Wild Arts Festival flies into its 35th year with artists, writers, auctioneers and birds

The Audubon Society of Portland held its 35th Wild Arts Festival at Montgomery Park on Nov. 21 and 22. The annual festival features a variety of artists, authors, a silent auction and the opportunity to meet the live Audubon Education Birds, including popular Ruby the turkey vulture.

Bob Gandolfi, the event producer, explained that nine years ago the festival nearly came to an end. But after rebranding it and bringing it back to Montgomery Park the weekend before Thanksgiving, it has experienced a substantial revival. This year they expect between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors.

“Over the last few nine years, we’ve really enhanced it,” Gandolfi said.

Last year they netted over $110,000, which will fund the Audubon’s efforts toward bird conservation in Oregon and a Wildlife Care Center. The Audubon Society is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States, founded in 1902.

“It has a rich history,” said Ann Takamoto, the development director.

There are over 60 artists present, and it’s a juried show. The guidelines for the art includes work made with natural materials or built around themes of nature, or art that enhances the concept of sustainability. According to Gandolfi, artists love this show because, while they usually don’t get much assistance at other shows, the volunteers here (almost 250 over the weekend) help load the artists in.

“It’s really building a community,” Gandolfi said. “My client is not just Audubon. It’s everybody. And all the committee feels that way too. It’s a very friendly show.”

Among the painters, sculptors, jewelers, photographers, woodworkers and glassblowers, Barbara Kennedy is a painter from Crooked River Ranch, Oregon.

“This festival is always wonderful,” Kennedy said. “The art is all excellent quality and it brings people that really appreciate it. I absolutely love coming to this festival.”

The education birds were another popular attraction. Crowds gathered around them and their handlers, who answered questions. These birds have been rescued and rehabilitated, but could not survive if released back into the wild due to the severity of their injuries. Therefore, they’ve become part of the Audubon Society’s extensive education program, visiting classrooms and participating in events.

Each day also had an impressive lineup of authors and book fair activities. Perhaps the best-known writer is science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, who has attended 33 out of the 35 Wild Arts Festivals.

“I really like the Portland Audubon Society,” Le Guin said. “And I get to see Ruby, the vulture!”