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Arti Gras festival has New Orleans theme

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Attendees of the Fifth Annual Arti Gras arts festival appeared to consume themselves with the works of dozens of artists displaying and selling their creations on The McDonough Square on Sunday.

The artworks ranged from functional tote bags to colorful sand art sculptures, to tasty gumbo.

"What most people don't know is that there is such an abundance of artists in the visual and performing arts here in Henry County," said Faye Meyer, chairperson of the festival.

Created in 2006 as the brainchild of McDonough Arts Council member, Kris Cawley, the festival has gained increasing interest from vendors and artists alike.

"We have a lot of new artists here who want to be a part of this, and a part of the McDonough Arts Council," Meyer said, as she took a bite of gumbo.

The New Orleans-style dish wasn't the only one available near the downtown park.

Meyer said the festival included Cajun cuisine cooked up by a handful of McDonough restaurants, including Slices Pizzeria, Bentley's On the Square, PJ's Cafe and Season's Bistro. Dishes from the restaurants, Meyer said, added to the ambiance of New Orleans-inspired art and music.

New Orleans native, Debra Taylor, and her daughter, Vanessa, sold various tote bags, pillows and paintings that reflect the New Orleans culture.

Debra Taylor, who now lives in Stockbridge, recalled her native city as being a social, and close-knit community, inside its big-city aesthetic. She said she left her New Orleans home the night before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005.

She said she learned, two weeks ago when she attended the Freret Street Festival in uptown New Orleans, that her home town has changed a lot since she's been gone.

"I walked four blocks in New Orleans, and it was the first time in my life that I didn't run into someone I knew," Debra Taylor said. "The New Orleans that we knew is gone."

Elsewhere, members of The Nate Bennett Band contributed some bayou-flavored jazz and blues music to the Arti Gras festival. Nate Bennett, the band's lead vocalist and guitarist, toured the festival between live sets with his band.

"I'm loving it," Bennett said.

Festival vendor, Harry Tallman, provided children with an opportunity to create their own sand art.

"This is fun, and it's a gorgeous day," said Tallman, who helped the youngsters designed their own pieces.

Three-year-old Kiersten Connell was accompanied by her grandparents, Stockbridge residents, Rick and Diane Schulze.

Rick Schulze helped Connell create a colorful butterfly piece, that matched her striped T-shirt.

"We came just to see what art was available in Henry County," said Diane Schulze. "It's great."

Local glass artist, Sabine Fry, displayed hand-crafted glass kaleidoscopes.

Fry said her pieces are always a source of conversation, because the colorful images arouse childhood memories.

"When you go to shows like this, you get to talk to so many different people who tell you their life's story, because it brings back so many memories for them," Fry said.

Stockbridge resident, Denise Fogle, was delighted by the glass jewelry and artwork at the festival.

"It's incredible," Fogle said. "They should have more of these."