Salute to: The Fuquay-Varina Arts Festival History

by Shirley Simmons

His honor, Mayor Blake Massengill and family joined Martha Smallwood in opening the Fuquay-Varina Arts Festival 2023. This Proclamation of Fine Arts Week began with Mayor John Byrne and is a good example of the club and town cooperation.

The Friends of the Museums are honored to salute one of our members, a non profit called the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club and to acknowledge that the GFWC Junior Woman’s Club is likewise a loyal member. The recent Fuquay Varina Arts Festival sparked an inquiry to us regarding the history of the Arts Festivals in Fuquay-Varina. Our research has led us to share this amazing record.

The Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club was chartered as the Varina Woman’s Club in 1926 and Federated with the GFWC NC in 1927. As such, it is the oldest civic organization within our town’s area. The GFWC Junior club is younger and the second such organization within our town. The former club’s motto is “Service;” the latter gives a lot of service to our town.

This craft winner came from a Harnett Central High School student who was a yearly participant throughout her high school days.

The Woman’s Club began their association with the Arts early in their existence. Historically, the national GFWC Arts Department began first awarding prizes to clubwomen in 1910. Officially in 1944-45, Art became one of the department’s of the GFWC. Clubwomen were first the persons whose work was entered for judging across the state. By 1960-61, we know that Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club (it had adopted that name in the 1954) had its first student Sallie Southall Cotton Scholarship Winner in the District, Joanne Payne (Norris).

GFWC-NC held Arts Festivals in all the districts in 1964. In the first recorded winners we have located, the Fuquay-Varina Club boasted of three blue ribbon art winners sponsored in 1978- 1979 under President Agnes Egsegian. Mrs. Agnes won silver for her visual arts entry that year. This would mean that Fuquay’s association with the Arts Festival is at least 45 years old, possibly older.

Helen Smith and daughter, Cherry, were responsible for the display boards and a great advance in the festival presentation. Since then there has been a storage partnership with first Joe Ashworth and now Jim’s Storage for which the club is grateful.

Arts Festivals were organized by the Districts (now there are nine districts in N. C.) and hosted in our District VIII by individual clubs when Fuquay-Varina took their turn in 1982-83. President Joanna Proctor declared that the one hosted here was one of the largest held in the districts with over 145 persons in attendance. GFWC-NC budgeted money for student prizes that year.

Attendees would have been club women and certainly candidates for scholarships. By 1986-87, Fuquay’s candidate for Sallie Southall Cotton, Gary Adkins, was our second District winner. We did not find records of arts and literature winners but can assume there to have been continuing participation.

At that point our annual local Festival was held in our clubhouse on Ennis Street. Again, these were local festivals without public attendance but exhibiting work from students in arts and craft categories and in literature. In 1998-2000 our local club extended invitations to join our Arts Festival at Harnett Central Middle and High Schools. During those two years, the students and club won 13 blue ribbons at the state level. Mary Lou Kendall served as Arts Chairman under the Presidency of Shirley Simmons. The festival was outgrowing the clubhouse space.

When GFWC encouraged joint efforts with the Junior Clubwomen, President Dot Mays led the expansion to a joint festival by both clubs. In 2001-2002 the Arts Festival moved to the Community Building. Such a successful effort earned chairmen, Pollyanna Sheets and Helen Smith the departmental award. This was the beginning of public festivals and many students and parents came to view the displays.

Graphics category on display with judging ribbons. First places for Jr. WC and FV WC advance to District in 2023. Schools are invited to enter a number of categories and crafts and visual arts.

The 2003 Festival was first hosted by Windsor Point in their auditorium. In 2004-2006, President Debbie Semple led an expansion of the Arts Festival to include community artists along with clubwomen and a total of 13 schools. Truly, this had become a COMMUNITY service event.

During the next administration of President Vicki Currin, Chairman Helen Smith proposed a new vision. Windsor Point welcomed the Arts Festival to their auditorium and Helen and her daughter, Cherry, procured wonderful display boards. Helen had come from a background of Art in Birmingham museums and led the clubs into elegance of display during 2006-2008.

By 2009, the Fuquay-Varina Arts Festival had grown to 350 entries under President Pam Booker. Chairman Ann Hull and Beverly Anderson won the departmental award for a great show featuring clubwomen and students. The 2010 festival featured over 400 entries.

Pollyanna Sheets became President and added her expertise in Art to that of Chairmen Vickie Cardin and Stephanie Wallace. The 2010-12 festivals continued to expand and the art department kept being winner among our departments. During these years several student winners in sewing and music advanced to state competition levels.

This student advanced to the State Festival to perform in music. Over the years student music, sewing, arts and crafts and literature winners have been proud participants. Music was dropped from the State Festival in 2023 because the dates conflicted with other student music competitions. (Ducoste: 2016)

Presidents Marilyn Gardner and Emily Cox found their administrations of 2012-2018, still exulting in the arts. Beth Barlow, Chairman, won department honors in 2013. Student winners in all levels of Literature, Visual Arts, and Music advanced in record numbers. Southern Wake Academy students were added. Clubwomen won awards in quilting, crocheting and other crafts. Then in 2014, the Festival reached a peak of 651 entries.

The public invitation to the Fuquay-Varina Arts Festival hosted by Windsor Point exemplifies the Woman’s Club: Service to the Community.

In President Patty Bryne’s administration, Martha Smallwood took the Co- Chairman’s reins. During the 1917 Festival there were a grand total of 619 entries When the 2018 festival found everyone braving snow and ice, the festival was reduced to a one-day event. Even with all the confusion, there were still 462 entries.

President Julia Yeargin’s second festival in 2020 fell victim to the covid pandemic. No festival was held in the state that year. In 2021 the State managed a virtual festival. This found Co-Chaiman Smallwood, viewing the entries by committee only with judging in the clubhouse. This continued when covid prevented a return to a public festival in 2022 at the very last minute. Smallwood and CSP still collected entries. The winners were declared at District and State for President Nancy Randolph’s administration in its final year.

Hurrah! In 2023, Windsor Point again welcomed the Fuquay-Varina Arts Festival. President Jeanette Moore Burlock and faithful chairman, Martha Smallwood, managed to showcase a total of 410 entries from students and clubwomen. Martha has, over time, worked the Festival into an art itself with her computer skills, preparing forms and reports.

Each student has received a Certificate of Participation for the past 20 years, almost universally done in calligraphy by Debbie Semple. Jeanette Moore-Burlock has printed and supplied certificates, flyers and programs gratis of Fairway Printing. A “Best in Show” award also has dated from the beginning Windsor Point Festivals. Finally, Mayor John Byrne began a Proclamation of “Fine Arts Week” in Fuquay-Varina for every Festival which the new Mayor Blake Massengill continued in 2023.

Visual Arts are a major part of the show every year. This is a close up of one winner in 2023 which is advancing to District.

A SALUTE to the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club, The GFWC Junior Woman’s Club of Fuquay-Varina, and to Windsor Point for the wonderful Art Festivals which recognize our student Visual Arts, Crafts, and Literature. An even louder SHOUT OUT to the staff of all the area schools who work to collect and submit the student entries which have enlarged what began as a clubwomen festival into this showcase for our young artists.

Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club: this long history of support for the ARTS is just one example of your motto: SERVICE. The Friends of the Museums are honored to recognize your leadership contribution to and recognition of our students, clubwomen, and community!