Gum Tree Festival
‘Everyone can find something’
Threatening skies don’t dampen 25th arts fair on Lee courthouse lawn
By Monique Harrison
Four-year-old Seth Godwin figured he had this weekend’s 25th annual Gum Tree Festival all figured out Saturday afternoon.
“It means you get to play in the street,” the Tupelo resident said, as he and fellow 4-year-old Travers Bray sat on the sidewalk under an awning near the festival’s children’s tent. “There’s cotton candy somewhere, but we haven’t founded it. We went in this tunnel with a bunch of kids. It was scary.”
And there was one more thing.
“I think there’s a lotta art around here,” he said, smiling and cupping his knees to his chin. “Pictures and stuff. People like that.”
Indeed they do.
By the early afternoon hours, Tupelo Police Department officials estimated about 2,000 people had attended the downtown festival, viewing the work of 97 artists representing 14 states. By the end of the day, several thousand more were expected to make their way through the displays, purchasing art and chatting with the artists.
“This is a good festival,” said Tupelo’s Shelly Ellis, 31, as the music of the South American band Andean Nation played in the background. “The pottery is what I really like. But this is a good chance to see a variety of things. There’s a lot of diversity represented in the work that’s here. It makes it fun.”
“Something for everyone”
Everything from Picasso-style sculptures to Indian-style pottery and jewelry were on sale, with some items priced as low as $5, while others went for several hundred dollars.
“This is the ultimate cliche, but everyone can find something here,” said Kossuth’s Tim Burt. “There’s a lot to do. Anyone who is remotely interested in art can find something that appeals to them.”
As artists sold and discussed their work, a songwriter’s competition was also being held. A variety of music, ranging from blues to country, was performed in the event, with grand prize winners set to perform today.
Artists said that after setting up their stands in a drizzle, business was relatively brisk.
“Setting up was a miserable experience,” said Memphis artist Jennifer Hyatt, who specializes in modern, theatrical-style metal art. “But once I got out here and the (drizzle) stopped, it’s been nice. I just hope the rain stays away.”
The dark rain clouds that dampened the 20th running of the Gum Tree 10 K early Saturday were a big concern to festival director Tina Lutz.
“It’s not raining out there yet, so that’s good,” Lutz said during the mid-afternoon. “It’s packed out there right now. People are standing shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s not raining. We’re trying not to think about it.”
Several festivalgoers said they attended the event with one mission in mind.
“We’re here looking for a Mother’s Day gift,” said Tupelo’s Becky Allsbrow, 13. “I’m not sure what to get here. Maybe some pottery.”
For many, the event, which is always held on Mother’s Day weekend, is a homecoming of sorts, with Tupelo natives returning home to spend time with their parents.
“We actually live in Cleveland now, but we have family in Starkville,” said Beth Freese. “We went to Starkville and picked up the family and brought them out. It’s a good chance to get out and to look at what there is to offer. I’m really interested in the paintings and the pottery.”
The Gum Tree was launched by Tupelo’s Bill Ford and Jim Westbrook, who wanted to expose more area Northeast Mississippians an opportunity to view and purchase quality art.
The festival continues today, with a number of children’s activities and awards ceremonies scheduled.
Today’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s.