The first week of November marks the start of the Wildlife Arts Festival season in Thomasville, and the feeling of “art in the air” is most evident in the city’s brick streets, where festival organizers hang their iconic hand-painted signs on lampposts and down Broad Street and West Jackson . The colorful creations are the work of local artist Cindy Inman, who has an atelier in downtown Thomasville and is a longtime friend of the Thomasville Center for the Arts.
“I’m always happy when my circle signs rise,” said Inman. “It was a fun challenge to work with the bright colors and designs graphically and they always get great feedback.”
Inman’s work will again be on view this year at this year’s Fine Art Show of the festival, together with paintings, sculptures and photographs by 37 other judged artists.
A collaborative collaboration
Inman’s 2dog Studio on Clay Street is just blocks from the Creative District and UnVacant Lot – a space that was repurposed and reactivated in 2016 by the Center for the Arts with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and support from Hurst Boiler and Ashley HomeStore to serve as a public arts center in the then-emerging new borough of Thomasville. Now energized, the UnVacant Lot anchors the creative district and has been the canvas for eight public art installations over the past five years.
Katherine Sandoz, a Savannah painter, illustrator, and artist, was drawn to Thomasville and the surrounding Red Hills region by long-leaved pine forests, wiregrass and waterways, and red clay deposits. Her work has taken her across the country, from Lake Tahoe to New Hampshire, capturing the beauty of nature. But since the summer, Sandoz has planted temporary roots in Thomasville in preparation for the 26th annual Wildlife Arts Festival presented by the Thomasville Center for the Arts November 11-21.
Chosen as this year’s Featured Artist, Sandoz is already splashing her lively lines through the city. Her (Pineland) Löwenzahn + Kiefernstück adorns the cover of the 16th issue of THOM magazine, and the UnVacant Lot has been her playground since the beginning of October. There her mural project entitled On Location was completed with practical help from the community.
“Katherine handed me a pot of paint and ‘Big Picture’ direction, and a couple of hours flew by,” said Haile McCollum of her experience as a volunteer painter for Sandoz’s mural.
“I’ve never worked on my own work with an artist – the process was new to me – but easy to accept after a few first strokes.”
McCollum owns Fontaine Maury, a branding and design company in the heart of the creative district. The corner of the undeveloped property can be seen from her office on the edge of the Ritz amphitheater.
McCollum is a board member of the Center for the Arts, played an active role in designing and envisioning the creative district, and shares the centre’s interest in integrating public art and placemaking into urban planning.
“Opening up art to participation in the full view of the community is one way to demystify the process,” says McCollum. “It helps people understand that creative expression isn’t always about an artist working alone in a studio.”
Bring people together
Promoting artistic expression and connecting people with one another is a top priority for the Thomasville Center for the Arts. So much so that it is literally the nonprofit’s published mission.
“Art is healing,” said Michele Arwood, director of the center. “It is life giving, community building and mentally, emotionally and spiritually stimulating. And we strive every day to give Thomasville the gift of art. “
Arwood says the Wildlife Arts Festival is especially exciting this year, returning to its historic size after the pandemic forced a “reinvented” festival in 2020.
“We were honored by such a supportive and generous community to stand by our side when last year the festival looked a little different from what guests expected,” said Arwood. “Our underwriters have really stepped up and continued to have big dreams with us, and this year we’re just excited to treat them.”
Synovus will again present the art exhibition and sale from November 20th to 21st. Market President Ty Turner also understands the impact a robust arts scene can have on a small town.
“The festival brings economic impact to southwest Georgia,” said Turner. “Most people don’t know what we have here, and it gives us the opportunity to present it.”
The art exhibition and sale are free and open to the public. Visitors can expect work by local artists such as Inman, the Center for the Arts artist-in-residence Ron Thomson, and photographer Adam Bozeman, who works as a dentist on South Dawson Street.
But the festival’s talents are also far-reaching: Artists travel to South Georgia from Oregon (Amy Lay), Maryland (Eddie Wozny) and South Africa (Michelle Decker).
“It’s really impressive when you bring more than 35 renowned artists together in one place,” says festival director Mariam Mirabzadeh. “The caliber of the fine arts on display is remarkable and offers visitors of all ages a unique learning experience.”
Based on the opportunity to introduce visual arts to people of all ages and all walks of life, the exhibition and sale will be a free event this year.
“We want there to be no obstacles for people to visit the festival and see the art,” said Mirabzadeh. “Spend your Saturday or Sunday with us and bring the whole family with you.”
Something for everyone
Aside from the anchor of the art exhibition, the festival isn’t just about visual arts. These are robust 10 days in which the whole breadth of the country and the sporting life of our region are celebrated. The event schedule begins on Thursday November 11th with an opening reception and launch party for THOM magazine on the UnVacant Lot, followed by a weekend in the woods with the sixth annual Red Hills Rover Rally and the new event Whiskey in the Woods.
A number of workshops, including flower design, painting, and youth art classes, provide visitors with a creative outlet, and an “out of the woods” evening offers guests intimate curated moments and creative conversations with Sandoz, Canaan Marshall of HBO’s “Full Bloom” . Food bloggers Libbie Summers and Suzette Bussey from Norton and Hodges.
The art exhibit and sale also includes an Underwriters Preview Party, Crafts Market, and Land & Lore Lectures that bring together storytellers and experts from Tall Timbers, Aucilla Research Institute, Quail Forever, and The National Wild Turkey Foundation to learn about traditions and expertise of protecting our long-leaf pine forests and regional ecosystems. Special guest Durrell Smith from “The Gundog Notebook” will record his podcast live during the lectures.
“It’s been a busy couple of weeks,” said festival director Kate Scovil. “A tremendous amount of planning, energy, and manpower from the center’s staff and our dozen of dedicated volunteers is put into ensuring that every experience is artistic, educational, and memorable. And that’s the biggest souvenir that we hope guests look back on and think, ‘Wow, Thomasville really has something special and I can’t wait to come back to see the new and exciting creative adventures , that you have.’ I’ll move on next. ‘”
For a full schedule of events, tickets and underwriter packages, please visit thomasvillearts.org/wildlife-arts-festival, or call the Thomasville Center for the Arts at 229-226-0588.