Covington’s Three Rivers Arts Festival kicks off Nov. 12 on five downtown blocks.
The Three Rivers event began in 1997 when its founders, after visiting an arts festival in Fairhope, Alabama, decided that Covington needed its own festival to help artists and support downtown economic development.
As a result, and after steady growth, more than 500 artists from around the world now submit their works to be considered for acceptance into the festival. The 200 artists who do this each year then travel from near and far to exhibit and sell their art at the Three Rivers Festival in Covington.
Three Rivers is not your typical Louisiana festival, because although it features many regional artists, it is not a local show.
“Three Rivers is so special because it is the largest juried show in the region. Nobody gets a booth unless you’re a juror,” said Sarada Bonet, Director of Cultural Arts & Events for Covington. Juried shows feature art selected through a competitive process.
“Because we bring in artists from all over the United States, you don’t see these artists traveling from show to show. This is not your normal Louisiana art market.”
One of the founders of the Three Rivers Festival and current exhibiting artist, Keith Wheeler, will be there again this year, showing his work.
Commonly known in Covington as the former mayor, Wheeler discovered his passion during his political days by turning scrap metal into art.
“After the election I was stressed and I would go to my workshop and cut the shape out of an old tin. Then I started decorating it, painting it and giving the art away,” Wheeler said, “I even asked one of my friends, ‘Am I embarrassing myself by releasing this?'”
Wheeler quickly learned that she was not embarrassed by displaying her artwork in New Orleans’ Palmer Park. After quickly realizing that people liked his quirky art, Villere expanded and began offering his art at various festivals.
The first work Villere created, a fish, inspired the name of Villere’s LA Fish.
Over the years, Villere has honed his craft. His art is still made from tin roof scraps, but he uses a plasma cutter to refine the edges. Villere’s art expanded from fish to alligators, flowers, snakes and other creatures and forms that inspired him.
Alabama native William Colburn, aka “The Metal Man,” is another of the artists who perform at the Three Rivers Festival each year.
Colburn learned his craft from his artist mother and engineer father. Combining these passions and skills, Colburn began making metal flower sculptures.
When Colburn began his journey as an artist, he began by making furniture. Later, a local TV show invited him for an interview and challenged him to create a piece of art in less than 30 minutes.
Colburn decided to make a metal flower for the show. Days later, there were hundreds of requests for that flower, and Colburn knew he was on to something.
“When you’re walking down the street, you don’t notice the beauty of a daisy,” Colburn said. “But if you come across a 15-foot sculpture of a daisy, you notice the beauty and whimsical nature of the flower.”
Colburn’s sculpture ranges from 3 to 10 feet tall; he never even made a commissioned piece that was more than 20 feet tall. When he’s not touring the country showing his sculptures, Colburn oversees his new venture, Elysian Gardens, a sculpture park in Birmingham, Alabama, where Colburn can display his work, along with a restaurant and bar.
The Three Rivers Festival isn’t just about metalworking. Many artists will display paintings in various media, ceramics and jewelry.
One of them is Louisiana native Terrence Osborne, a graduate of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Xavier University, who left full-time teaching after Hurricane Katrina. He will be an Arts Alive featured artist. Festival goers will be able to watch Osborne, whose Uptown gallery bears his name, create during the two-day festival.
Festival crowds can range, cumulatively, from 40,000 to 60,000 attendees for the weekend. Historically, whenever the LSU or Saints football teams play on the road, the Three Rivers Festival sees large crowds.
Both teams are scheduled to play on the road this year, and Three Rivers expects big crowds to come out. But holiday-goers needn’t worry about missing either game. There will be plenty of places for football fans to sit and watch the action while the rest of the family shop.