Bloomin Art Festival Comes into Bloom in Downtown Bartow for 50th Year
by James Coulter
As an artist, Stephen Koury ventures out into nature in search of subjects for his paintings. From tall majestic herons to sweeping cypresses, he goes to where the wild things are, studies them, photographs them, sketches them, then returns to his studio to paint their stories on his canvas.
“When I am in the wild, I am looking for stories,” Koury said. “The stories are what unfold in the paintings. What these things are thinking about, what they are doing at the time, and that is what you are seeing here, stories going on in nature.”
Koury has been showcasing his painted landscapes and portraits at the annual Bartow Bloomin Art Fest. He admits he doesn’t “want to know” how long he has been coming there, but he has been attending for at least 20 years.
While he has won many awards at the annual art festival, this year marks the first he won Overall Best of Show. Having attended for as long as he has, receiving the highest honor was truly honorable for him.
“There aren’t any words about how I feel. Words can’t describe it,” he said. “I have been to Bloomin Arts for so long. It is one of my favorite shows in the world. I won awards here, but I have never won Best of Show. So, to win Best of Show…it meant a lot.”
While he was pleased to win such a prestigious award, winning awards is not what inspires him to attend the event year after year. Inevitably, it is the camaraderie among fellow artists and attendees that he appreciates most.
“I love people in the show,” he said. “It is so nice to talk to people, and that is the best part, getting to meet people and talk with them. It is the people who keep me coming back here.”
John Cheer traveled from Allentown, PA, to attend the annual art event. He showcased his unique artwork that elegantly combines ceramic and porcelain with a glass glaze. The process fuses glass and plate to create a sheen unlike any other.
“It takes years and years of practice and modifying to sharpen and get to a level you can get something remotely like this,” he said. “Not a single artist can come close to copying what I do.”
His unique approach to pottery and ceramics earned him an Award of Achievement. He spent the past 25 years working on perfecting his art style. Being able to have his hard work and practice recognized was indeed an honor that weekend.
This was the very first year he attended Bloomin Art Festival. He heard good things from a close artist friend, and he decided to check it out for himself. What he discovered more than met his expectations.
“It is a beautiful place, a beautiful town, and I decided to come and show the Bartow citizen all that is possible,” he said.
Kelly Rysavy is an artist with friends and family who live in the local area. They inspired her to come to Bartow and showcase her oil and acrylic painting of wildlife and landscapes, which inevitably won her Third Place.
This was her first year participating in the event. She loved being able to show her art, and she especially loved receiving an award for her work. Overall, her initial experience was a good one, especially during these uncertain times.
“The fact that I was chosen to be in the art festival was exciting because they are starting to open them out, and it is exciting to be in the area, to be outside in the fresh air, even the rain wasn’t bad,” she said. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and people are happy here. They are getting out of their caves.”
The Bartow Bloomin Art Festival celebrated its 50th year. This year’s event proved to be incredibly influential after the annual art festival was canceled last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
More than 84 artists from across the country congregated downtown to showcase their art. Special precautions were taken to ensure public health and safety. Vendors were doubly spaced out with masks and hand sanitizer stations provided.
Overall, even despite these uncertain times, the Bloomin Art Festival came into full bloom with a good turnout and with high expectations for next year, explained Michelle Griffins, Event Co-Chair.
“We were happy to do it still and allow an opportunity for Bartow to shine and experience all the art,” she said. “That is our prayer, for COVID to be a distant memory at that point and being able to go back to the size we have been historically with more than 120 artists and a lot of additional activities.”