By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Artists spent Friday unloading trucks, vans and trailers, building tents and generally getting ready for today’s GumTree opening.
Downtown Tupelo’s 43rd celebration of the arts will feature more than 100 booths, containing fine art, folk art and just about everything in between.
Bebo, a folk artist from Kingston Springs, Tenn., didn’t want to give his full name, but he was more than happy to talk about his brightly colored pieces.
“I go with color, man,” he said, pointing to his collection of alligators, fish and glittery blues men, then reciting some of the sayings written on them. “I say ‘Trust God, clean house, help others, find the spirit.’ The Lord said, ‘Love your neighbor.’ That’s what I’m all about.”
If anyone stops by Bebo’s tent today or Sunday, be prepared to hear a joke or two. But he also was serious about what the people of Tupelo are going through.
“We’re sorry about the tornado,” he said. “We had a tornado a couple of years ago in our town. It tore the church down, so we know what it feels like.”
Helene Fielder, a potter and sculptor from Marietta, was shocked by the damage she saw during her first drive through town, and she thought about people she’s met at the festival over the years.
A past Best in Show winner, Fielder brought bowls, cups, platters and sculptures, and she’s hoping one particular customer finds something he likes.
“I don’t know his name. I wish I knew his name,” she said. “One boy was 9 or 10 years old, and this was about 10 years ago. And you know kids don’t buy art, right? He bought a Raku mini-vase for Mother’s Day.
“He kept coming back every year because his mother started collecting my stuff. Now, he’s in college and he still comes and buys something – bigger than he used to – for his mother.
“I don’t think he’s missed a year,” she continued. “He changes. He leans in and says, ‘Do you remember me?’ Each year, he grows. He sprouts. I hope he comes this year. I wish I knew his name. I should know it.”
Compared to Fielder, photographer Jason Stoddart from Crawford, Tenn., is a newcomer to GumTree, but he had a good showing last year with photographs that he captured throughout the South.
“I take a lot of pictures in Clarksdale and Mississippi,” he said, then pointed toward a shot of the Poor Monkey Lounge. “That was in Rosedale, an old juke joint.”
He’s got pianos on front porches, old barns, a battered Volkswagen van covered in weeds and views of Nashville’s Music Row.
One of his popular pieces is an American flag painted on the side of a barn. He was taking his kids on a camping trip when he spotted the barn and the man who owned it.
“He said they painted it after 9/11,” Stoddart said. “He and his neighbors got together and did it.”