Candlewood Arts Festival


Last updated 4/3/2020 at 11:42am

On a free bus tour of four art installations in the Borrego Springs area Feb. 29, Under the Sun Foundation founding board members Halina Avery, her brother Chris, and Foundation curator Kris Kuramitsu kicked off the Second Annual Candlewood Festival.

They treated 48 passengers first to free logo T.-shirts, and then a tour of fascinating art displays by contemporary artists with unique visions of our local desert environment and community. The exhibition will be on display through March 29.

Ricardo Breceda's metal sculptures, commissioned by the late Avery family patriarch Dennis Avery, are spread throughout land owned by the Avery family and serve as physical bases for contemporary artistic creations. The event is an attempt "to breathe new life and meaning into the existing structures, which Dennis Avery called Sky Art. The all-ages festival also includes workshops, artist talks, events and tours for visitors and residents to engage with the rich geography of the Borrego Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert.

The Under the Sun Foundation was founded in 2018 to preserve the legacy of Dennis Avery, a longstanding resident of Borrego Springs and a key patron and supporter of the local community and a pioneer of conservation efforts in the area.

One of his lasting contributions to the community has been the commissioning of 130 outdoor metal sculptures. These larger-than-life sculptures of scorpions, dragons and other creatures continue to delight audiences that converge on Borrego Springs throughout the year, and they serve as the impetus for the Foundation to inaugurate a contemporary arts festival in the spirit of Avery's generosity.

The Candlewood Arts Festival honors the spirit of generosity begun by my father for the Borrego Springs and Anza Borrego region," says Halina Avery, "and we are delighted to welcome the second edition of the Festival in 2020. Our goal has always been to encourage appreciation of art in robust and meaningful ways for both residents and visitors of any age. The expansive ways this year's artists will work with both the landscape and local community upholds our foundation's mission towards preservation, inspiration and discovery."

The first stop on the bus tour was not a sculpture but rather a rainbow-colored enclosure, about eight to nine feet on a side, by artist Nery Gabriel Lemus.

His installation, entitled, "Beneath, Between, and Behind" was a tribute to migrant families in the community. Anecdotes of the struggles and sacrifices of immigrant families from south of the border were written on the inside walls by their children, now students in Borrego.

Folks stooped under the piece and stood close together while reading the poignant entries. "My parents came from Guanajuato, Mexico," says one. "Life was incredibly hard for them. Their town had a lack of jobs. $100 here takes one day of work. In Guanajuato it take(s) a whole week. (My) family was obviously pretty poor. Not much food was able to be put on the table. Yeah, not a nice life to live."

West of the Lemus installation was Breceda's Scorpion sculpture, where two fused glass medallions hung by chains on the scorpion's stinger were the focus of artist Fay Ray's work, "Scorpion/Scorpio/Scorpius" that incorporated "metal, glass, and other elements in balance and tension." Nearby trees were also adorned with her wind chimes.

A unique and wondrous addition to Ray's work was her commissioning "Songs of the Scorpion," or Scorpion Suite. It was originally scheduled for a post-sunset performance, but the winds came up strong, so the short musical program was moved to the amphitheater in the park adjacent to the Library. It may have been short, but it was certainly memorable, and even the strong winds played a supporting role.

The high point was Clarissinka Anderson's hauntingly beautiful poem, "Scorpius," set to music written and performed by opera soprano Danielle Birrittella, with accompaniment by Katt Newlon on electric viola and Tess Scott-Suhrstedt on electric cello. Anderson had to hold up the music stand against a persistent wind, but the performance was flawless in its delivery and strong in emotional impact.

One has to imagine being out in our open desert under the stars next to the Scorpion sculpture, soprano operatic vocals and electric stringed instruments combined with the wind blowing strong, and the text of Anderson's poetry slowly sinking in to fully appreciate the full experience of a unique desert metamorphosis.

After the Ray exhibit was a bus ride over to Yaqui meadows on Borrego Springs Road where artist Anna Sew Hoy's "Fast Fashion for a Fallow Land" provided high-contrast color to both the rusting sculptures and surrounding desert. One can see the three fuchsia-colored fabrics covering Breceda sculptures from a long distance, and Hoy's project is "meant to be as playful as it is dramatic." After eliminating orange, green, and blue from her color choice, Hoy chose two bolts of fuchsia fabric, the brightest, most sun-reflective hue of magenta/purple for her animal coverings, where "the material brings these theatrically posed animal forms to life as it dances in the wind." And prevailing winds at the time did all that.

Last stop on the tour was a photographic exhibit inside the old library at The Mall, donated for the Candlewood Festival by Mall owners Jim and Anne Wermers.

Former commercial photographer Star Montana commissioned 13 local students for her "Our Borrego Springs" exhibit, where Montana says the photos depict "people not usually seen," mainly families. Montana had her own family-based photos are on display as well.

That night, the Avery's and Candlewood Festival organizers put on an opening night reception at the old library space, artists and festival goers mingling, and all were treated to a delicious sampling of free appetizers and refreshments catered by Kesling's Kitchen under the direction of Chef Tom Hildebrandt.

For all the folks who participated in opening day sights and sounds of the Candlewood Festival, it was both an educational and contemporary art experience to be remembered; all Borregans should make time this month to explore and enjoy these unique works of desert community-inspired art.