Fall in Kentucky brings many exciting things: the crisp fall air, football season, a kaleidoscope of color when the leaves change and one of the largest art fairs in the United States. During my visit to Louisville, Kentucky, I spent an afternoon exploring St. James Art Fair.
Origins of the Art Show
Old Louisville is becoming a regular feature on best places lists for the past several years. The neighborhood also boasts the nation’s largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions. The development of Old Louisville began in the 1830s as country houses for Louisville’s elite. By 1868, this area was formally incorporated into Louisville’s city limits. At the conclusion of the Southern Exposition in 1883, the area was parceled out into land plots. This area became what is now the St. James, Belgravia and Magnolia Courts that host the St. James Art Fair.
The Art Show began in 1957 and continues to be organized by the St. James Court Neighborhood Association, the 2nd oldest neighborhood association in the United States. When the art fair began, the neighborhood had mounting debts trying to maintain the architecture and fountains. The first art show had neighborhood artists hanging their art on lines between trees in the neighborhood. This year’s art show marked the 60th anniversary. There are over 270 booths showcasing hand crafted art and over 300,000 visitors during the weekend.
Exploring St. James
Getting down to the art show is not very difficult. Although with my mom and I in the car, it’s always a bit of an adventure. As you get closer, there are signs and the traffic picks up. Then you see the people. Within a few blocks of the fair, neighbors sell parking spots in their yards for $10. If you’re not willing to pay, and we were hoping not too, continue on closer to the fair. The vast majority of the streets surrounding the blocks of the art fair have free street parking. With a little luck, you will be able to find some open spaces. Pro tip: Either get there in the morning or later afternoon. Mid-day is when the rest of the world comes to the fair.
For a highly successful afternoon at the art show, many people go to the art fair website to map out their plan of attack. The website lists the artists at the fair and their booth locations. I mostly meander my way around for a few hours, exploring St. James area. Once parked, we made our way in to the main courts: St. James and Belgravia. This is where the orignial art shows were located, have the prettiest houses, most established artists and the food.
We quickly found a delicious looking Bloody Mary stand. Unfortunately, they only took cash. I offered to pay in Guatemala money, but it didn’t go over well. So, we looked longing at them and moved along. The magnitude of the homes lining the streets were amazing. I was so caught up in the ornate detailing around the doors, I forgot a bit about the artists.
But, the artists were phenomenal. There were glass blowers, sculptures, painters, wood workers, soap makers, among hundreds of others. As we wondered along, a massive t-rex caught my eye. I raced over to check it out and found a booth filled with all sorts of creations reworked from scrap metal. There was the massive t-rex and other, smaller pieces. I liked an ostrich’s beady eye, while my mom loved a dog in a boat.
Art ranges from world class to wacky. There were beautiful sculptures and paintings. Hand carved wood work with their rich, dark finishes dotted the booths. The art fair prides itself on inviting a wide variety of artists to fill all medium interests and budget types. In addition to the art, there were several local vendors selling things like soap and body scrubs to towels and trinkets with Louisville symbology. My mom and I have a slight fascinating with sassy tea towels and spent a while digging through all of their sayings. Another stand takes photos of your pets and puts them in wacky positions and outfits.
In addition to the artists, there are several food and drink stands. Vendors sell beer and mixed drinks, which is a nice touch when wandering around on a lazy afternoon. There are several ‘fair’ food stands. We came across a chow mien stand as well. There are ice cream vendors and artisan popsicles. Other booths offer pastries and other sweets. One of those, Scarlet’s Bakery, provides excellent desserts. But, also has a touching backstory. The bakery is an extension of Scarlet’s Hope, a nonprofit established to help women leaving the adult entertainment industry. The bakery provides jobs and skill training to women to help them get started in another career field.
Exploring the St. James Art Fair is a great way to spend a crisp, fall afternoon in Louisville. The art fair comes every year during the first full weekend in October. The art is world class and the homes and grounds are beautiful. You also never know what type of stories or vendors you will come across. Old Louisville, and Louisville as a whole, is a city in transition with more businesses taking on social responsibility initiatives and growing the impact and progress in their community.