Artist Cristen Barnard creates a ‘masterpiece’ for the Sunflower

By Panny Flautt Mayfield, Festival Publicist

CLARKSDALE – Although the roster of her signature blues designs is a who’s who of historic festivals and landmarks in Mississippi and Arkansas, artist Cristen Craven Barnard is adding a new masterpiece this summer for the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Commissioned by the Sunflower Blues Association to create a portrait paying tribute to quintessential drummer Sam Carr, Barnard has captured the Jelly Roll King founder’s style and spirit behind a drum set, says John Sherman, association co-chairman.

“Sam’s smiling, wearing his trademark short-brim with a feather in the hatband, and practically jumps off the painting,” says an excited Sherman. “You can almost hear the drum beat.”

A multiple Handy Award-nominee, the quiet, soft-spoken musician has played to global audiences and received invitations to sit in with rockers Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin on their Mid-South tours.

His portrait accented with yellow graphics and Highway 49 and 61 signs will be reproduced on T-shirts, posters, and other memorabilia for the 19th annual festival Aug. 11-13 in downtown Clarksdale.

In fact, the festival is labeled “Sam Carr’s House Party.”

On the design’s reverse side is a list of musicians performing on the festival’s four stages.

“I used shades of blues and green as a backdrop for Sam,” says Barnard. “It’s time for him to stand out and have lots of attention.”

Barnard says she grew up as a child listening to blues played at country grocery stores, and she married Robert Barnard, who is a talented musician.

“I didn’t get the talent, but I got the love for music,” she said.

Her artistic talent, however, is renowned. Barnard created designs for five King Biscuit Blues Festivals in Helena and four Crossroads Blues Festivals in Leland.

Selected for the Mississippi Arts Commission’s artist roster, she has created blues murals in Helena, Leland, Batesville, and Tutwiler’s famous murals visited by thousands on pilgrimage to the birthplace of blues.

In July she will conduct art workshops in the Hattiesburg Public School classrooms.

Among her portrait commissions are paintings of University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, Dr. Wally Conerly, Vice Chancellor of the University Medical Center, and former state Rep. Charlie Capps for Delta State University.

Sherman says association members, all volunteers, are concentrating now on fund-raising to pay performers and production costs and to keep the festival free.

“Last year, more than 25,000 attended the Sunflower,” he said. “With Latimore and the North Mississippi AllStars headlining our Friday and Saturday night stages, we are expecting our largest crowds ever.”

The event has been hailed as one of the world’s best blues festivals because of the authenticity of its music. It also creates an economic boost for hotels, restaurants, merchants. Sherman says Clarksdale hotels have been booked for months.

Artist Cristen Craven Barnard and Sunflower River Blues Festival co-chairman John Sherman display Barnard’s portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr that will be reproduced in posters, T-shirts, and merchandise for Clarksdale’s 19th annual festival Aug. 11-13.