Stillwater's Arts Under One Shell

The art, attendees, artists, and performers I saw on Saturday and Sunday

Stillwater's Arts Under One Shell

The Dancing Turtle Arts Festival

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

Saturday Morning Music Under the Big Tent
The young local indie pop rock band Peppermnt (yep, there is no ‘i’), manned by lead singer Emily Yost, Alex Greene on the bass, Travis Johnson on the drums, Austin Schoepflin on lead guitar, and Jack Snedden on the keyboard, entertained the Saturday morning tent crowd on the First Baptist Church lawn just south of the Sheerar Museum. They performed a variety of covers like "Easy Lover" by Phil Collins, Carol King's "I Feel the Earth Move", the Beatles' "Don't Let me Down", John Mayer's "Neon", and "Whipping Post" from the Allman Brothers. The band has been together for a little over a year. Three members of the band are studying Music Industry at OSU.

Weaving Colorful Stories
On the east side of Duncan St., artist Adwoa Nuamah displayed her colorful hand-weaved baskets. She hails from Ghana, in West Africa. With the sweetness and color of a fruit salad, she smiles wide-eyed as she talks to me. Talking with her, I will quickly see she is a powerhouse of energy. She writes children’s books, paints, creates films, cooks, and raises her children while working on her PhD in Educational Leadership at OSU. Her art, whatever the medium, centers around telling stories of her culture.

With a vibrant personality as colorful as her hand-weaved wares, local artist Adwoa Nuamah poses for her picture in her booth Duncan St.

Cornman’s Colorful Creations
On the corner of Duncan and 8th was one Robert Cornman, an artist as colorful as his paintings. With six earrings in each ear, three necklaces, tie dye shoelaces, and a button-down Columbia PFG covered in paint colors, he describes “Maureen”, his highest-priced painting in the booth. You see, he names each painting with a unique name. Maureen displays two trees brightly painted in blues and reds. His media choices are surprising: car paint, three types of makeup, nail polish, and tattoo ink. “I was pushed into this world [of art] 17 years ago. I got sick. I had a stroke and had to relearn everything.” He gave up his corporate job and went all in on pursuing art. “Now I’m in it for the fun,” says Robert. He has his paintings all over the world. No wonder he won the Booth 1st Place award.

Robert Cornman and his confetti of color, “Maureen” (above his head). He achieves the shine by treating it with a heat torch for 8 hours. Luckily this one didn’t burn!

Heavy (and dangerously hot!) Metal

A few steps away, Mr. Mark Carter just finished giving a blacksmithing demonstration.

Some create with paint, others with a guitar. For Mr. Mark Carter, he likes to bang and hammer heated metal. A blacksmith for over 30 years, he came to the Dancing Turtle to demonstrate how he forges ornamental ironwork.

Connor Helm Entertains Crowd in LAC

With his foot tapping-tamborine Fender Telecaster, Connor blew the crowd away here singing Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”

At 3 p.m. in the LAC, a young man from Perkins named Connor Helm quietly took the floor to play. Few expected the voices and guitar chops of Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King to come out of this 17-year-old prodigy, but they did. He writes and sings the blues, the delta variety, but his gifts are not limited just to guitar. "I wanna learn just about every instrument I see," says Connor. If you didn't see him, you can find him on the Baker and Gambill’s EM stage on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of every month. You'll be glad you went.

The Dancing Portion of the Dancing Turtle

Meanwhile, in the (still air-conditioned) Winfrey Houston Auditorium, the Connections dance concert was underway. The troop kicked it off with “Bollywood”, choreographed by Neha Gupta and performed by Megan Hardy and Courtney Pilkington. The dance showed two styles of Indian Bollywood dance, one classical and the other a drum dance, each celebrating the diversity and energy of the good things in life.

Dancer Megan Hardy in flow as she performs a highly theatrical classic Bollywood dance
Dancers Brigitte Goulart and Sheri Hayden tap dance to the song “Story of an Artist”
Danny Chakron, the Director of Bachata Team at Latin Fusion Oklahoma City (center) dances the Bachata with his teammates, Lorena and Alejandro

“Gas Station Hot Dog” Debuted

Back under the shade of the main tent, I heard “The Heard” debut their latest song, “Gas Station Hot Dog”. It’s a song of a “simple kind of man” who “do[esn’t] believe in BigFoot” and has his “thoughts about God’s plan”, who craves for “another gas station hot dog, with mustard and relish– in fact I think I’ll prolly get two”. So go the lyrics. It’s comforting in a don’t-feel-so-bad-about-spilling-your-beer-on-your-greasy-shirt kind of way. The owners of the local Daddy O’s Music Co on Main St. make up the band while also serving as volunteers for the festival. 

