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KIDS, ART: A LAVENDER WEEKEND : ‘Jacaranda Festival’ Reminiscent of ‘60s Love-In, Family Style

“You get paid for doing that?” an incredulous teen-age girl asked a gray-haired man dressed as a jacaranda tree.

He rooted his green leotard-clad legs to the ground, spread his branches, shook his shaggy coat of lavender blossoms, mustered his woodland wisdom and replied, “In a certain way. If I weren’t doing this, I wouldn’t have seen your smile.”

Later, the tree told a pair of spellbound infants in strollers, “If you’ve seen one jacaranda tree you’ve seen them all, but if you’ve seen them all they make you appreciate the one you’ve seen.”

It was that kind of weekend last weekend at Barnsdall Park, where Kedric Wolfe held forth as the Spirit of the Jacaranda during a weekend celebration of children and art. Sculptor George Herms, artist in residence and coordinator of special events at the Junior Arts Center, had christened the “Jacaranda Festival” in honor of the lavender-flowered trees abloom in the park and planned the free-spirited event that brought families to the hilltop home of the center, the Municipal Art Gallery and Hollyhock House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house commissioned by Aline Barnsdall in honor of her favorite flower.

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During preparations, the festival’s form was about as definite as jacaranda petals fluttering in the wind. When artists solicited to help with the celebration became confused about what exactly they were to do, Herms offered typically poetic counsel: “We’re making beads, beads in a necklace. Somebody else will string them together.”

Through some combination of good will, hard work, absurd humor and near-perfect weather, the festival shaped up as a sort of ‘60s love-in, family style. The ambiance was so mellow, it fairly oozed down the pathways of the urban park. To go to the festival was to revert to the status of flower child.

Here are some of the beads I observed on the jacaranda necklace:

A small boy so mesmerized by sculptor Andy Schuess’ “Jacaranda Siren” that he planted himself on its foot pedal, setting off an electrical fan and a weird noise that sounded rather like a wood sprite singing through a defective microphone.

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Schuess’ “Jacaranda Fountain,” in which lavender water flushed toilet-style through a bucket with a big hole in the bottom, into a metal tub pierced by three small holes and finally landed in a plastic trash can, only to set off the cycle again. Every proper public forum has its fountain; this one adorned the entry to the Gallery Theatre.

Herms’ rusty metal silhouette of the state of California, turned on its side and lodged above the theater.

Singer Bonnie Murphy, with guitarist David Wolff, belting out such lines as, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it; somebody’s got to love that man,” in honor of Herms, then intoning a remembrance of “a lost logo,” the Flying A.

Parents dancing with their offspring to Murphy’s and Wolff’s music in the park.

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A sea of little kids on the Junior Arts Center’s patios, making tie-dyed T-shirts, wood constructions and clay “nature” tiles. Glue ran freely and so did parents, treking off to their cars with artistic creations that are probably permanently stuck to the automobiles’ back seats.

A woman with a canine the size of a horse. She proclaimed it an unusually small, female example of the world’s largest breed of dog. The gray, scraggly haired beast turned out to be a pussy cat who rolled over on her back and happily licked children a fraction of her size.

A girl in chartreuse pants, a black-and-white striped shirt and graffiti-marked tennies whose brother rolled her up in a Mexican blanket and spun her like a top.

The festival came to a suitably disorganized close last Sunday night with the “Jacaranda Follies.” It was a variety show featuring such improbable acts as an electrical fan that tap danced with a troop of kids from Big Sur, a chair that answered questions by hooting horns or blinking lights, and Schuess (the engineer of these contraptions) playing a Rube-Goldbergian instrument that overlays whirring motors with a vacuum cleaner-like drone.

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All was not frivolity, however. Toward the end of the follies--roughly based on Herms’ vision of the celebration--the art police arrived to pronounce the artist a fraud and Aline Two protested indignities being perpetrated in Aline Barnsdall’s name. The Big Sur Blossoms stepped in to save the day by singing “We are the children; we are the world,” each in a different key.

Herms declared the festival “the most wonderful two days of my whole life” and the audience straggled out into the night, not sure that what they had seen was art but feeling happy that George had a couple of nice days.


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