Using folk art for sense of community

Sometimes, Sherrills Ford feels a bit isolated. We're way up on the lake, and way down in the corner of Catawba County.

We don't often play host to regional events. But on Oct. 2, the Hickory Museum of Art will have its annual Lake Norman Folk Art Festival here.

Robert Eades, a local folk artist and organizer of the festival, recognized the disconnect between the lake and other areas of the county, not only because of geography, but also because many of Sherrills Ford's residents are newcomers. He sees folk art as a way to create a sense of community.

"I wanted to introduce all of the many, many new people in Sherrills Ford to the artists who are already here," he said. "I wanted them to see that there are exciting things here, and that they didn't ... have to go to Charlotte to find art."

Eades expects 40 artists at the festival this year. Last year, its first year on the lake, some 1,200 people attended.

Besides the variety of art on display, the festival will offer opportunities to create art and see artists at work. With food, children's activities and live bluegrass music, the free event is sure to draw people from all over the region.

For Eades, one of the most rewarding aspects of the festival is the opportunity for neighbors to meet and find common ground through art.

A former lawyer, Eades collected pottery and other folk art for years. His office was display space for his collection. Then he decided to create something.

His first piece was a snake made of bottle caps. Not telling anyone it was his creation, he added it to the office display.

"I didn't tell anybody that I made it because I wasn't sure what I thought about it," he said. "It was difficult for me to look at it as something that anyone would take seriously."

But people asked about it, and some requested similar pieces. Soon Eades began creating a variety of pieces, mostly sculpture and functional pieces with a snake theme.

Snakes appear often in Eades's work as symbols of the creation story. Serpents represent sin and redemption, he said, the "struggle between doing the right thing and not doing the right thing."

Almost all his art, he said, reflects themes common to Southern folk art, where religion has a strong influence.

"I spent years in Sunday school. Snakes were the most interesting part," Eades wrote on his blog. A link to his blog, which has several photos of his work, can be found at the festival website,

Many of the other artists who will be at the festival are on the festival site, along with photos of their work.

Folk artists are typically self-taught, and their work is very highly personal, Eades said. "It tends to be a more primitive product."

Folk art, Eades explained, is sometimes referred to as "outsider art"; in other words, outside the academic art world.

In isolated Sherrills Ford, outsider art has found a home.

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