Promoting Art on the Farm

Festivals, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on May 18, 2008
Gayle Harper An auctioneer accepts bids during the event, which raises funds for the Lebanon Art Guild.

Paintings of antique tractors and brightly colored flowers lean against the wire fence around the cow pasture on Bill and Vera Harrills Lebanon, Mo. (pop 12,155), farm. Art displays also decorate hay bales, rest against pole beans in the vegetable garden and hang on weathered barns.

Each June, the Harrills transform their 260-acre farm into one of Americas most unique arts festivals, known simply as Art at the Farm. The rural gathering of artists and art lovers began in 2000, and owes its existence to Vera. Rather than organizing a street festival to benefit the Lebanon Art Guild, she suggested using her farm, and the breathtaking Ozark hills beyond it, as a festival backdrop.

I wanted people to have a deeper appreciation of how art can enrich your life, says Vera, 75, who helped found the art guild in 1998. That, combined with the natural beauty here, was a nice mix.

The event also allows the Harrills to give back to the community that has been their home since 1985, when the couple moved from Valdez, Alaska (pop. 4,036), to the farm that has been in Bills family since 1919.

With ducklings napping in the flowerbeds, and cows occasionally nibbling on a work of art, visitors wander around the house and barnyard, enjoying painting demonstrations, poetry readings and performances by a bluegrass band.

Id never been to an art festival on a farm, says Virginia Applegate, 49, visiting from Rolla, Mo. (pop. 16,367). The view, the garden, having no traffic or loud music; its lovely.

In all, 40 artists fill the farms yard, garage, gazebo, back porch and barns with paintings, pottery, crafts, photography, wall hangings and quilts. Visitors rest in lawn chairs, shaded by a 200-year-old Osage orange tree while a half-dozen volunteers welcome children at the picnic tables to paint their own pictures.

Its the whole package, says Vera, a retired elementary school teacher. The singing, visiting and viewing art. The object is to enjoy the day.

Making the event enjoyable, however, requires a lot of preparation, which begins in early spring. Working through a three-page to-do list, the Harrills weed their early gardens, plant flowers, put new gravel in the rock garden, cut grass and trim trees. Guild members also pitch in by setting up a dozen tents to shelter artwork.

Most things wed do anyway, says Bill, 78, a retired oil company communications manager. We just try to get them done before Art at the Farm.

During the two-day event, scheduled June 7 and 8, the Harrills mingle among the 500 visitors who come from as far away as St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. We try to circulate and meet everyone, Vera says.

Bill enjoys discussing the farms small cattle operation, while Vera points attendees toward the piano and the community sing-a-long on the sun porch or leads them through a picturesque labyrinth she mowed into the tall grass behind the chicken house.

Vera also is happy to show off her art studio in what was once a milk barn. Whenever I lose her, I can find her out there painting, Bill says.

If Bill and Vera were our parents, we wouldnt need so much therapy, jokes Roberto Regalado, a guild member. They are a real-life Norman Rockwell painting.

Proceeds from the Sunday afternoon auction, along with donations, raffle sales, concessions and 25 percent commissions from art sales, is the guilds primary source of income. Money raised goes toward guild operating expenses and the upkeep of a new permanent gallery to display art and conduct workshops throughout the year.

Its family orientated, says exhibitor David Linithicum, 69, of Art at the Farm. It makes a few dollars for the guild, it gives artists exposure, and we give something back to the community.