Regional art festival set in Soldiers Grove

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Sculptor and metalworks artist Hans Gill enjoys meeting Dirftless Area Art Festival visitors old and young, and was especially delighted by all the kids’ votes he got in 2014 proclaiming, “You are my favorite artist.” Again this year, kids will be invited to vote for their favorites.

Visitors to the Driftless Area Art Festival, Sept. 19 and 20, will find every kind of art, the decorative as well as the functional, the edible as well as the musical. They’ll have their pick of the works of 83 visual artists from across the Driftless region. Some will be long-time favorites and some will be new to the festival.

They’ll also see a lot of new musical talent and new culinary artists, as well as popular returning artists. And they’ll see artwork by hundreds of elementary and high school students displayed in the annual KidsArt and Teen Art Galleries.

Among the visual artists is Hannah Heyer, who was voted the festival’s 2014 People’s Choice award winner. She does a lot of her painting outdoors, in the plein air style. She sometimes sits atop a round hay bale to paint. “A hay bale is fairly comfortable, smells nice, and you can jab your brushes in anywhere,” said the Dakota, Minn., artist. “And it comes with a view.”

Darla Ellickson is a prize-winning and innovative jewelry artist from Decorah, Iowa. She won the 2014 Art Festival Committee’s Choice award, for overall excellence of her art and her booth. She creates earloop earrings, “the no holes required earrings alternative, for both pierced and non-pierced ears.” In addition, she makes ear cuffs, necklaces and rings using sterling silver and 14 carat yellow gold, and, often, unusually cut, angular precious and semi-precious stones. Each piece is a unique piece of fine, wearable art.

And the artist who was overwhelmed in 2014 by votes from kids as their favorite artist, Hans Gill, brings his creative metal sculptures. Gill, from Eastman, is a sculptor and metal arts worker with a passion for creating unusual and thought-provoking pieces, many of them using found objects.

“Functional, beautiful, sculptural” are words Joseph Schwarte uses to describe his furniture. It has been purchased and commissioned for homes and offices from New York to Los Angeles and Minneapolis to Memphis. But most can be found in kitchens, studies, bathrooms and bedrooms, dining and living rooms in Chicago and near Schwarte’s home in the Gays Mills area.

Sue Johnson, of Spring Green, is well-known as a watercolor artist and outstanding workshop teacher. Her paintings are inspired by nature—landscapes, icescapes, flowers, nature images. And some are miniature works, handmade earrings, each an individual and original work of wearable art. Sue also designs fabrics, wall paper and gift wrap.

From garden art to glass art and mosaics, Gary and Christine Bengston make everything from sun catchers to elegant lawn art to full-size windows in their Prairie Glass Studio in De Soto. They assemble their pieces using the Tiffany method, with copper foil, solder and zinc frames, allowing for finer detail and stronger construction. Their steel frames are precision-welded and hand finished by master craftsman John Bengston.

The variety and excellence of the visual artists is matched by that of the performing artists, the majority new to the festival this year. It all starts Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon, with Maritza, a three-woman band from Decorah, Iowa. With strings, percussion and accordion, they’ll bring lively Eastern European and folk dance music.

A returning favorite, Patchouli, will play from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and will entertain during the evening reception for artists, patrons and volunteers. Patchouli’s down-to-earth songwriting is “new American folk,” blending elements of folk, pop, flamenco and jazz with world beat rhythms.

Sunday’s lineup includes the Roddys, from 10 a.m. to noon. Doc Roddy hosts “Country Meets the Blues” on WDRT. The Roddys’ original songs, a great blend of Americana and alternative folk, can be heard on their CD “The Roddys 2011.”

Joe and Vicki Price entertain with their brand of blues roots from 1 to 4 p.m. The couple’s last CD, “Rain or Shine,” won the Independent Music Award for best blues CD of 2009, and rave reviews from major publications. Joe is a member of the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame and the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The festival opens officially at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, with early entry for Purchase Award patrons. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Food and beverage vendors will be open throughout the festival. Admission is free. And, as always, almost 100 volunteers help make the event pleasant for artists and visitors.

Full festival details are available at

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