A child’s eye view: Remembering the festival

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Third in a series on the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts

Children have been part of Cedar Key’s Spring Arts Festivals from the very beginning. They have been artists participating in the main event or in art competitions organized through the Cedar Key School and have helped out with food booths or in restaurants around town on busy festival weekends.  Here are a few special stories.
June 6-7, 1964: Carmen Day
Hardly a child, but still a teen, Carmen Williams, remembers the first Spring Arts Festival in June of 1964 very well.  She was in her first year of college and was headed home for the summer when her father, P.D. Day, called and told her that he’d made some picture frames for her paintings out of cabbage fan stalks and he wanted her to enter them in the upcoming art show.  Little did she know, that at 17, she would be awarded Third Place by popular vote for her oil painting of “Second Street” in the inaugural event.
Carmen became interested in painting in her early teens and recalls taking a class from Mr. Rigly, who was a part-time visitor to Cedar Key and “must have been a Brit based on the way he talked.”  She says she used to follow some of these visiting artists around when they were painting and remembers a Mr. Greenwood who took interest in her work and taught her a lot.  This led to her enrolling in commercial art classes at the Tomlinson Education Center in St. Petersburg after high school.
However, after getting married in 1965, Carmen did not have much time for her own art although she did teach art to Cedar Key Elementary School students in the 80s.  It was not until the mid-90s when she took a class from Cathy Christie, a Canadian art teacher who had retired to Cedar Key and later founded the Cedar Key Arts Center, that her painting took off again.  Carmen remembers a portrait she did of Earl Brown that Cathy Christie particularly liked and that “she (Christie) stayed on her butt to paint” after that.  
Carmen opened the Barefoot Gallery in Cedar Key in 2000 and what started off as simply her studio, became a dynamic addition to Cedar Key’s art community until she closed it several years ago.  Whether she knows it or not, Carmen inspired some other young artists at the first festival, including….


March 27 & 28, 1965: Beth Johnson
Eight-year-old Beth Johnson had a best friend, Nina Day, and she remembers how cool it was when Nina’s big sister Carmen won Third Place in 1964. Although prizes at the first festival were award by popular vote, the following year there were actually judges, so you can imagine how proud Beth was when she was chosen winner in her age group for her watercolor “Sunset.”
Since that time Beth (Johnson Davis), has “done just about everything except work at a car wash and tend bar.”  She became an elementary teacher and taught in Chiefland, Bronson and Cedar Key and later served on the Levy County School Board for 12 years.  Today she owns and operates “The Salty Needle Quilt Shop” in Cedar Key and expresses her artistic side through large and small quilted creations that require tight attention to detail to construct but allow her to truly express her wilder side when she does “free-motion” quilting.

April 22, 1973, Growing Up with the Arts Festival -A Local Festival Gift, By Luz Beckham Kraujalis
There is not an April in my memory that does not include Festival lore. At 16 years old it meant working days in preparation and for two days at the park for your school club food booth or your restaurant job. For me that usually meant many long hours of both. For three years my birthday was wrapped around the Festival and the only celebration was the extra money I was able to bring home from a long, hard weekend.

My little brother, Mel, was hired along with other local young boys by the City to clean the streets behind the artists. During this job on Sunday, he found my birthday present located in a trash pile on the street – a beautiful hand-thrown piece of pottery, broken cleanly in half.

Mel presented this gift to me still in two pieces, one in each hand, with a rather large proud smile. Today it is glued together, prominently on display in my kitchen and is one of my fondest memories.

You can see Luz’s Birthday Gift along with Carman Day’s “Second Street” and Beth Davis’ “Sunset” at the Cedar Key Art Center’s April Exhibit entitled 50 Years of Art Festivals in Cedar Key.  Opening: Saturday, April 5, 5-7 pm