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5th annual Artfest event expands to 2 days, adds music

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When Amanda Mathis begins one of her primitive paintings, her mind strays far from her easel in Nashville. In a matter of moments, she’s back to her teen years in Lafayette when she created imaginary towns for her then-preschool sibling to enjoy in the family sandbox.

“I would create entire little villages,” Mathis said. “And I usually was having even more fun than my little sister.

“And now when I work, I just have all these little stories unfolding (on the canvas). To me, I’m really just back in the sandbox.”

Mathis, who earned the prestigious Indiana artisan designation several years ago, will share her whimsical folk art when she joins the fifth annual Artfest from Aug. 23 to 24 in downtown Columbus. The juried event that attracted an estimated 2,500 visitors last year serves as Columbus’ gathering of about 100 artists highlighting everything from painting to pottery, from sculpture to ceramics.

Perhaps at no other time of year does Columbus so live up to its coveted state cultural district designation as during this event, when several blocks of the downtown are framed in flowing creativity.

Organizer and founder Bob Anderson, an accomplished local photographer, has expanded the festival to two days this year. With the help of an arts associate, he’s also added live music, including nationally touring jazz artist Cathy Morris, to the schedule — all of which he hopes will double the crowd, providing Mother Nature paints blue skies for the weekend.

“I think it will give us a broader appeal,” Anderson said.

Mathis, one of several local creators at the show, exhibited and sold work last year.

“My style sometimes can be confusing to people,” she said. “It’s not quite Grandma Moses-primitive. It’s a little more contemporary than that.”

One of her idyllic, acrylic scenes captures an entire Mayberryesque town, complete with school, church, a farm and more Americana sprawling in every direction.

“Primitive is a very American art form,” Mathis said. “I’ve discovered that, a lot of people, especially Asians fascinated with American life, look for that particularly. And they buy my paintings.”

Her paintings at the show will range from small works for $10 and $15 to larger pieces for $1,000.

Artfest’s Anderson suspects that many people still are learning of the event, even though it’s strongly promoted by the city — it’s a favorite event of Mayor Kristen Brown — and others locally. His exhibitors are based in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, California, Iowa, and the list goes on.

Columbus’ Deidre Nabors has sold her jewelry at the show since the event began in 2010. She said some of her loyal Columbus customers who buy throughout the year also attend Artfest and shop. Nabors understands the importance of healthy crowds, since some of the shows she attends with her designs draw 200,000 people or more.

“Artfest always has been a really good show for me,” Nabors said.

Alma Wiley, a member of the local KGB Band that will perform and the person who booked Artfest’s scheduled entertainment, said a musical lineup from folk to jazz to country is designed with a chief goal in mind.

“We’re simply hoping,” Wiley said, “that people will continue to hang out downtown (after art booths close) Saturday.”

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