It was once an annual Easter weekend tradition amid the century-old oak trees of historic Mandarin until COVID-19 hit just over two years ago.
Today, one of Jacksonville’s oldest arts festivals is springing up again Saturday and Sunday for its 52nd anniversary.
It would have been its 54th annual Mandarin arts festival had it not been for the pandemic, which nipped it in the bud just weeks before the 2020 event, longtime festival president Susie Scott said.
“All the details were worked out, everything was printed and the artists were assigned, and all of a sudden we had to make a very difficult decision,” Scott said. “…We knew early on that we couldn’t hold a festival in the spring of 2021. Then we planned a festival in October, thinking things would be in a better position. Lo and behold, August is coming and there’s another wave.”
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The show runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in and around the 150-year-old community club building at 12477 Mandarin Road. A food court will be located behind the club building.
Potter artist Tim Bullard plans to be among more than 120 local and national painters, sculptors, jewelers and craftspeople who will display and offer their wares. The 2019 Best of Show winner has been a fixture at the event since the 1970s and said he’s really missed it for the past two years.
“I get a little burnt out from bad shows, which is why having a good jury show like this is so wonderful,” Bullard said. “It’s such a beautiful place and I miss that one a lot. … It’s my old week at home there. I went to school in Wolfson, so I see old friends from the high school and collectors. I’ve been doing it since 1977 or 1978.”
Lots of history
The Mandarin Community Club building was constructed in 1872 with funds raised by ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lived across Mandarin Road. Founded to help former slaves, it became the Mandarin School, then was purchased and donated to the Community Club in 1936 by Edwin and Carr Mina Jones.
In 1968, Memphis Woods club members Charlie Brown, Vena Sheimer and Rosemary McCorkle came up with the idea for an arts festival, which was endorsed by the late Ed Westberry, former club president.
Up to 10,000 people could come to this weekend’s event, the organization’s main fundraiser to pay for its preservation, education and beautification work in the community. COVID-19 cancellations in 2020 and 2021 have seen the non-profit club lose funds, but so have artists. Scott said organizers were hoping for a sunny weekend and healthy crowds.
“It would be a real boost for artists who have had to sit idly by for the past two years,” she said.
The club got away with it “relatively unscathed”, Scott said. But it was a struggle, using funds from previous art festivals to help with her projects and basic utility bills, she said.
Bullard said the pandemic left him with just a few festival appearances. But he continued to make and ship pieces to collectors across the country and in the meantime exhibited his works at Jacksonville International Airport.
“It’s a blessing to have had that,” Bullard said. “…We hang on.”
This weekend, Bullard will light some of his raku pottery at 2 p.m. Sunday and tell stories about the festival and co-founder Brown, an artist potter who trained him and lived across the street.
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Alongside the art festival, the Post Office and the 1911 Mandarin General Store next door will be open for tours. A green market with small local businesses selling artisan items ranging from soaps to jams and jellies will be in the Billard Memorial Park next door on Brady Road. And a long-running art exhibit for area school children will be held in the community club building, along with a bake sale.
Admission is a suggested donation of $2. Parking is free offsite at Albert’s Field on Orange Picker and Brady Roads, and at the Mandarin Masonic Lodge at 2914 Loretto Road. A free shuttle runs to and from the show during festival hours.
For more information, visit mandarinartfestival.org.
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