Stillwater's Arts Under One Shell

Stillwater's Arts Under One Shell
Highlights from Stillwater's second Dancing Turtle festival at the Stillwater Community Center, Friday night June 6, 2024.

The Dancing Turtle Arts Festival, part 1.

This is part one of a two-part series of the art, attendees, artists, and performers I was able to see at the Dancing Turtle Arts Festival.

There is no better way to welcome in the summer in Stillwater than with the Dancing Turtle. From Thursday night June 6 through Sunday June 9, the festival filled two city blocks with every kind of art, from cars to kids rock bands, gospel choirs, paintings, sculpture, dance, and more. 

"Dancing Turtle" Name Explained
But why the name “Dancing Turtle”? Turtles are slow and crawling, not lively and dancing, right? I asked the festival Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Mike Staubus, this question. “The Dancing Turtle is a concept open to all the arts,” he said. “All the arts are under one shell.” It’s a whimsical notion, hinting towards native american heritage but not specific to any one tribe. The concept of a turtle is familiar to many tribes’ myths and folklore around the world. In the Dancing Turtle Festival, Stillwater has a new image to put out into the world alongside Pistol Pete. Mike sees the Dancing Turtle becoming another way Stillwater is known: “In the future, we want people to know Stillwater as more than a Cowboy image. We don’t need to be metropolitan to have arts.” 

Bicycles On Display
Coopers Bicycle Center displayed a bicycle genealogy of sorts at the Lowry Activity Center right next to the stage. The oldest bike, dated 1890 (134 years old!), shows its age with wagon wheels and wooden hubs. It was likely as bumpy a ride then as now. The youngest was a 1981 Raleigh Competition GS, with a slightly older chrome cruiser, a 1960 Sears Lightliner. 

The top bike was made in 1890, six years after Stillwater was founded.

COVID Project Leads to New Art Career
Mr. Shep Walker ran the Kaleido Terra booth. His various hand-carved wooden pens and shaving kits were born as a COVID project just three years ago. It was his first time at the Dancing Turtle. He lives just down the road in Edmond, OK.

A tall, white-haired man with kind, confident eyes from Ponca City, Carl Petersen has done numerous shows and won many awards since he started turning wood in 2006. He uses crushed turquoise and copper to fill in the cracks of his honey-mustard-colored wooden bowls and pots. He won the Booth 2nd place award.

Meanwhile, in the LAC, the Waxie Dargles kept the room hopping with Celtic music and fast-paced sea-shanties. The kilts were on display along with the fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. All that was missing was the bagpipes!

Waxie Dargles singing Irish and Scottish pub tunes Friday night in the LAC.

Stillwater High Students Submit Over 120 Art Pieces
If “art takes courage,” as the festival Master of Ceremonies Mike Staubus said on Sunday, then what a solid show of courage our high school artists gave. Over 120 pieces of art created by over 76 students decorated Room 108 and the East/West halls of the SCC. I noticed some themes: at least four paintings of sunsets and at least eleven paintings with shoes!

Hank and Mary Cheever (two of my kids) admire some of the high school art Friday night in Room 108 at the Stillwater Community Center.

The first place for High School art went to Izzie Reitan for her piece “Nostalgia”, shown below.

Second place went to Olive Price for her colorful, pop-art-style piece called “Kicks”. Third place went to Skylar Combs and her piece “First Glance”. Emery Fuxa, daughter of Barry (an accomplished artist himself and first-place winner for the pop-art category with his piece “Buffalo”) and Robin Fuxa won an Honorable Mention for her piece “Mantis”. I especially enjoyed the painting by Jaxon Nixon entitled “Cloudy Summer Day” for its vibrant orange dirt and impressionistic clouds. 

I saw several artists who couldn’t be contained by one submission: Bodey Morgan, Clay McCutcheon, Jemma McClellan, Jena Joslin, Mac Allen, Neally Lantz, and Rubi Regalado each submitted three pieces with Sarah Peters and Shilynn Ropers sending in four. Impressive!

Stillwater-born Snack Company Sells Treats
In the main lobby right by the doors, I ran into Michael and Ann McCarty, owners of “The Shelf”, a local snack company in Perry. They initially planned on starting the business in 2019, and then they had their first child, so they thought waiting until the next year would be better. COVID of course messed that plan up. Perhaps you can relate? Finally in 2022, they launched here in Stillwater in a 900 square-foot space.

They had a folding table covered with a yummy array of muddy-buddy-style goodies with a variety of flavors like Banana Swirl, Apple Pie Swirl, Banana Pudding Brikx Mix, and Honey Chipolte Ranch Blocks, with lots of gluten-free options.The Cookies and Cream Brikx Mix I sampled was delicious.

The Artist Who Lost It All...And Came Back Better
Back in the LAC, I met Toria Hill, an incredible pop art painter from Houston, Texas. Her booth was filled with bright pink, yellow, orange and light-blue colored flowers, faces and abstract/pop art. This is quite impressive considering she lost all her original art under three years ago when the building housing her and other artists' studios was fire-bombed (Google "Winter Street Studios bombing Houston"). "I lost everything and it took a year to build back," she said, but the disaster brought her some publicity, which turned into sales and then more gallery shows, leading her and her husband Robert here to the Dancing Turtle today.

Toria and Robert Hill at their booth. Toria's motto hangs in the back, barely visible here. It says: "If you want to be happy - then be!", always reminding her to keep being an artist no matter what. 

And Tori's artistic fortitude keeps paying off, as she won the Pop Art 3rd place award for her piece “She Took the Risk”, a detailed pop-art painting of a woman who looks like Margot Robbie with an open-mouth smile.

In the hallways, I bumped into Aaron Essary while he was gazing at a turtle painting. He was drawn to the festival: “I really enjoy art and music, plus it was something to get me out of the house.” Aaron comes from east Texas, where he has worked growing wine professionally for years. He now studies Viticulture (grapes and wine production) at OSU.

Friday night rounded out with the Waxie Dargles playing foot-stomping sea shanties while patrons and visitors danced, milled around the booths and tasted local distilled spirits in the LAC.

A couple enjoy the Waxie Dargles celtic music in the LAC Friday night.

This is just a taste of all that went on at the festival Friday night. Stay tuned for part two coming soon covering my explorations of the Dancing Turtle festival on Saturday and Sunday!

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