Little Chicago highlights local artists, vendors

David Floyd • Updated Aug 10, 2019 at 7:40 PM

Situated at a booth in downtown’s Majestic Park, artist Jason Flack carefully filled the background of a canvas with bright yellow, painting around a large teal hand with pink fingernails flashing a peace sign.

“There’s a lot of violence in the world, and I’m trying to take people’s minds off that and especially on art, local art,” he said as he worked on the painting, occasionally dipping his brush into the colors on his palette to apply another coat of paint.

Flack was one of many craft vendors set up at the Little Chicago Music & Arts Festival in downtown Johnson City on Saturday, braving hot weather in the late morning and early afternoon to share their work with visitors from across the region. The arts and crafts section of the festival, which ran along East Main Street, was bordered at both ends by stages set up for the festival’s musical acts.

“The goal has always been to bring people downtown,” said Dick Nelson, one of the organizers of the festival and the owner of Dos Gatos Coffee Bar and Nelson Fine Art in downtown.

In total, Nelson said there were about 75 booths set up for downtown businesses, arts and craft vendors, sponsors and non-profits. All of the bands who participated in the festival are local, he said.

The two-day event, which started on Friday, packed an assortment of activities, food and shopping opportunities across a handful of city blocks between Buffalo Street and Colonial Way. In the family fun zone, kids had their faces painted and fed animals at the petting zoo.

Bristol resident Shelly Vanwyhe and her son Dante spent some time Saturday browsing soap at one of the craft tents. This was their first time attending the festival, which started in 2016.

“We go to a lot of the festivals and activities down here, and it’s so nice to see how much this town has just really picked up,” Shelly said. “It’s really become a place to be.”

Angelica Markland, the owner of Artistic Icing, sells jewelry made from reclaimed glass, which she produces by crushing and melting items like vintage Mason jars and local Dr. Enuf bottles and reforging them into earrings and pendants. She also sells leather cuffs and kiln-fired enamel.

Markland has participated in the Little Chicago Festival since the beginning, and used to set up a booth in the Blue Plum Festival when it was located in the same spot. Markland said she tried participating in the Blue Plum Festival once when it relocated closer to Founder’s Park, but prefers being among the buildings in the heart of downtown.

“I feel like it’s just more contained here, and then there’s the restaurants plus the food trucks,” she said. “I like it better on the streets.”

Markland currently sells her products in a few shops in Johnson City — Boomtown & Co. downtown and Mercantile 423 in The Mall at Johnson City  — but Little Chicago gives her an opportunity to display her work in one place.

“I’ve got just small setups in those shops,” she said. “So this way I can bring everything out and showcase it all instead of just a few things.”

By setting up a booth at festivals like Little Chicago, Flack hopes he can encourage the city to continue facilitating events like this in the downtown and encourage other artists to participate. He’s one of two 2D artists listed in the festival’s brochure, which is a number that he would like to see grow.

“I like being one of two, but I’d like to see maybe one of eight, maybe one of 10, because if the city sees 10 or more artists, and they don’t have to do what I do ... show up to these festivals, not scared of the weather and wanting to be safe, then they’ll keep these festivals alive and more people will come,” he said.

Nelson estimated most of the artists and craft vendors that participated in the festival live within a 50-mile radius to Johnson City or closer.

“We want to create a scenario where people want to come downtown,” Nelson said, “and art and craft vendors are always a good way.”

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