Cooper’s hosts annual EcoArtFest

University of Missouri senior and artist Hayley Olson showcases a piece of her pottery. Olson described her art as inspired largely by nature and painter Vincent Van Gogh. This particular pot was influenced primarily by Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night.” Olson studies Civil Engineering at MU and has her artwork displayed in various galleries around Columbia.

Drive less than 20 miles* south of Columbia and the paved road turns to gravel. Keep winding through the curves and you will come upon Cooper’s Landing, an oasis on the Missouri River bank.

Cooper’s boasts many events throughout the year, live music on the weekends, a full-service marina and yearlong private campgrounds. The riverfront property

now owned by Mike Cooper was once a largely undiscovered spot, populated mostly by hippies in the 1960s and 70s.  Now in its later years, Cooper maintains the quaint hospitality that has kept people flocking to its banks each weekend – a “swear jar” sits atop the counter in the General Store, 50 cents a word.

This past weekend, Cooper’s hosted the sixth annual EcoArtFest on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The festival is an event that serves as the main fundraiser for the Missouri River Cultural Conservancy, or MoRivCC as it is more affectionately known on the river.

“EcoArtFest has two major functions or aims: to highlight other artists besides performers, as well as the sustainable, local businesses that contribute to Mid-Missouri’s culture and economic future. As our major annual fundraiser, we have the opportunity to infuse our budget with enough funds to obtain equipment and necessary accessories, such as our editing studio, camera, camera bag and tripod for our current camera, as well as an additional camera and accessories in the future,” said Missouri River Cultural Conservancy Board of Directors member Liz Mitchell.

MoRivCC is an environmentally focused group diligently working to preserve the unique culture and history of the Missouri River. The organization has been in existence since 2004 with the intent of preserving the rich culture found along the river through audio and video recordings of music, poetry and dance. The group has expanded recently to acquire new video equipment that will be used to chronicle the culture of the river at various events throughout the year.

Now in its zenith, EcoArtFest has grown to boast between 20 and 30 booths each year, featuring art of various forms, all made locally, as well as live music and food provided by Boone County Bar-B-Q. This year two-dozen artists registered for booths, though a few were dissuaded from attending by sporadic rain throughout the day.

Musician Keith Fletcher performs blues guitar while singing on stage at Saturday’s EcoArtFest. Fletcher was one among eight bands to perform on Saturday afternoon. Festival attendees listened to live music while eating bar-b-q provided by Boone County.

But for festival attendees who stuck out the showers, there were booths of porcelain pottery, sundry jewelry makers, photography exhibits, a kids’ crafts table and appearances by a few local “green” businesses including a woman named Lisa Murphy who makes lye soap from goats’ milk, among others.

A common theme prominent at the festival is also the source of the event’s name. Each of the artists manning booths took pride in the eco-friendly, sustainable processes through which their art was made.

One festival regular, Michael Harper uses copper that was given to him by his friend after she tore down her home to remodel.  Harper described the large bags of copper wiring that he uses to make his necklaces, broaches and bracelets.

“I view my art as an expression of self. All of the materials that I use are recycled, which motivates me to make something beautiful out of something that would otherwise be discarded. I make art for art’s sake,” Harper said.

Included in his booth’s display was a collection of cuff bracelets made from copper pipes, as well as various pieces of jewelry made from wiring. This was Harper’s fourth year to attend the festival as an artist. His jewelry ranges in price from $5 to $30.

Another artist, Gale Johnson, creates art from driftwood and broken glass collected in the Missouri River, as well as copper leftover from electrical jobs. Johnson is a regular volunteer with the Missouri River Relief, and believes in keeping the river clean of harmful materials that could injure kids playing in the water. She also acquires some of her glass from restaurants in Columbia that throw it out rather than recycle.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Johnson traveled to New Orleans to help with the cleanup effort. Upon her return to Columbia, she created an art collection made from broken glass and pottery accumulated on the Gulf coast beaches called “Katrinkets.”

“[These] pieces represent life, a new context different yet quietly beautiful,” Johnson said.

Johnson has lived and worked in the Columbia area for the past 30 years, and sells her art at various festivals in the area.

Next year’s EcoArtFest is scheduled for Sept. 15 and 16. In the meantime, people interested in contributing to the MoRivCC can make donations and find additional information on the organization’s website, http://www.morivcc.org.

Editor’s note: The original post reported a 20-mile drive, but the distance to Cooper’s Landing from Columbia is closer to 13.

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