archetypal American images also make up something of a colorful quilt.

More than 100 small paintings were hanging inside her tent portraying fond childhood memories — sock monkeys, gingerbread men, Smokey Bear and Skippy peanut butter, among them.

While her style recalls a form of folk art popular in the Southern United States, Michael never has been formally trained in the form and she originally hails from Illinois. To her, folk art has more to do with a certain originality that comes from ordinary people.

“I’m a self-taught artist. I’ve never had an art class. It’s things I remember from my childhood or things I relate to,” she said.

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