Barnard’s Sunflower artwork, a signature

Sunflower River Blues Association co-chairmen Melville Tillis (left), John Sherman, and artist Cristen Barnard show off Barnard’s distinctive artwork commemorating the festival’s 20th anniversary year at an unveiling at the Delta Blues Museum Thursday, July 19. The unveiling also marked the opening of the museum’s special exhibit celebrating the association’s 20- year-history. The unveiling and reception were followed by an awesome party at Ground Zero Blues Club hosted by the Sunflower River Blues Association featuring live music by the Booter T. Blues Band. The association sold t-shirts and caps featuring the 20th anniversary design.

CLARKSDALE – Renowned artist Cristen Barnard’s artwork for the 2007 Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival poster is a signature classic guaranteed to become a collectors item, promise organizers of Mississippi’s largest blues celebration.

“Her portrait of Sam Carr pounding drums for the Sunflower House Party last year was outstanding,” agree festival co-chairman John Sherman and Melville Tillis.

“Although totally different, this 20th anniversary commemorative painting is equally distinctive,” Sherman continues.

The original design is under wraps until its unveiling and auction at a 5 – 7 p.m. reception Thursday, July 19, at the Delta Blues Museum.

The premiere event will be followed by a blues party at Ground Zero Blues Club featuring live music by the Booker T. Blues Band and hosted by the Sunflower River Blues Association.

Both are free, and the public is invited to attend and bid on the original artwork. However, donations will be accepted, and proceeds from the auction and the sale of posters and t-shirts featuring Barnard’s design benefit the free Sunflower Festival Aug. 10-11-12.

Describing her thoughts behind the painting, Barnard says she emphasized the 20th year to stand out, “because it is a special time.”

“I wanted to use a representative of the blues the way I think of it,” says Barnard who was four or five when she began listening to blues played at country stores and on her grandparents’ front porch near Cagle’s Crossing.

“The bluesman, who is painted in shades of blue and grey, is no one in particular, but he is a musician in his prime, probably in his 50s,” she says.

She says the background design featuring the Blues Alley stage and the Delta Blues Museum is important because these landmarks define the setting as “clearly Clarksdale.”

Highway 49 and 61 signs also figure in the artwork.

The colors, she says, are a little different: blues, greys, and gold with touches of red.

Highlighted on the back of the T-shirt are names of past Sunflower headliners and the years they performed.

Contributing to Barnard’s affinity for blues are the many years she and her family lived in Tutwiler, generally considered the birthplace of blues music following W.C. Handys encounter with the sound in 1903.

Hundreds of international music fans visit the site each year and photograph Barnard’s colorful murals depicting the towns history and Handy’s meeting with the unknown bluesman playing slide guitar outside the railroad depot.

Listed on the artist roster of the Mississippi Arts Commission, Barnard has designed numerous posters for Helenas former King Biscuit Blues Festival that have become collectors items on the Internet.

Her portrait work is in great demand especially of children, and her painting of longtime lawmaker Charlie Capps hangs at Delta State University. For the past several years she has taught art workshops in Mississippi schools.

Headlining the Sunflower’s 20th anniversary festival are top 2007 Blues Music Award Soul Entertainer of the Year winner Bobby Rush performing with his band and corps of dancers on Friday night; blues queen Denise LaSalle on Saturday night; and Billy Rivers and the Angelic Voices of Faith on Sunday evening.

Other well-known main state performers include Norwegian Grammy winner Rita Engeladen and Spoonful of Blues from Clarksdale’s sister city of Notodden, Norway; James “Super Chikan” Johnson; Lonnie Shields, David Brinson, Vicki Baker, Jimbo Mathus, and many more.

The festival features two acoustic stages on Saturday beginning in the morning at Clarksdale Station. Acoustic musicians booked to play include Eddie Cusic, Pat Thomas, Robert Belfour, the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band, and many others.

The complete lineup will be listed on the festival’s web site: