By Alex Ripepi
Although Bakersfield can sometimes seem like a cultural dead zone, every first Friday of the month downtown erupts into a bustling center of art, music, and food that attracts all kinds of people. Among the festivities, there are art galleries opening with new shows, art of all varieties for sale on the streets, both live and recorded music being played and an all-around pleasing air of community and talent to bask in.
About three years ago, downtown Bakersfield was a pretty desolate area. First Friday was still in place, but it suffered the same lack of enthusiasm as the rest of downtown did. Part of the real push for a more cultured experience began with the project to remake the Padre Hotel in 2009, and thanks to the historic hotel and galleries nearby, First Friday exploded into what it is today.
There are several different galleries that participate in the monthly celebration. One that shone rather brightly this past week was Metro Galleries at 1604 19th Street. The featured artist was Karine Swenson, an artist whose displayed pieces ranged from delightfully nostalgia-inducing and almost childlike “Imagined Animals,” to realistic paintings and even to abstract paintings that boggle the eye as well as the mind.
As I walked into the gallery, I was immediately stricken by the variation of the different paintings, and I figured they had been crafted by separate artists. When I discovered the entire exhibit was by only one artist, I was amazed that a person with such talent was being featured in a local studio shows that not only has our town taken a more serious interest in culture but also that people like Don Martin, the owner of Metro Galleries, are helping promote it.
The streets were a different scene all together, though. People were selling jewelry of all types, teaching attendees how to make or design their own art or even discussing the event. I spoke to Erwin Ledford, a local comic artist and creator of a comic titled “Lil’ Erwin,” which features comical stories from Ledford’s life around Bakersfield.
“This is a medium where the artist has 100 percent control,” said Ledford about his choice of comics as a medium for his art.
Continuing, Ledford pointed out that comics are so open because not only does it allow any type of atmosphere in a story, the artistic talent involved doesn’t even need to exist. Anyone can pick up a pencil and just start their own work; whether they produce masterpieces or a group of stick figures can have almost no influence on the actual story of the comic.
However, there were also more complex art forms available for browsing. As I looked around at booths that were selling masks and even wooden horns, I was drawn to a table filled with old books. I immediately thought that the vendor was selling antique novels, but was amazed when I saw that the pages had been made into something beautiful.
Heather Eddy was heading a table that displayed her art that involved the folding of pages of books to form intricate designs or even words. Eddy found old Reader’s Digest books and decided that instead of keeping them as what she called “grandma’s garbage,” she could make them into a different sort of canvas. Not only does she sell the folded books, Eddy also sells patterns for book folding at her Etsy store, http://www.rhymeswithmagic.etsy.com.
Surprisingly though, there were quite a few vendors selling delicious treats. I even found a group selling tomato plants. Among the people selling tasty items were Mara Jackson and Shawna Fowler, the minds behind WindowSill Pie Co. Stationed at The Foundry Art Gallery, their table was adorned with plates of baked goods and several different jams and marmalades. According to Mara, they’ve been making jams since fall of 2012.
So the next time anyone says that Bakersfield is just a small, boring place, remind them that they have an entire art extravaganza available to them at the first Friday of every month.