By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
There’s an old folk story about some hungry travelers passing through a village. Though they have no food, they do have an empty cauldron. They begin to boil some stones in water for a “stone soup.” Curious villagers passing by have not heard of “stone soup,” but they gladly offer their own contributions — a carrot here, a potato there. It’s not long before the “stone soup” becomes a delicious community meal.
In some ways, this is the story of Liberty Hill’s first downtown arts exhibit planned June 16.
When City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann, art teacher Susan Barnes, former Council member Elizabeth Branigan, and a few others began planning the event, it was meant only to be a sidewalk art show for roughly 10 local artists. But as talk spread, volunteers joined one by one to pitch their own contributions.
The collaborative effort has since snowballed to become one of the biggest hurrahs yet in the recent push to emphasize Liberty Hill as a small town arts hub.
Zwernemann said that throughout the planning, a constant refrain among the organizers was to tell each other, “We can do it, we can do it!”
Come the night of the 16th, downtown storefronts will open their doors to a closed-off main street, making all of downtown into a walking art tour.
Exhibits for the now 32 artists and artisans will be set up in spaces including Liberty Hill Bookkeeping, Liberty Hill Bakery & Cafe, Star of Texas Realty, and the new Indigo Salon. Majda Parker’s newly renovated “Heart of Liberty Event Center” will also debut for the exhibit.
The pieces included in the show include paintings, sculptures, quilt art and photography.
Contributing artists include Bob Ragan, Stewart Simpson, Matthew Johnson, and sculptors from the Texas Society of Sculptors, including Ricky Kimball, Hank Waddell, and Jack Pointeau. The artists will be on-site.
Works by the late Mel Fowler, which were discovered this year, will also be displayed in the Stubblefield building, now called the “Fowler House.” The space will recreate the building as it looked when Fowler and his girlfriend Catchi Childs, also a famous sculptor, lived and worked there.
This historical display is far from the only attraction beyond art that the event offers. Wine tasting from local vineyards and food, provided by the Liberty Hill Bakery and Dahlia Cafe, will be offered in City Hall. Live music will be performed by Rio Rising.
Unlike the story in “Stone Soup,” however, Zwernemann and Barnes and the other organizers are not strangers to the town. Its committee included representation from a number of groups around town, such as Kim Sanders with the Chamber of Commerce.
Barnes, who teaches art at Liberty Hill Intermediate School, was a principal organizer for the sculpture celebration held last year for the 40th anniversary of the 1976 International Sculpture Symposium.
That prior experience working with these sculptors helped bolster this project, Zwernemann said, as Barnes knew how to attract active participation from the artists— meaning food, hospitality, and other “little courtesy things like that.”
The two friends say this is when the project began to first balloon into a downtown tour, as the food and wine would need to come from someone, and also to be hosted somewhere.
Currently, at least seven buildings will be open to the public, Zwernemann said, although others could join between now and June 16th.
“People started coming to us,” Zwernemann said. “They would call, or email, or drop by just to say, ‘Can we participate?’”
“Once the word got out, it got people excited,” Barnes said.
The list of partners, co-sponsors and participants has since become long. The Liberty Hill Garden Club has offered to pot flowers downtown beforehand. The Liberty Hill Quilters Club, offered to bring quilts for display.
Funds are being provided by the City of Liberty Hill, the Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce.
The largest share of funding came from the EDC, which is donating $4,500, and the City, which Zwernemann said is giving a similar amount. City funding comes from a Community Efforts fund.
The event was originally planned to require a paid ticket, although that has now been scrapped in favor of a RSVP system. Attendees must now only contact organizers in advance to reserve a wristband.
Barnes said that as the first event of its kind, they want to do what they can to help showcase the community efforts turning downtown into a place for arts and culture.
In June 2014, the City Council held what Zwernemann calls a “historic planning session.”
She said they decided then that a top goal would be the revitalization of downtown into a regional tourism destination, “for wine tastings and that sort of thing.
“We started with nothing,” Zwernemann said, to which Barnes added, “But we had to start somewhere.”
“And now, three years later, we’re there,” Zwernemann said.
Zwernemann said the goal has motivated many to come forward and offer their own help.
The renovations and displays in the Fowler House could continue on as a historical exhibit into the fall, when another sculpture celebration is planned.
The new “Heart of Liberty Event Center,” was renovated by Parker with the help of a facade grant from the EDC, and will continue to host attractions.
Zwernemann said the Garden Club had wanted to set up an annual volunteer effort improving the downtown.
“We want to keep on building this collaborative effort,” Zwernemann said. “We want to take care of Liberty Hill’s small town feel.”
“We want to have fun,” added Barnes.
For their own part, Zwernemann has been in contact with a rural arts organization that offers workshops for youth, and Barnes has expressed interest in potentially seeing another international arts symposium
For these future events, however, Barnes hinted that they could be “revisiting ticketing prices.”
Those looking for free admittance to the June 16th Downtown Art Exhibit should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 512-778-5449 (ext. 112).
Any remaining tickets will be available up to when the exhibit opens, Friday, June 16th, at 6 p.m. The show closes at 8 p.m.