Unexpected art meccas in the U.S.
Sure. Santa Fe has its art colony, Seattle, its experimental arts edge, and New York, enough museums and cultural institutions that it can catalog its own top 50 and still have plenty left over. But rocking an arts scene beneath the radar are some smaller towns whose dynamic art galleries, working artist studios, festivals with an arts flair, restaurants known for their food artistry, and art-enhanced accommodations combine to create a surprisingly well-rounded arts ecosystem. Plan a pilgrimage to one of three such small towns soon.
Sitting in Kentucky Horse Country is a small town perhaps best known as the birthplace of bourbon (a sublime art in its own right), but also home to several high-profile artists. One is John Stephen Hockensmith, star of equine photography and publisher of breathtakingly beautiful art books like his Gypsy Horses and the Travelers’ Way, Spanish Mustangs in the Great American West and, most recently, The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner, about the life and art of the prolific Kentucky artist who once hung out with Tennessee Williams and had his work collected by Silver Screen sirens Bette Davis and Greta Garbo. Hockensmith’s headquarters is the Fine Art Editions Gallery and Press, which sits in downtown Georgetown’s Victorian-era streetscape crowded with shops, restaurants, arts venues and (this being Kentucky), a craft bourbon distillery.
Thoroughbred racehorse artist Robert Clark has a gallery here. The Scott County Arts and Cultural Welcome Center, located in the old jailer’s house, exhibits fine art and sells local and regional handcrafted gift items. Nearby Georgetown College has three art galleries showcasing works by new, emerging and experimental artists from around the world. Visitors to Georgetown can watch Old World artistry take shape before their eyes at Heirlooms and Gretchen’s, one of Kentucky’s only authentic stained-glass shops.
They can even grind, saw and solder their own keepsake. They can dine on inspired cuisine at Local Feed, a farm-to-table restaurant tucked into a former 1890s ice house. The chef, Justin Thompson, also takes his culinary prowess on the road to Georgetown landmarks for sell-out multi-course Seed to Feed dinners. One of the most visually scenic spots in central Kentucky is Yuko-En on Elkhorn Creek. An official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden, it is an homage to Tahara, Japan, Georgetown’s sister city, a calming oasis of flowering and native plants, Japanese-inspired sculptures and a pond that invites quiet reflection.
Plan your arrival in this city beside Puget Sound on a warm-weather Saturday when one of the best summer markets anywhere is in full swing: fresh-baked breads and pastries, fragrant flowers, local wines, cheeses, produce, chocolates, artisan-made jewelry, all accompanied by live music, a guy whipping up smoothies and a portable brick oven cranking out pizzas. Welcome to Edmonds, a scenic charmer in the Pacific Northwest with a lushly planted downtown that spills over with three dozen arts venues and events.
Among them is Cole Gallery, known for a klatch of award-winning creatives like Pam Ingalls, whose paintings have been juried into more than 125 national and international shows. Over 100 classes and workshops are on the schedule at Cole’s Art Studio, with Friday nights devoted to “Try It!” classes on everything from finger painting to encaustics (hot, melted beeswax). Weekend workshops cover the gamut: watercolor basics, color mixing, plein air painting, landscape painting and more.
Bite into artfully crafted and beautifully plated foodstuffs at Salt & Iron, a contemporary eatery with big showy windows, sidewalk tables and a menu made for grazing your way through several savories with craft cocktail in hand.
Alpharetta’s downtown historic district bursts into full color over Memorial Day Weekend when nearly 100 artists from around the U.S. converge to showcase their works at the Alpharetta Arts Streetfest. The free-admission festival offers three full days of strolling through outdoor galleries filled with fine paintings, mixed media, photography, pottery, jewelry, textile, glass, wood, metal and paper art, all accompanied by live jazz and acoustical music, cultural arts performances, children’s activities and festival cuisine. The festival shines a spotlight on Alpharetta’s unabashed love of the arts.
From the seven sculptures from internationally known artists that make up the temporary Miscellany open-air gallery in Brooke Street Park to Alpharetta’s permanent public art collection with works by Georgia artists, there is something beautiful, striking and dramatic to see everywhere you turn. Create your own masterpiece at one of Alpharetta’s art-inspired attractions like “Painting With a Twist,” where burgeoning artists can sip wine during a group class, or All Fired Up, where individuals can craft one-of-a-kind pottery pieces. Arts venues abound, including Sis & Moon’s, with treasures curated from new and vintage sources; Out of the Box Art Studio with wheel, clay hand building, drawing, oil painting, acrylic, watercolor, multimedia art and more; and Still Point Art Gallery, a nonprofit formal art gallery that supports local and international artists.
Dining is likewise inspired with artfully dressed dishes like charred octopus, squid ink spaghetti and grilled long-stem artichokes served in the art gallery setting of Vinny’s on Windward. Spend the night at the new Hotel at Avalon, in the midst of a fantasy land with 23 inspired restaurants, 75 luxe shops and a lobby devoted to all things modern art: statues, hanging pieces and living walls of live grass.
Plan your travels
• Alpharetta, Georgia: www.awesomealpharetta.com. For information about the 14th Annual Alpharetta Arts Streetfest (May 26-28), visit www.awesomealpharetta.com.
• Edmonds, Washington: www.visitedmonds.com. For information about the Edmonds Arts Festival (June 15-17), which marks its 60th anniversary in 2018, visit www.edmondsartsfestival.com.
• Georgetown, Kentucky: www.georgetownky.com. For information about Festival of the Bluegrass (June 7-10), visit www.festivalofthebluegrass.com. RSVP for the John Stephen Hockensmith’s The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner new book release at Irish Acres Gallery in Nonesuch, Kentucky (June 21), at 859-873-7235. Learn more about the Seed to Feed dinner series at www.localfeedky.com/#dinnerseries.
Travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there’s just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at KathyWitt24@gmail.com. From Tribune News Service.