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Barnard Creates Unique Tapestry Design for 22nd Sunflower River Blues Festival

Eddie Cusic sitting down playing a guitar and singing over a microphone.

Artist Christen Craven Barnard begins autographing posters she designed for the 22nd Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. Festival co-chairman John Sherman (left) encourages the public to attend the unveiling of her art at 9 p.m. Friday, July 3, at Ground Zero Blues Club. Barnard's image is featured also on t-shirts that will be sold during the unveiling and later at the festival's hospitality booth August 7-9 in downtown Clarksdale

CLARKSDALE - High praise, fun and intrigue are forecast for the unveiling of Cristen Craven Barnard's unique tapestry design for the 22nd Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

The event that traditionally opens the Sunflower Festival season takes place at 9 p.m. Friday, July 3, at Ground Zero Blues Club.

"Cristen has created a dynamite design with terrific colors," comments festival co-chairman John Sherman.

Sherman's assessment draws unanimous agreement at Wednesday's Sunflower Association meeting.

However, it fails to mention Barnard's intricate artistry and the "hidden treasures" she's tucked away and layered in a tapestry of graphics that transform it into a game of exploration.

"I wanted to feature the word, 'Crossroads,' prominently in this design," says Barnard. "I also wanted to include "Mississippi.'"

How this mission is accomplished with the interplay of color opposites: yellow and purple: blues and orange - is testament to Barnard's signature talents acclaimed at historic festivals and landmarks across Mississippi and the Mid-South.

"The bluesman in this poster is not an old-timer; he's a 'now' performer," says Barnard.

Standing on the open face of a giant sunflower against a "Crossroads" maze filled with symbols written vertically and horizontally: "Clarksdale," "home," "Mississippi," "blues," "Cooke," "year," "48," "61" and the whisper of a cotton field in the background, the guitarist is wearing a hat centering the letter "O."

Barnard says the character is generic - not modeled on a known musician.

Two earlier designs she created for the Sunflower have been labeled "masterpieces" and reflect Barnard's status as a member of the Mississippi Arts Commission's prestigious MAC Artist Roster.

The designs include a portrait of Jelly Roll King drummer Sam Carr in 2006 and the 20th anniversary poster in 2007.

Asked to name her personal favorite, she quickly replies, "All are different; each fits the year."

Sam Carr playing drums is an energetic personal interpretation of his character, style and performance, she says, and 20th anniversary poster focusing on a veteran bluesman and scenes of Clarksdale is "commemorative" in scope.

Barnard has created designs for five King Biscuit Blues Festivals in Helena and numerous Highway 61 Blues Festivals in Leland.

Currently working on exterior panels for Leland's Highway 61 Blues Museum, she has produced murals in Helena, Leland, Batesville, Merigold, Charleston, and Tutwiler's famous murals documenting the birthplace of the blues with W. C. Handy hearing blues for the first time outside the train depot.

Among her portrait commissions are paintings of retiring University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, Dr. Wally Conerly, vice chancellor of the University Medical Center, and former state Rep. Charlie Capps for Delta State University.

Although she enjoys directing diverse art workshops and interactions with students, current steamy temperatures are keeping her indoors with portrait commissions.

The 22nd free Sunflower Festival takes place Aug. 7-9 in downtown Clarksdale with a special tribute to Sam Cooke. Musicians will be featured on four stages: two acoustic stages, a main stage, and a gospel stage.

There also will be a free educational forum "Remembering Sam Cooke," Saturday afternoon, Aug. 8. The dedication of a Mississippi Heritage Blues Trail marker honoring Cooke is also being planned during the festival.

The July 3 unveiling party at Ground Zero is open to the public. Barnard will be autographing posters. T-shirts, caps, and other festival merchandise will be on sale.

Festival schedules and lineups can be viewed on the Sunflower's website: www.sunflowerfest.org



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