Paradise City Arts Festival celebrates 25 years of craft and skill

Twenty five years ago, the artists were setting up in a hurricane. Linda Kaye-Moses had come from Pittsfield with her silver pendants, and she was putting up her booth with her husband, Evan Soldinger. She creates jewelry in metalwork — talismans in metal clays and bright enamels.

That night they were setting them out in an old arena and outbuildings in a fairground in Western Massachusetts. She remembers the storm. A city transformer blew caught fire, and the building went dark. But the were lights back on the next morning, she said. Artists had set out ceramics and paintings, sculpture and woodwork, and with artwork and lighting, the old building transformed into enchantment.

“It’s magical,” she said, “almost like a botanical garden with everything growing, a fairy land with lights and color.”

That weekend was the opening of the first Paradise City Arts Festival in 1995. And this weekend, she will be among more than 225 artists at the festival’s 25th year, with local food from local restaurants and local music by local musicians.

Some 25 artists have been there from the beginning, said the festival’s founders, Geoffrey and Linda Post, and many more have come for 10 years of more. The Posts sat by the fire in their Northampton home on a fall day as the leaves were turning. One of Linda’s paintings hangs above the hearth, an oceanscape over the warm curves of a wooden mantle by Scott Deming, a sculptor and woodworker in Tennessee.

Their house is quietly full of work from artists they have gotten to know over years of running this show. Some they have mentored and helped to find firm ground in their careers, they said. Some are old friends now.

New artists also join them every year, from New England, Boston and New York as far away as Santa Fe. Some are emerging and some, like woodworker Whitmore Boogearts, are known around the world. And 10,000 to 15,000 people come to see their work.

The festival begins

Linda is a painter, and Geoff is a fiber artist, and the show grew out of their experiences.
Northampton was a New England college town then, with young artists moving to shops and studios downtown — “because we could afford to rent them,” Geoff said.

The crafts movement was flaring across the country, and artisans were earning a new recognition. The art world had woken fully to the idea that wood or woven thread can take as much skill as oil paints or bronze casting and show as much depth.

“So much of the person is there,” Geoff said, “vision and imagination and point of view.”

He and Linda had been traveling with their own work.

“We had done shows around the country for about 20 years,” Linda said. “You’d talk with artists at dinner about the things you’d do differently if you were in charge.”

So in the early 1990s they set out to create a show in their home town large enough to bring people to Pioneer Valley, two or three hours from the closest major city.

They set up in the Three City Fairground in Northampton. The oldest continually operating agricultural fair in the country has run here since 1818. In high summer, a thousand Morgan horses head to the stables here for the annual show New England regional show.

An artist’s view

Paradise City transforms the space, Kaye-Moses said. She describes it as semi-outdoors. Skylights let in light, and soft carpet adds comfort, for the artists as well as the visitors.

“From the outset it has been a beautiful show,” she said. “You feel surrounded by like-minded artists and beautiful work.”
She creates jewelry in her Pittsfield studio — earrings, rings and broad pendants with designs in delicate incised patterns, enamels and cabochons (smoothly polished gem stones).

As she explains, she takes off her necklace to hold it to the light. It is shaped like an inverted step pyramid. Golden characters form a relief across the broad top, above a central almond-shaped eye, and the silver base holds patterns in red and young light green.

The symbols are letters from an untranslated language of the Indus Valley, she said. She first saw them in the Museum of Natural History in New York, and she has always loved the ancient and beautiful objects there.

She learned metalwork first in an evening class at the Berkshire Community College she said, and as metal clays became available, she fell in love with them — imagine a silver as soft and kneadable as dough.

She can carve a plate, as a printmaker would, and stamp it into the clay to form an intricate pattern. She can cut tiny cells or channels to fill with enamel color. She has taught the art for 20 years, from here to New Zealand, where a metallurgist first developed copper and bronze clays.

A community takes form

At Paradise City, she joins artists from the Berkshires and the region. Warren Vienneau brings turned burl wood bowls from Pittsfield; he also shows them in galleries nationally and internationally. Del Martin, a blacksmith for more than 20 years, comes from Knox Trail Forge in Monterey with knives and wrought iron. And Janet McKinstry creates venerable puppets, hats and scarves and more in Great Barrington from fabrics she finds in her explorations, often from local upholsterers and designers.

As artists come and go, the festival sees some 40 to 50 new makers each year, the Posts said. New artists find them; they have rarely had to search, even when the show was in its first years. Because they knew the art and craft world, they have had nationally known artists from their first year, Geoff said.

The festival found its feet, he said, and then it took off. In their third year, Yankee Magazine and the New York Times picked it up.

“It was like Woodstock,” he said. “People were backed up on the road.”

Visitors filled hotel rooms in Pioneer Valley, Linda said, and people were staying anywhere from Bradley Airport (north of Hartford, conn.) to the Berkshires. Since then they have seen visitors from half the states in the union, she said.

Paradise City has grown in its quarter century. The Posts now hold shows twice a year in Northampton, in spring and fall, and also twice a year in Marlborough (east of Boston).

In Northampton they bring to life several three full of artists, spilling over into a whimsical outdoor sculpture garden, a themed show open to any of the artists, and artist demonstrations — ceramics, glassblowing and more.

Chefs from local restaurants try out seasonal recipes in a food tent, with live music by local musicians. The festival has recently added a singer-songwriter day, Linda said.

And it has grown in less visible but deeper ways.

The Posts have known artists who have come here for a generation and seen their children grow up, and some of those children have become artists themselves and joined in their parents’ work.

Artists and visitors have become friends. Artists have met and married here, Linda said. Visitors have met and married here — the Posts know one couple who met while she was looking at artwork and he was playing music in the restaurant tent.
They married on Memorial Day, Linda said, and now they come to the festival every year on their anniversary.

The Paradise City Arts Festival will run Oct. 12 to 14 at the Three City Fairground, 54 Old Ferry Road (off Route 9), Northampton — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday
Find tickets here at the Festival’s website.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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