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September 13, 2012

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After six years in Chattanooga, the annual Who-Fest folk art show now has a little sibling. This Saturday and Sunday, folk and outsider art impresario David Smotherman spanks the baby, and Who-Too! brings another dose of quirky folk art to the North Shore.

Last spring, Smotherman moved Who-Fest from Renaissance Park to Coolidge Park, looking for more exposure.

“I thought this move will either kills us or it will work out great. And if it works out great, we’ll consider doing one in the fall, too,” said the owner of Winder Binder Gallery & Bookstore and the festival’s sponsor.

It did and he has. Who-Too! joins Smotherman’s stable of small and large festivals: the annual Who-Fest, Faux Bridges and One Bridge festivals, as well as the monthly Art ’til Dark mini-festival in the parking lot adjacent to his gallery and bookstore on Frazier Avenue.

All focus on folk, visionary, outsider and self-taught art. Who-Too! is smaller—about 45 artists, compared to 72 at Who-Fest in the spring—because of the short notice, but “It’s one of the tightest groups of artists we’ve had,” he said.

There’s also more music: 10 bands, compared to seven in the spring.

“We’ve always focused on folk art, but we always end up with all kinds of stuff—jewelry, pottery, stained glass,” he said. “But the core group is always going to be folk art. We try to make sure there’s something in every price point.”

Among the artists exhibiting are Robert and Dolores Wells, who create fanciful copper sculptures that hang on a wall or that move in the wind. One wall piece, for example, consists of dozens of individual panels welded onto a grid. Passing an acetylene torch over the back turns crushed glass into solid enamel insets and gives the unpainted copper surface a patina of subtle tones.

Their wind sculptures make simple weather vanes look passé. One has a boy on a winged bicycle. The wind makes the bicycle’s wings flap, thanks to gearing inside. They fabricate everything, even the gears. “We’re the only ones that make it. Until you buy it, it’s only our hands on it,” said Dolores.

From their home east of Knoxville, the couple travels to about 10 or 11 juried shows throughout the year, but they’ve been traveling to art shows for decades.

“My husband and I have done fine arts for a living since 1966. We’re the old folks in the bunch,” she said. “We were both trained in the arts, plural, not just one thing. It takes a lot of steps to get to the end of our work. We are always striving to do something nobody else does. We just enjoy what we do, and we don’t like to be doing what somebody else does.”

Andy Detwiler is on the other end of the spectrum in terms of experience. He’s been taking photographs for the last 10 years or so, but he only started selling his work at regional art shows in the last three years.

Through a complicated process, he prints his black and white photos on paper, then transfers them to wood panels. The resulting work feels both vintage and contemporary, with photos that have a modern graphic approach to old southern themes, printed—not mounted—directly onto sturdy wood surfaces.

“Most of the stuff I do is music related,” he said. “I’m in Nashville, so that’s where my brain usually goes. I grew up in Deep South Mississippi, so anything that has that deep-rooted music and religion is what my stuff tends to focus on.”

Detwiler still hasn’t left his day job, but he’s been devoting more and more time to his art.

“It’s a retirement plan now,” he said, “but hopefully I’ll do art full time before I get to that point. It keeps my soul happy, so who knows.”

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September 13, 2012

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