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Archive for Sunday, June 2, 2013

Big wooden bird, bigger ball of fire envisioned to commemorate anniversary of raid

Performance art seeks to capture attention of folks on the fringe

June 2, 2013

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Lawrence artist and Phoenix Festival planner Gregory Thomas works on a model of a wooden phoenix. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Lawrence artist and Phoenix Festival planner Gregory Thomas works on a model of a wooden phoenix. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Lawrence artist Gregory Thomas built this model of a wooden phoenix in preparation for an event called the Phoenix Festival. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Lawrence artist Gregory Thomas built this model of a wooden phoenix in preparation for an event called the Phoenix Festival. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Lawrence artist Gregory Thomas built this model of a wooden phoenix in preparation for an event called the Phoenix Festival. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Lawrence artist Gregory Thomas built this model of a wooden phoenix in preparation for an event called the Phoenix Festival. Thomas is trying to raise interest and money to construct a 20-foot version of the bird, which will be burned in a performance at the end of August to commemorate Quantrill's raid on Lawrence.

Some people are interested in history. Some are drawn to art.

To engage the rest, artist Gregory Thomas believes, publicly destroying a larger-than-life item in a giant ball of flames usually does the trick.

“People love a spectacle,” Thomas says.

Thomas sees his plans for an event he’s dubbed the Phoenix Festival as a way to engage that latter bunch in activities commemorating Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, which happened almost 150 years ago on Aug. 21, 1863.

He’s drumming up community support, seeking permits and raising money to build a 20-foot-tall wooden sculpture of a phoenix, the majestic, mythological bird symbolizing rebirth, that will be torched in a public production involving a massive fire and live performers.

The burn is tentatively planned for Labor Day weekend in the Warehouse Arts District, where Thomas has been working on a model of the sculpture in the Seed Co. Studios artist collective space, 826 Pennsylvania St.

Thomas wants to complete the full-size sculpture before July’s Final Friday event and have it on display for the month preceding its destruction. The idea, he says, is for viewers to take time to contemplate that — much like the city of Lawrence was — the beautiful, hard-to-build artwork is going to be destroyed without its spirit being extinguished.

“The project has a very limited life,” he says. “It’s about the experience.”

Expected performers at the event include historical speakers, live musicians and dancers from Lawrence’s Foxy by Proxy burlesque troupe, for which Thomas is technical director (and, occasionally, an on-stage performer who goes by the name Rexy Bodean).

Before landing in Lawrence about five years ago, Thomas lived in San Francisco, where he got involved with set design and participated in a performance art group that appeared at the Burning Man event (think tens of thousands of people, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, community, art, self-expression, self-reliance and lots and lots of things being lit on fire).

Between living in San Francisco and Lawrence, Thomas said, he returned to his hometown of Valley Forge, Penn., where a neighboring borough was doing something he was instantly smitten with: the Firebird Festival.

The annual event, centered on burning a huge wooden phoenix sculpture, takes place in Phoenixville, Penn., which Thomas described as a small, failed steel and iron town that has leveraged the arts to successfully reinvent itself. Phoenixville’s event, which now draws about 16,000 people, inspired Thomas’ idea for Lawrence.

He’s launched a campaign called “The Phoenix Project: From Ashes to Immortality” on Indiegogo.com to raise money for construction materials, payment for performance artists and a stipend for himself to help pay the bills, as he’s envisioning this art project as his full-time job for the summer.

As of last week, Thomas had received about $300 of his $8,000 goal. The Indiegogo campaign ends June 11. He says the show will go on regardless, though lack of funds would affect quality and how much he’ll have to spend out-of-pocket to pull it off.

Note to firebugs: Donate $500 to the Indiegogo campaign and you get to be one of the people that light it.

Comments

rexybodean 10 months ago

Merrill seems to know a good deal about the town of Phoenixville Pa. Spot on.

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Richard Heckler 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Candi Baker provided additional inspiration to the Phoenixville connection regarding the slowly building project aka art center in Phoenixville,Pennsylvania.

The Phoenixville microbrewery .... Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant .... serves up some selections that rival Free State in quality and fine taste. Earth shattering to say the least. Eating selections not there yet.

Good brew and plenty of art often dance together with a smile.

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Richard Heckler 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes the arts have in fact restored Phoenixville. A town that enjoys a healthy First Friday.

Also invigorated a rehab of old neighborhood housing and buildings. The beautiful old steel mill has become a beautiful museum and visitors center in the heart of downtown.

And a growing Art Center as a result of an active Phoenixville mover and shaker visiting the Kansas Nutcracker in which his grandaughter has been active for years.

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