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ART’S COURT JESTER AT THE JACARANDA FESTIVAL

Times Staff Writer

Artist George Herms is about to find out if the Peter Principle applies to him.

“Am I truly an entrepreneur or should I be sitting in my studio working with little pieces of paper?” he mused as he talked about his plans for this weekend’s “Jacaranda Festival.” The free multimedia event is expected to bring crowds of visitors to Barnsdall Park for a celebration of children and art, from noon to about 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Professional musical performances, children’s art workshops, installations of outdoor sculpture, games, parades, food, a variety show, lavender-blossomed jacaranda trees and the park itself are all attractions of the two-day festival, planned by Herms and presented by the Junior Arts Center, a division of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department.

Herms is well known to Los Angeles’ art community as the free-spirited maker of assemblages from castoffs and the owner of the Love Press, which prints his poetry and stamps the four letters of LOVE in the corners of his tattered artworks. Also an unconventional performer, he has been known to honk out a tune on a garden hose when his turn comes to speak on a panel.

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That he is more than a local character is proved by his exhibition record and an impressive list of awards: three National Endowment for the Arts grants, a 1982 Prix de Rome Fellowship in sculpture and a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship in sculpture.

An artist of droll wit and no small reputation, Herms is the first to admit that the festival--intended to be an annual affair--is an artwork in progress that will not have all its corners nailed down until it is over. “I’m really just doing what I’ve always done, but now through the city,” he said. “It’s the visual arts, with poetry on one side and sculpture on the other--with the addition of time in the theater.”

Herms emerged from his studio several months ago to become an artist in residence at the Junior Arts Center and serve as its special events coordinator. Since then, with the help of center teachers and other staff, he has been planning the festival. The gallery has been transformed into a tumultuous studio for Herms and an exhibition hall for children creating art in preparation for the celebration.

The festival’s name came from Herms’ wife, Gaylen Grace, a New Yorker, who recently told him there were no seasons in Los Angeles. He disagreed, citing the blooming of the jacarandas as a spring event one could count on. The jacarandas in the park have provided lacy carpets along some of its pathways and frames for the sky above Barnsdall, a lovely hilltop oasis at 4800 Hollywood Blvd. (just west of Vermont Avenue).

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“If they hadn’t bloomed this year, it would have been all over,” Herms said. They did, and on particularly clear days he has considered turning the festival into a Duchampian gesture by just pointing at the park’s beauty. “The city has a real gem here. Part of what I’d like the festival to do is call attention to Aline Barnsdall’s original vision for the place,” he commented, pointing out her quote inscribed on a fountain: “Our fathers mined for the gold of the country. We should mine for its beauty.”

Those words are “the touchstone of the festival,” according to Herms, but its spirit will be light, joyous and occasionally irreverent. The mascot of the event is the silhouette of a Herms-style royal figure. The crowned head is taken from Herms’ fondness for wearing a crown made of an egg carton, secured under the chin with rubber bands. “There are certain moments when people get a little too pompous,” he explained. “I discovered in 1960 that if you put on an egg carton crown at those moments, you’re home free.”

Herms won’t be the only one guarding against pomposity at the weekend festival. He’ll have help from performers, game organizers, workshop leaders and even artworks. Andy Schuess’ sculpture in the park will include a chair that blossoms into a “Eureka Throne” when people sit in it and a sump-pump-garbage-can fountain with lavender water. Herms’ rusty metal silhouette of the state of California will hang over the entrance to the Gallery Theatre.

Events will get under way at noon both days with opening ceremonies in the choral shell. On Saturday at 1 p.m, Mark Turnbull and Don Willeford will provide music, followed at 2 p.m. by costume relays, three-legged races and other games. Also at 2 p.m., artist Connie Ransome will help visitors build an outdoor environment of adobe. The Balancing Act, a folk rock group, will perform at 4 p.m.

Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House and Barnsdall Arts Center are scheduled for 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Singer Bonnie Murray and jazz blues guitarist David Wolff, will perform at 5 p.m. both days. Los Illegals, an East Los Angeles rock band, will wind up Saturday’s activities with an 8 p.m. performance.

Sunday afternoon’s program will repeat the most successful of Saturday’s games at 1 p.m., then devote two hours to three workshops for children and parents. Participants can create assemblages, decorate their own T-shirts and cotton fabric or make “nature tiles” from clay and organic material found in the park.

The only event requiring reservations (available free by calling 485-4474) is the “Jacaranda Follies,” a variety show to be held in the Gallery Theatre both evenings at 7. The show, featuring professional and amateur performers, will consist of vignettes loosely based on Herms’ dream that “everything goes right in the park and wrong in the Follies.” Characters include Olive Hill, Frank Lloyd Wrong, Holly Hock and others adapted from the park’s history.

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Tosh Berman has been designated poetry director of the “Jacaranda Follies.” Choreographer Russ Tamblyn will direct the Big Sur Blossoms, children who have won a Big Sur talent contest. Kedric Wolfe will play the Spirit of the Jacaranda, and Director of Cultural Affairs Fred Croton will play Art Parker, described by Herms as “the art police.”

The only serious setback in all this semi-organized frivolity was the loss, through illness, of artist Llyn Foulkes who was scheduled to play his outrageous musical invention. “He’s very upset about letting us down,” Herms said. “If he were on the Titanic and had promised to play, he’d be walking uphill to do it. We’ll dedicate the show to him. His spirit is exactly what it’s about.”


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