Art Fest history intrigues as 50th approaches

By Susie Scott
mail@floridanewsline.com

As the Mandarin Art Festival’s 50th anniversary approaches on Easter weekend, the early history of the event becomes of interest. Two of the festival’s founders, Vina Schemer and Rosemary McCorkle, shared their memories of the festival’s beginnings.

The concept for the art festival arose at a dinner at the home of Memphis Woods in 1968, attended by other Mandarin resident artists. Local artist Schemer suggested the Mandarin Community Club as the perfect location and Easter weekend as the perfect date — and the idea took root.

The event has always been credited to Judge Ed Westberry as founder and indeed, it would never have happened if he had not fully supported the idea as a means to attract interest, participants and some much needed funds to the Mandarin Community Club, where he served as president. But the impetus for the festival came from a small group of cultural creatives who wanted to attract attention to the quality of artists residing in still rural Mandarin, which was then known as an artists’ enclave.

It wasn’t just these artists who made the first festival a success. Mandarin Community Club board members of the period included Herb Peyton, Bill Mouro, and others who worked alongside Schemer and McCorkle to recruit workers and supplies to help build a successful first time event.

Though fewer than 20 artists participated, the talent that comprised the inaugural Mandarin Art Festival was impressive and included:

Memphis Woods (1902 – 1989) had moved from Georgia to Jacksonville and began teaching art at Landon High School. Woods was herself a renowned artist — primarily in the medium of weaving — but also in painting, bronze and mixed media. Her works have been shown in many museums in the Southeast as well as the New York City Museum of Contemporary Crafts, the University of North Florida Library and commissioned works throughout Jacksonville. Woods was also one of the founders of the Jacksonville Art Museum (now Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville).

Charles “Charlie” Brown (1904 – 1987) was born in Mayport, but moved to Mandarin Road at the age of two. Brown’s early work was in painting landscapes and still lifes. Encouraged by his friend, Memphis Woods, Brown took a pottery class and the rest is history. He is internationally known for his raku-fired pottery including pots, jewelry, wall hangings and even Christmas ornaments, some of which were selected by Vice President Walter Mondale and his wife for the tree in their Washington residence. Today his work can be found in major collections including the Smithsonian, the Johnson Wax Collection, museums and countless homes, many in his beloved Mandarin.

This year, one of the founders and first exhibitors, Vina Schemer, will return as one of the festival’s judges. A potter and ceramist since 1962 and teacher since 1964, Schemer has been a 37-year member of the American Crafts Council Southeast Region and its Regional Director since 1979. Her work has been featured in many publications and recognized in national shows and can be found in permanent collections at the University of Florida, the White House, the Contemporary Ceramics Museum in Grottaglie, Italy and others.

Then and now, the Mandarin Art Festival is not to be missed. In 2018, the 50th installment of the festival will host more than 100 local and nationally known artist exhibitors, a Children’s Art Show representing 19 local schools, a locally sourced Green Market, live entertainment, food court and a bake sale.

Mark your calendars for March 31 – April 1 and visit www.mandarinartfestival.org to learn more about the upcoming 50th Anniversary Mandarin Art Festival.

Photo courtesy Doris Hastings

Artist Enrique Gonzalez with his painting inspired by the oak trees at the Mandarin Community Club grounds at the 2015 Mandarin Art Festival.