Octagon’s 43rd Annual Art Festival explores art styles


photo: Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily

The Colt Walkers perform at the Octagon Art Festival on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Patty Clark

For the 43rd year, the Octagon Center for the Arts will bring in a cavalcade of styles, from woodworking to photography to Photoshop painting, to its Annual Octagon Art Festival.

Robert S. Wallace, president of the Board of Trustees for the Octagon Center and an associate professor at Iowa State, will demonstrate at the festival the art of woodturning, “specialized type of wood working,” he said. 

Wallace has attended the festival for about seven to eight years demonstrating woodturning, “where the piece of wood is mounted on a piece of machinery called a ‘lathe’. It is spinning wood on a lathe. You can make different shapes and some hollow vessels,” he said.

He is one of nine members of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Woodturnings. His first encounter with woodturning was in seventh and eighth grade wood shop, “but years ago, I started turning again after my daughter was born,” he said. “I could go home and work in the shop and not wake her up. Woodturning is relatively quiet.”

Wallace said he enjoys being involved with the Octagon as well as the festival. 

“I was very active with the rest of the board in directing the financial and fiscal operation of the Octagon,” he said. “But, at the same time I enjoy going out on Main Street and demonstrating wood turning and making a little bit of a mess and nobody yells. 

“My activity with the Octagon has been very positive both on the demonstration side of the art festival to actually running the organization and making sure that it’s in good shape,” Wallace said. 

He has encouraged students that, “No matter what your major is everybody should have an appreciation for the arts. What you’re seeing is current artists creating current art.”

Also at the festival, Naomi Friend, a recent ISU graduate in integrated studio arts, will show an alternative photo process from the 1840s called cyanotype, which requires less dark room equipment. 

Friend described the process as having the, “unpredictability of old and the control of the new.” She said the process involves using a “digital negative and then [a] printing process … and then I use Photoshop, which gives me control.”  

Once the print is done, Friend draws or paints, typically with watercolor, on the print to create a full picture. 

“It’s history combined with imagining what was there or could be,” Friend said. “I do Midwest art, farming [and] old buildings.”

Friend has been at the festival as an attendee in previous years, but now said she’s ready to have her own work on display.

“I just participated at the Okoboji Art Festival, so it gave me sort of a resume portfolio to use for my application process to participate in the Octagon Art Festival,” she said. “Students who consider themselves professionals should come out. It is a good way to make a little money and learn how to price your work. You have to consider what the audience wants but also don’t sell out.

“It would be great if more Iowa State University art students had a presence at the festival; they could organize a booth and start showing their work.”

The Octagon Art Festival is this Sunday on Main Street in Ames, is a free event with different types of art pieces for sale, from jewelry to paintings to clothes. 

The festival is for all ages and will also have live bands and live performances throughout the day.

The festival is also an opportunity for people to buy gifts or is just “a good thing to do with a special someone and an easy way to have fun and get the benefit of appreciating some new art,” Wallace said.

The Octagon Center, a nonprofit organization, has been operating since 1966.  

The festival used to be called Art in the Park until the mid-1990s, when it was at Brookside Park. 

The Octagon Art Festival yearly welcomes about 14,000 people. More than 100 different artists from across the Midwest and even Florida will have displays this year. 

It also has about 200 volunteers from different groups and organizations on and off the ISU campus.