Kathy Read savors 35th anniversary of Folk Art Festival, 28th at Rock Ledge

       In 1978, Old Colorado City artisan and business owner Kathy Read started an annual event to boost sales for herself and other creative folks she knew.

Kathy Read with Folk Art Festival mementoes: (from left) an event painting by former Disney illustrator Ed Brooking, before-and-after photos of the Rock Ledge House, the Orchard House after being repainted its original color, and a Jon Jahraus cartoon depicting a frazzled Kathy after the festival's nearly disastrous 1991 windstorm.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Little did she know that she'd still be running it in 2013. “I say this a lot, that 35 years is really hard to believe,” she marveled in a recent interview. “But I don't regret a day of it.”
       Also who could have predicted that the event - which she'd set up in neighborhoods and random venues for its first seven years - would end up where it is, at the city-owned Rock Ledge Ranch, for which Read's three-day Holly Berry House Folk Art Festival has become a major fundraiser for the historic site.
       This year's gathering of about 165 artisans will be Friday, Sept. 13, from noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 14, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
       Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for children ages 6 to 12. Tickets are good for all three days. Parking is in the lot off Gateway Road at 30th Street.
       Artisans' tents and booths will be set up on the hayfield just east of the ranch's Rock Ledge House.
       That house (along with the blacksmith shop, but not the Orchard House) will be open during the festival. People are also welcome to take “self-guided” tours around the ranch's 230 acres, Read said.
       Although she confesses to working on festival organization throughout the year (with the biggest push in early September), she prefers to put the event spotlight on the ranch instead of herself. “What I would really like to talk about is all the restoration that's been done,” said Read, who also owns the combined Holly Berry House and Needleworks shops in Old Colorado City. “I think it's so important to Colorado Springs. If the ranch wasn't there, wouldn't it be a loss to the city? It's a national treasure, and people from all over come there and love it.”
       After outgrowing smaller locations around town, Read came up with the idea 28 years ago of moving her festival to what was then called “White House Ranch” (a local name, based on the highly visible Orchard House being painted white for so many years). “The ranch was trying to launch itself at that point,” she recalled. “And I thought the two of them [it and her event] could kind of go together.” But because of her difficulties in finding a suitable site, she was also ready to give up on the festival altogether. “I thought, if they said no, I would just stop it, but they said yes.”
       Since then, the event has come back year after year, with after-cost proceeds from its three-day shows raising a total of well over $1 million for the ranch's restoration. She's seen the Orchard House's original color brought back, the outer rock walls re-exposed on the Rock Ledge House and a myriad of other historically correct improvements made on the venerable buildings at the 230-acre, 1880s-era working ranch.
       For several years, the festival expanded so much that the Rock Ledge parking lot was too smallfor the crowds, and shuttle buses were required to bring people in from outlying areas. In recent years, partly because of the ailing economy and partly to keep from “being overhelmed,” Read has scaled things back. Where there once had been more than 200 vendors, she now limits the Folk Art Fest to 165, and shuttle buses are no longer required for attendees.
       The result is an event that is now “the perfect size,” she said. “People have plenty of time to see everything.”
       Asked about the festival's success, she spreads the credit around, starting with her family. Her husband Rich is always on hand to help out and “give me courage,” and then there's her children, who “come from wherever they live and help out,” Read said.
       The people in the ticket booths are old friends of hers, with a few going back all 35 years. And popular area musician Jody Adams always shows up to play for free. She doesn't even have to ask him.
       Support like that “has a huge impact on why I keep doing the festival,” she said.
       Read also spoke of her strong relationships with many of the vendors, who keep coming back, year after year, as well as with ranch staff and volunteers.
       All those involved with the festival had a memorable bonding experience in 1991, when a major windstorm ripped through the ranch for about an hour before sunset. Some tents blew away or got knocked down. Other tents were held by ropes - hastily tied to a truck or gripped by groups of determined people. Listening for new gusts, Kathy said she'd shout “Here it comes!” then watch as “people would hang on while the wind lifted them off the ground.”
       Naturally, she hopes for better weather Sept. 13-15. And maybe Mother Nature will cooperate in honor of the 35th anniversary.

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