Artisans, students, locals and art lovers from far away came together in Kirksville September 19 for the Red Barn Arts and Crafts Festival. Patrons strolled around the square with friends and family, curiously picking up objects for sale by 96 exhibitors with a bag of freshly popped kettle corn in hand and enjoying performers ranging from dancers to musicians to poets. Both artists and the festivalgoers who came to enjoy their wares and talents look forward to the fall event with great anticipation each year.
Sponsorships and exhibitor fees, as well as proceeds from the soda booths at the annual Fall festival, help to offset costs of programs of the Kirksville Arts Association throughout the year. Publicized as a festival for the whole family, with art, food and entertainment to appeal to all audiences, the event is a focal point of Kirksville’s local culture.
Former Truman professor Linda Colton brought baskets from her home in Leewood, Kansas for her fourth year at Red Barn. While in Kirksville, she was very involved in the Arts Center as a member of the Board and instructor of a basket-weaving class. Her daughter went to school at Truman as well, and she said that it’s always fun to see people she knows and to hear that the community she was a part of appreciates her and her art.
“A lot of people have said ‘I missed you last year, it’s good to have you back,” Colton said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Colton loves knowing that people from surrounding cities and states have her baskets in their homes. With more than 9,000 visitors and 100 booths of art, Red Barn has grown steadily since its beginning during 1974. It was created to encourage interest in local art and craftspeople, to give artists a way to showcase their work in their community and to provide a way for Kirksville residents and students to see work they would otherwise miss.
Many vendors started their artistry as hobbies that blossomed into careers. Phil Hendrix of Phil’s Phorks, who was raised in Milan, Missouri, was at Red Barn for his third year. His business, for which he scours estate sales, flea markets and garage sales for old silverware to bend, flatten and cut into jewelry started five years ago as a hobby and has now turned into a full time job. After working as a machinist for 40 years, his shop slowed down and he started his jewelry business to supplement his income. His metalworking background gave him the tools, ability and knowledge necessary to help his business flourish.
A self-described people person, Hendrix loves the ease of making personal and meaningful connections at Red Barn. His favorite experience participating in Red Barn throughout the years, he is especially moved when patrons trust him with family heirlooms. One case in particular stood out as his most beloved memory of the festival. A woman in her 90s approached Phil his first year at Red Barn with baby spoons that she and her sister used to use, telling him that she wanted him to make them into bracelets. Although honored that she would trust him with her family heirlooms, he respectfully declined for fear that the spoons would break while he bent the metal. The following year, she approached him again, returning with the same spoons from the year before. Phil tucked the handle and made her a ring, and then flattened the bowl to make a necklace. The trust she placed in him and that she remembered to approach him a year after the first encounter is representative of the familial atmosphere of Red Barn.
From jewelry made from bent forks and wooden sculpture to glazed pottery made from clay dug from the artist’s backyard and fresh squash, there is truly something for all audiences at Red Barn. Year after year, people return to visit vendors whose wares and stories make the festival a personal experience. A community institution, the annual festival promises to endure for years to come.