Success is all in a (nick)name at Folk Fest

It sounds like a kitchen meltdown at a Cracker Barrel in some Appalachian hollow. Instead, they are but a few of the nicknames of artists showing this weekend at Folk Fest, the annual extravaganza of self-taught art at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross.

Some folk art aficionados sniff at the profusion of folk artist handles and try to come up with joke nicknames of their own, such as Sweet Tater (wait, that one's taken!), Doodle Bug, Butter Bean, Sweet Pea or Sweet Tea (sweetness being popular in these parts).

But John Paul Daniel, who for nearly two decades under the handle of Bebo has specialized in brightly colored wooden cutouts of animals and bluesmen and signs with 12-step-style affirmative messages, called the trend a "natural occurrence."

"A whole generation of folk artists have died and we've got a new generation," the Kingston Springs, Tenn., artist explained this week as he packed up paintings for Folk Fest. "I just love some of the new guys coming in making stuff. I think everybody's just following their path, man."

Before he became a folk artist, Daniel/Bebo was a songwriter-musician knocking around Nashville, where he became accustomed to artists taking on names other than the ones their parents gave them.

"The public doesn't know but a lot of people have these fancy names they make up and then the checks come to Robert Zimmerman," he said of Bob Dylan.

As for himself, Daniel explained that Bebo came to him in a dream in the early '90s and he put it to work to distinguish his budding art career from his music one. He's thought about switching to his real name to honor his mother after she died recently. He also one time, just for fun, signed some "crazy" paintings Chicken Dumpling. But a generation of customers knows him as Bebo, something he doesn't take lightly.

"I was talking to a buddy and he said, 'Man, you've got a brand!'" he said. Thus Bebo keeps on truckin'.

Here's the back story on some other nicknames at Folk Fest:

Blacktop: More than 20 years ago, coworkers dubbed Ken Gentle this name when he managed eight Hewlett-Packard locations in three states, burning up and down the road. After all those miles, he took early retirement and returned to painting a dozen years ago, his materials including tar and tar paper.

"It just seemed natural to sign my work as Blacktop," said the Rome artist who specializes in depictions of birds and rural landscapes. He is introducing works in a new dab-painting style at his Folk Fest booth.

Buttermilkloaf: At middle school in Gainesville, where meatloaf was a hot cafeteria item, a friend started funning with Michael Arteaga, calling him Buttermilkloaf.

"It doesn't really make any sense," Arteaga, now 30, acknowledged. "Nonetheless, children kept calling me that." Friends continued to into his 20s.

Arteaga had long painted outdoors — on walls and buildings and trees — when he moved to Germany in 2008 and joined the street art movement there, creating his paintings of animals on boards that he left here and there for the taking. Other street artists encouraged him to come up with a signature. Unable to think of anything else, Buttermilkloaf was reborn.

Now hooked up with his first gallery, Dawsonville's Around Back at Rocky's Place, he'll be making his debut appearance at Folk Fest. But Buttermilkloaf doesn't consider himself a folk artist.

"I don't know about putting myself into a genre," he said. "That's for after I'm dead."

Bailey Jack: Her moniker immediately recalls Billy Jack, but the upbeat Cartersville artist known for peaceable landscapes and still lifes would seem the least likely person at the North Atlanta Trade Center this weekend to thwack a bad guy like the ultra-violent action film hero.

When she was setting up an art business account in 2003, a bank clerk asked C. Bailey Jackson, who formerly worked in retail sales, if her first name was spelled "See."

"'No,' I replied. He then said, 'Oh, "Sea" — is that correct?' I knew I needed a new signature."

She went for Bailey Jack because she grew up admiring many male artists and also believed a male-sounding name would benefit her when her pieces were juried for festivals and shows.

"I still had no confidence in my work," she recounted.

Over a decade of full-time art-making, that has completely changed for Bailey Jack, who will share a Folk Fest booth with her buddy Blacktop. And if you don't believe it, she might just go all Billy Jack on you.

Event preview

Folk Fest

5-10 p.m. Friday: Meet the Artists Party and show opening ($15, includes readmission all weekend). 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. ($7; free for ages 16 and under). North Atlanta Trade Center, 1700 Jeurgens Court, Norcross (Exit 101 off I-85). 770-532-1115, www.slotinfolkart.com.

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