Local band “The Heard” debuts their latest song, “Gas Station Hot Dog” Saturday afternoon.

Superfan Performs Spontaneous Solo Dance

Following The Heard, the Johnny Mullenax Band came on. I asked Adam D. Miller, a gentleman wearing overalls with long wavy gray hair enjoying the music in a folding camping chair, what drew him to the festival. “The music mainly,” he replied. He has friends in the band. He moved here about four years ago from Wagoner (another Oklahoma city right on Highway 51) to be closer to his family. He now works with his daughter at Cove Environmental, collecting water samples for testing. Meanwhile, the Johnny Mullenax Band opened with a high-tempo bluegrass + electric country jam session that brought a superfan up the stage dancing to the rhythms.

Meanwhile, dozens of volunteers in highlighter-colored shirts cooked hamburgers, moved musical equipment, directed visitors, served popcorn and kept littles from falling out of the bounce house. All around the tent, there was a relaxed feeling of great people enjoying good food and free entertainment. Jesse and Chelsea Keel, with their two daughters Eliza and Olivia in tow in a covered Radio Flyer wagon, made their way towards the performance. For them, the highlight of the festival was the music.

Film Festival at Sheerar 

At the Sheerar Cultural Center, the film screenings are well underway. I managed to catch three films: “The Past” by Ian Quaid Hyden, “The Little Sea Turtle” by Rich K., which went on to win the Best of Fest award (maybe not a bad idea to make a film about a turtle at the Dancing Turtle Film Festival), and finally “Requiem for Lugosi” by Mike Buckendorf, which won the Best Score award.

A picture of "The Little Sea Turtle" by Rich K. It's a sweet story about a turtle egg that hatches a little too late and gets lost and eventually perilously stuck before a dragonfly and a gecko come to his rescue. Rich K. did almost everything in this film, including all the animal sounds.

Stillwater Gospel Singer Group Performs

Sunday morning, an Interfaith Brunch was held under the big tent. At 10:15 AM, the Stillwater Gospel Singers sang traditional American gospel songs such as “Do Lord, Remember Me”, “Because He Lives” by William and Gloria Gaither, “The Gospel of Grace” (a combination of Amazing Grace and I’m New Born Again), “Lead Me Home” (a combination of Precious Lord, Take My Hand with “Softly and Tenderly”) and finally “Fly Away Medley”.

Choir Director and soloist Paula Fitch informs the crowd that the choir has only been through this piece only three-to-four times, so they should feel free to sing along. Kim Strom accompanied on the piano (far left).

“Faith led us here,” says Donna Ritter, a visitor, watching her son play in the bounce house. They came because her son, Colton, thought this was a Ninja Turtle festival. She was worried he would be upset when he found out there were no Ninja Turtles (maybe next year?), but the bounce house kept him very occupied. Donna and her son arrived back in Stillwater just the night before.

Couple Prepares to Open Local Art Store

Back in the air-conditioned Community Center main lobby, I met Saxon Sampley. A native Stillweigan and OSU student studying mathematics and physics, he and his wife Elizabeth are opening a store for local artists in the former AR Workshop store by the Modella Art Gallery on Main St. They’re getting ready to open July 6th, and the store will be called “Little Sapling Market”.

Festival Finales

Finally, for the Best of the Fest awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, there was a delay in getting things started. MC Mike Staubus said, “You know one thing about turtles: sometimes those turtles are slow.” At 3:20 p.m., the final show kicked off with the band Hope MacGregor and the Mac Attacks. They sang an original song called “The Matriarch”, a song about Hope’s mother and the stories she would tell after drinking too much alcohol. She said the song is getting a lot of listens in Sweden for some reason, so she hopes more Americans will start listening to it. Jim Beckstrom joined them on the blues harmonica.

Next was a piece by the Wildly Brave Dance Company, “And the Turtle Danced”. The dance followed a narration about how, in the beginning, the turtle danced freely and was one with nature. Eventually, predators and storms cause the turtle to form a heavy shell to protect itself. “Safe was good,” said the narrator. Due to the weight of its shell, over time the turtle forgot how to dance, “but the magic lived on within her.” During the full moon, the turtle dreamt of dancing with her ancestors and awoke inspired by the magic to begin to sway and explore. “The shell became part of her, and she a part of it.” She dances past fear and into discovery as the magic begins to flow, “and all creation quivered with joy.”

