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The Observer, Oct. 11

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Coffee in hand, The Observer spent some time Wednesday a week ago strolling among oversized naked virgins, great danes and giant birds at the River Market. The bronzes were being lifted by crane into place at the River Market and its grassy surrounds, with John Kinkade, executive director of the National Sculptors Guild headquartered in Colorado, doing the conducting. Kinkade worked with the city Parks Department for its maiden voyage last weekend into the show and sale of sculpture.

We were admiring the bronze danes when Kinkade came up to say hello. He passed along that the artist, Louise Peterson, a Brit, had done nudes before moving to Guffey, Colo., but switched to dogs when no one there would pose for her. Such modesty for the West!

Not so in Arkansas, where a middle-aged friend of sculptor Kevin Kresse offered to model and grabbed an electric guitar for the pose, another good story we heard at the sculpture show.

The intent of Sculpture at the River Market was both to expand Little Rock's cultural horizons and raise money for Riverfront Park with a small commission taken on sales. Not everybody warms to sculpture as quickly as other art forms. We learned this from a sculptor guiding a larger-than-life Indian brave from the back of his flatbed truck to a place on the grass. We asked if he'd gotten a few looks from fellow drivers along the interstate on his way from Colorado. Yes he had, and a man at a gas station told him, “My dawg is afraid of your sculpture.” The artist had to ask the man to repeat himself three times. This may have transpired in Arkansas somewhere.

Had we not gone into journalism, we would have bought several items. We would have snatched up Hank Kaminsky's pulpit with the word “peace” tapped out in several languages and donated it to a church, one of Michael Warrick's pocked and green-with-patina leaf-like bronzes, maybe a small Kevin Kresse figure or two. These Arkansas artists held their own among the members of the National Sculptors Guild.

Fortunately, enough swells came to the three-day show, which ended in a flurry of buying Sunday, that it pulled in $150,000 with another $100,000 expected, Kinkade said Monday morning, when he was guiding a few bronzes back into trucks for the trip back to Colorado. That means $50,000 for the park, he said, and happy sculptors who say they're coming back for next year's show.

In The Observer's experience (which doesn't include much in Arkansas), street festivals can be pretty lame. They may sound good on paper, but unmanageable selections of food and an inflated coupon currency get old after the second or third shashlik. (That's shish kabob in Yankee.)

So we were pleasantly surprised to find that the blues fest in Helena this past weekend was different. The main attraction was not the food or the music — it was Helena itself.

Stages were set off in alleys; makeshift performance spaces peppered street corners and storefronts. The busted old city, forlorn on many weekends, came out of its hiding place for this one. Its abandoned warehouses looked lovely under the late afternoon sun. The streets teemed with children. Even the people who looked to be breaking down — weathered hippies, beer-gutted old men — were enlivened by the music and the scene. It all called to mind a word that you should never, ever use, but that we can't help using anyway: carnivalesque. For a day, at least, the crowds mocked the tyranny of decay.

It would seem ironic that the blues provided the soundtrack to this celebration. But these weren't the blues of longing — they were bombastic electric blues that defy the genre's name. Sterile, to our way of thinking. This type of music wasn't meant to be performed on a huge platform in front of thousands of people.

By the time the sun had set, there were still plenty of people milling about — including a pocket of rowdy motorcyclists who took up a prominent chunk of real estate. The city contracted towards the main stage, settling into lawn chairs and an evening lull.

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