May 14 2014 12:00 AM

East Lansing Art Festival gives local artist first poke at success

Among the artists loading in on Friday at the 51st East Lansing Art Festival will be first-time exhibitor Carol Van Drie. As one of seven people chosen as part of the annual festival’s emerging artists showcase, she’s the very definition of “emerging”: She did her first art piece one year ago this month.

“No one was more surprised that I was accepted (into the festival) than me,” she said. “I’ve never even taken an art class.”

Van Drie will join 182 other budding, award-winning and internationally touring artists at the event, Saturday and Sunday in downtown East Lansing. Also making her debut will be festival diretor Michelle Carlson. She and her crew of volunteers have built this year’s fest on the success of previous incarnations and added a few new flourishes, including the Selfie Scavenger Hunt for Teens, which is … a scavenger hunt. For teens. That requires them to take selfies.

“It’s part of our effort to reach out to a (segment of the population) who may feel left out by the festival’s other activities,” Carlson said. “It’s just another way to make the festival fun.” Carlson said over 60,000 people showed up last year, and she expects that number to be about the same this year, if the weather holds up.

Returning staples include the food court on Albert Avenue — with fare from Trailer Park’d, Woody’s Oasis and Swagath Indian Cuisine — and three stages of musical entertainment, with genres ranging from psychedelic rock to oldtimey folk. Ben Hall scheduled the lineup, which highlights local and nationally touring musicians. Hall’s band, The Further Adventures of FatBoy and JiveTurkey, is a “sophisticated Gypsy blues” outfit that plays the Main Stage at noon Saturday. He said he’s in a good place to be able to determine the schedule.

“(As) a musician, I hear a lot of wordof-mouth on who’s cool and who to pay attention to,” Hall said. “I did some research and created what I think is a nice, eclectic mix of different styles of music.”

The lineup includes the People’s Temple, a local group just coming off a national tour with British band LOOP, and Rachael and Josh Davis (formerly of Steppin’ In It), a duo specializing in roots and retro ‘30s and ‘40s music. The festival will also feature the return of the busking area, a tradition that started two years ago. Hall said the only thing the slate is missing this year is jazz.

“I’m a little disappointed in that, but (in previous years) it was really heavy on jazz and world music, so it all balances out,” Hall said. “I think it’s important for the music to reflect the festival and have a little bit of everything.”

Carlson said the list of artists include those who work in ceramics, glass, metal, jewelry and traditional painting. Van Drie, 56, specializes in fabrics. She was a freelance writer for most of her career, but when she was ordered to stay off her feet for three months following a surgical procedure last May, she started looking for other things to do to keep her busy. She was hunting for a new hobby online when she came across a photo of a felt art project she had an “instant connection” with.

“I saw this 3-D needle-felted Yorkshire terrier, and I knew right away this was something I wanted to do” Van Drie said. “I love Yorkshire terriers. That one piece is really what inspired me to get started.”

Van Drie started making 3-D felt art (think: stuffed animal) but transitioned to 2-D, or canvas, felt art after seeing the medium’s possibilities. Her work consists mostly of images of Michigan nature, including swans swimming in the moonlight and one of a robin’s nest.

“It’s been like a second life for me,” she said. “As a writer, I don’t think you can edit too much, but when you’re doing art, you can ruin a piece by going over it again. I’m a perfectionist, and doing art has forced me to have patience and just let certain things go. It’s really helped me.”

She said she applied to the East Lansing Art Festival on a whim, not expecting to make the cut.

“It’s truly an honor just being accepted,” she said. “I don’t care what happens afterward, if I — I don’t even want to sell some of these pieces. I spent over 150 hours on the robin’s nest (piece). I can’t bring myself to part with it.”

She said she’s still developing her technique, and her acceptance into the art festival has given her the chance to comingle with other artists and learn the festival circuit.

“When you hear from your family that they like (your art), that’s one thing, but to be accepted by a prestigious art show is such an honor,” she said. “ It’s given me the confidence to keep going. I want to keep doing this as long as I can and see where my art takes me.”