The ending of “And Turtle Danced…” starring dancers (from our left to right): Elena Larmoch as Nature, Aurora Farnham as Water Lily/Winter, Megan Tauch as the shell/tadpole, Jessica Murphy as Magic, and Megan Hardy (front) as Turtle.

Stillwater Rock Academy came on and played covers of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go", Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child", Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" and culminating in a song seething with teenage zeal and angst, pitch be darned, Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It". But took it, we did.

Jesse Tabish (second from the right) is a Stillwater native and the owner and instructor of Stillwater Rock Academy. He plays with his students, helping with equipment and cues, never hogging the spotlight

The audience applauded the future Rock’n Roll stars and MC Mike Staubus walked out to the stage. “These kids are proof that art takes courage. There could be mistakes! But there is no creativity without challenge.”

Wildly Brave provided two more fantastic dances: "Some Day I Might" danced to the song "What Was I Made For?" by Billie Eilish. It portrayed womans' passage from struggling with isolation to finding belonging and purpose. That was followed by "Miscreants" with the song "Symptom of Being Human" by Shine Down. Using movements showing outwardly the inner angst and awkwardness we sometimes all feel, the piece encouraged accepting one's all-too-human flaws. 

Tyler Siems, a young man with a mustache and long, wavy hair under a trucker hat, sang his song “Drive All Night” with the voice of an angel, backed up by members of The Heard. Together, they rounded out the musical performances with another try at “Gas Station Hot Dog” and “Coffee and Cigarettes.”

The final performance was a solo dance by Aurora Farnham: “Stillwater”, to the song of the same name by The Red Dirt Rangers. Hearing that song just makes one feel so glad to call this place your home.

Aurora Farnham performs the final dance of the festival, dedicated to Stillwater, OK.

Congratulations to all the award winners!


  • 1st Place: Robert Cornman
  • 2nd Place: Carl Petersen
  • 3rd Place: Jessica Lincoln

Pop Art

  • 1st Place: Barry Fuxa for “Buffalo”
  • 2nd Place: Chrissie Farrar for “Dichronic Glass”
  • 3rd Place: Toria Hill for “She Took The Risk”

Native American Art

  • 1st Place: Melissa Freeman for “MMIW Chata Dress”
  • 2nd Place: Mark Carter for “Stickball”
  • 3rd Place: Joel Carpenter for “Gilbert Cherlston - Choctaw Warrior”

African American Art

  • 1st Place: Siena Rencher for “My Closet in Ink”
  • 2nd Place: Musefiu Abisoye for “Peace”
  • 3rd Place: (I didn’t hear this one announced)

High School Art

  • 1st Place: Izzie Reitan for “Nostalgia”
  • 2nd Place: Olivia Price for “Kicks”
  • 3rd Place: Skyler Combs for “First Glance”
  • Honorable Mention: Emery Fuxa for “Mantis”
  • Dancing Turtle Staff Favorite: Bonnie Rutherford’s “My Shoe”

Film Festival

  • Best Screenplay: Anna Hanish for “Saint Libby”
  • Best Score: Scott Gordon for “Requiem for Lugosi”
  • Best Cinematography: Hayden Morris for “In A World Full of Loneliness”
  • Best Editing: Kaleigh Bish for “Splash”
  • Best Actor: Harrison Baxley in “The Guilty Perspective”
  • Best Actress: Deidre Barnett in “Lost Chances”
  • Best Director: Mark Williams for “Lady Red Warriors”
  • Best Film: “Lady Red Warriors” by Mark Williams
  • Best of Fest: “The Little Sea Turtle” by Rich K.

This Turtle is Going Places

The dye is cast. Stillwater is now, if it wasn't before, undeniably on the map for the arts. The shell of this Dancing Turtle almost couldn't hold the abundance of art and talent that came through the Stillwater Community Center this weekend, especially by our youth. As someone with a young family, I think it was a perfect event for kids, and I'm glad mine got to see what a community we have with all this talent (though they probably will only remember the bounce house at this age). It was not too crowded, too hot, too noisy, or too much of the same. Thank you to the numerous organizers, partnering companies, non-profit organizations, and volunteers who pitched in to make this happen. 

I caught the tireless chief organizer Jim Beckstrom on his way out after the awards ceremony. "We'll start planning next year's next week," he said. Tireless indeed. Seeing his and all the volunteers' dedication, I recall something Mike Staubus said to me in the hall on Saturday: "The thing about turtles is they are slow and steady. But they're going places."

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