Crowds wander through the Mandarin Art Festival. | Mandarin Art FestivalCrowds wander through the Mandarin Art Festival. | Mandarin Art Festival
Crowds wander through the Mandarin Art Festival. | Mandarin Art Festival

City’s oldest art festival returns this weekend in Mandarin

Published on March 27, 2024 at 12:47 pm

Stephen Koury’s life is populated with glaring bald eagles, soaring seabirds and all variety of wildlife — and it all comes to life in his paintings.

As he prepares to join 130-plus other artists, woodcarvers, embroiderers and craftspeople at this weekend’s Mandarin Art Festival, the Lakeland painter said being there is almost like visiting old friends whom he hangs around with year after year.

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Set up on the oak-shaded grounds of the 152-year-old Mandarin Community Club, Jacksonville’s oldest art festival has been a favorite of his for 20 years, he said.

“Mandarin kind of encompasses everything that me as a traditional artist really thinks is wonderful,” Koury said. “It is a small community; everybody is involved; they really care about you. It’s not a numbers game. It’s you as an artist and what you bring to the show, and the venue is absolutely gorgeous. … It is people-friendly and it’s a great venue, and I consistently sell there, which is also a really good bonus.”

Festival chairwoman Susie Scott said the show is a valuable part of the city’s history because art is important.

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“It reaches everybody on a different level,” she said. “It’s a good way for people to express themselves in their homes, and for the artist to express their talents. … The show is a tradition, and the elements of the show are all traditions, tied in also nicely with a lot of new art and new energy”

Art lovers line up at a recent Mandarin Art Festival. | Emran Bajalia, Mandarin Art Festival

The community club’s church-like structure was originally built in 1872 with funds raised by Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lived across Mandarin Road. Founded to help former slaves, it became the Mandarin School.

The building was gifted to the community club in 1936. And in 1968, club members created the art festival, which brings thousands of visitors annually to view local, regional and national artists whose works are judged. Younger artistic talent is judged in the Children’s Art Show, displayed inside the community club near the annual bake sale.

Show proceeds benefit the Community Club’s preservation, education and beautification programs in the Mandarin community.

“We have over 130 really qualified and talented artists,” Scott said. “There’s everything from painting and pottery to sculpture, glass etching to printmaking; a little bit of everything.”

A sample of artist Stephen Koury’s works, as displayed on note cards that he also sells. | Stephen Koury, Facebook

When he sets up his tent of artwork, Koury said, he can interact “with a ton of people” there.

“They get to see you and actually interact and talk with you, and if they buy art from you, they know who did the art — they are not buying something that’s anonymous,” he said. “Then you make friendships. Every year, it is like old home week for us.”

Thousands of people are expected at the event Saturday and Sunday. Scott warns visitors to take advantage of the satellite parking and steer clear of the tight two-lane roads adjacent to the historic clubhouse.

“Parking is always a challenge. We are deep within a residential area in Mandarin,” she said. “Don’t even attempt to park on Mandarin Road — park in the shuttle locations and ride the shuttles to the festival.”

Festival facts

  • Location: Mandarin Community Club at 12447 Mandarin Road.
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $2 per person.
  • Parking: Free off-site parking at Church of Our Savior at 12236 Mandarin Road and at the Mandarin Masonic Lodge at 2914 Loretto Road. A free shuttle runs to and from the show during festival hours.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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