Jackson County Green Energy Park holds 6th annual Youth Arts Festival
Despite the soggy weather, hundreds of children and their families came out on Saturday, Sept. 21, to participate in the Youth Arts Festival at Jackson County’s Green Energy Park. In contrast to the grey, overcast skies and rainy day, the Energy Park was lit up with the bright eyes, laughter and wide smiles of children enjoying the arts throughout the day.
The annual event, now in its sixth year, gave children plenty of time and opportunity to get “hands-on” experience in pottery, crafts, print-making, glass mosaics and much more with highly skilled artists and craftsmen from around the region. While some of the day’s entertainment had to be canceled due to rain, the Arts Festival still featured plenty of kids’ favorite things, from facepainting to foot-stomping fiddling, and of course, ice cream.
Demonstrations in glass-blowing and blacksmithing ran throughout the day. The artists emphasized the unique design of the Jackson County Green Energy Park’s (JCGEP) resources to the children, explaining that the greenhouses, glass furnace and metal forges are fired by methane gas generated from the old county landfill on which the Green Energy park was built. The facility is the only one in the world that features this system to utilize clean, renewable energy resources to encourage economic development and offer educational opportunities that will help lead towards a more sustainable future for Western North Carolina.
The environmental impacts of the JCGEP were impressive to parents and the older attendees, for certain, but the youngsters were more interested in the results. Children watched in awe as gifted artists such as Tadashi Torii transformed glass in the intense heat of the furnace into works of art. Torii’s large glass vase created in his mid-afternoon demonstration required a level of impeccable timing, skill and craftmanship rarely, if ever, seen by his audience. Young and old alike were thrilled to see him make the final touches to the tremendous vase as he stepped into an open space away from the furnace, deftly spinning and rotating the rod on which the vase was attached, letting gravity and centrifugal force assist him in shaping the final contours of the extraordinary piece.
Six-year-old Jacob Simonian explored the entire Arts Festival before he discovered the metal-smithing section, where he encouraged the blacksmiths to show him how to make sword handles.
“He’s all about some swords and sword handles,” said blacksmith Brock Martin, who first learned the craft at the JCGEP but now operates his own Warfire Forge and teaches the art in Hickory, N.C. Jacob’s mother, Traci Caitlyn, was blown away by the range of activities available for her three children at the Youth Arts Festival. “It’s awesome,” said Caitlyn. “I thought we were going to come up for an hour or so, and then take off. But the kids have not stopped making stuff this whole time, and we’ve been here all day. It’s great!”
Up-and-coming artists from the Fine Art and Art Education programs at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College were on hand to guide children through the process of throwing pots on pottery wheels, allowing the kids to create works of their own that they would later bake in the oven and have as a keepsake of the day’s activities. Meanwhile most of the children took part expressing themselves in the workshop conducted by Green Energy Park’s resident artist Joanna Danis, with the help of their parents or chaperones, to create beautiful glass mosaics that they could enjoy for years to come.
Many of the kids took the opportunity to dip their hands in acrylic paint and leave their individual calling card. The hand prints and signatures were applied to a water tank located outside one of the JCGEP’s methane-heated greenhouses. The tank will soon receive a polyurethane coating to protect it from the elements, and just like the day itself, will stand despite rain or harsh weather to commemorate the creativity of the 2013 Youth Arts Festival.