Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Spring Art, Alley Art, AlleyFest - A rose by any other name…
As her first official action since her election as Mayor of Longview, Lois Jackson issued a proclamation naming April 29 through May 2, 1971, as Longview’s First Annual Spring Festival.
LONGVIEW Longview artist and man about Texas, Bill Witherspoon, returned from a trip to Austin back in 1971 with a fabulous idea. He had been to a first-rate, outdoor show and art festival on the tree-shaded grounds of the Laguna Gloria Art Museum. He thought, “Why not have a first-rate, outdoor exhibit of the same stature right here in Longview since the state’s top ranking artists are already familiar with the city?” Many Texas artists had already exhibited in the Junior League’s Invitational Art Exhibits held in Longview at the Nicholson Memorial Public Library.
Since 1958, the most respected artists in Texas had been selected by the Junior League to receive generous purchase prizes. The group’s philosophy was that artists were professional people and should be treated as such. Since the first Invitational, when Jerry Bywaters, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, served as juror and advisor, prestigious jurors had selected artwork to be included in a collection for the proposed Longview Art Museum.
The Junior League agreed with Witherspoon that it was a fine idea, but there were a few small problems. First of all, the art museum had a board of directors and a plan (it had been issued a charter from the State of Texas in 1970), but there still was no museum. That wouldn’t happen until the following year. Second, the nonexistent art museum had no tree-shaded lawn. It didn’t even have a building or a parking lot!
But wait! If you want something done and you want it done well, you simply find the most dynamic women in town, and you put them to work. So, Barbara Tomberlain accepted chairmanship for the event. Her committee included: Mrs. Barry Humphree, Mrs. Guy N. Harrison, Mrs. J. Glen Johnston, Mrs. Reagan McLemore III, Mrs. James B. Curtis, Mrs. Charles Tomberlain and Mrs. Marion Baldwin.
The committee decided the most beautiful lawn in Longview was in the center of town at the Gregg County Courthouse, and they went to work. The First Annual Spring Festival would include activities such as a parade, a carnival and the art exhibit on the courthouse lawn.
As her first official action since her election as Mayor of Longview, Lois Jackson issued a proclamation naming April 29 through May 2, 1971, as Longview’s First Annual Spring Festival. Artists from across the state wanted to help the museum and the festival. Charles Bordelon, David Brownlow, John Frazier, Henri Gadbois, Luis Eades, DeForrest Judd, Perry Nichols, Jan Statman, Velox Ward, Sr., and Bill Witherspoon were only a few of the exhibiting artists.
The Inaugural Exhibit of the Longview Museum and Arts Center was held on September 10, 1972. The generosity of Mr. Robert Cargill, Sr. made it possible for the museum to have a home in the McWilliams Furniture Store Guild Gallery Annex. Tom Livesay was named museum director. The juried Spring Art Exhibit continued on the courthouse lawn in connection with the opening of the museum’s 12th Annual Invitational.
The following year, the festival moved to the historic Bank Alley and became the Alley Art Festival. Artists set their work up on every sort of folding table and standing hanger they could haul down the alley. The alley was crowded with people. When a strong breeze blew things over, visitors helped set them straight again.
Having become one of the museum’s major fundraising activities, the event left the Alley for the wide lawns of Teague Park. Crowds of enthusiastic art lovers walked among the colorful tents of craftsmen’s and vendors’ booths. Famous cascarones became a popular attraction. Museum Guild members spent months decorating and filling eggshells with confetti so they could be cracked over the heads of friends and artists alike. For the first time, there was continuous entertainment including live music from several local bands. A hot air balloon offered rides at forty cents a ride. Winnie the Pooh and Ronald McDonald were available for photographs in the special children’s area. A subtle change began to take place when exhibiting booths included macramé and crafts.
Then disaster struck. The weather did not cooperate. It rained; it stormed; it poured. Everything had to be moved to the downtown parking building of the First National Bank. Artists and vendors were miserable in the cold, damp, wet, crowded, noisy ascending ramp of the parking garage.
Chilly visitors were less than enthusiastic, but the following year they were willing to come back for more. By now a traveling idea, the exhibit moved to the Bank Alley, and it continued to grow by expanding to the surrounding streets and attracting artists, craftsmen and art lovers from all over Texas.
Then two big changes took place. The festival left the springtime and became the Fall Fest, and it moved indoors to the Maude Cobb Center. Guests were charged the lordly sum of fifty cents for admission, and chairman Becky Huffman planned a wide variety of entertainment.
In 1986, co-chairmen Mary Murdoch and Susan K. Smith planned a patriotic festival with a red, white and blue theme. A large cut-out of the Statue of Liberty welcomed visitors at the entrance to the Maude Cobb Center.
One more year as Fall Fest at the Maud Cobb Center, and in 1989, the festival returned to springtime. It was held at Teague Park and the National Guard Armory. Booths were both inside the armory and outside in the park. Festivities began with the Art Fest Fun Run. Teen activities included graffiti boards, a dunking booth and a football throw. Expanded children’s activities included a bounce house, spin art, sand art, and face painting. Continuous entertainment was provided for both days, and those famous cascarones were a hit.
The following year, the festival permanently returned to its home in Bank Alley and the downtown streets with the focus gradually changing to include more entertainment, more food and more children’s activities. An evening beer garden party featuring the music of talented local musicians was so popular that a street dance was added. Main Street, part of the Chamber of Commerce, now produces AlleyFest.
In 1992, AlleyFest combined Alley Art with Hoop It Up, a 3-on-3 basketball tourney and the Rigadoon/Alley Music Festival.
These days, the little art exhibit on the lawn has grown to become a weekend full of fun with daytime and evening activities. The Annual AlleyFest takes place in downtown Longview. Vendors exhibit in lively tents that line the streets. A 1 mile, 5k and 10k Alley Run takes place early Saturday morning. Food Fest is a display of Longview’s finest restaurants. Music Fest takes center stage on Friday and Saturday nights. This year, AlleyFest is scheduled for May 11-13, and there will be something fun for everyone to enjoy.