Betsy Henn Bailey celebrates her 36th year as a Fall Festival vendor and artist. A local artist and teacher in the Brasstown and Murphy area for over 40 years, Betsy has had a big influence on art and culture in our community. The week before the 39th Annual Fall Festival I talked to Betsy about the festival, her art, and her Folk School memories.
CP: How many years have you been a part of Fall Festival?
BHB: 35 years – this year will be my 36 Fall Festival. Festival Barn wasn’t even in existence when the festival started – we did it by Open House and the little log cabin by the garden. I did portraits. I remember in one of the early years Maggie (Masters) and I did the design for the quilt one year. She and I used to do watercolors together. They were so bright and colorful.
CP: How has fall festival changed?
BH: A lot more vendors for sure. There were only about 20 when we started. I remember the Garland team dancing in the Open House pavilion. Also, Jan has just made the folk school. I think he’s really good at it. His daddy and my dad were good friends. They used to go to dances together park in the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. John Davidson would play the piano there – he was really really great.
CP: Who are the vendors that have been there as long as you?
BH: Let’s see, Lee Davis and Douglas (Birdfoot Ridge Studio) have been there as long as me. They are always right down the row from me and we have a good time every year. I know there must be more, but that’s all I can recall right now.
CP: Who are your favorite performers?
BH: I always love hearing Lidens and Annie Fain sing. Irons in the Fire too.
CP: Why did you miss the 3 years?
BH: I missed the 3 years because of the death of my husband, the death of my dad, and the death of my mom.
CP: What was the most memorable year for you?
BH: 1999 was the year my husband John Bailey died. John was a Resident Photographer at the Folk School and I met him when I used to dance at the school. The year he died I didn’t attend Fall Festival but the school hung a memorial in my booth space as a tribute to John. I thought that was awfully sweet of them.
CP: Your dad was PJ Henn who founded the Henn Theater in Murphy. And your mother Betty Pearson who went to the Folk School in the 30s. How were they involved in the Folk School?
BH: My mother attended the Folk School in the 1930s. She was a dancer, a banjo player, a weaver and a cook. She loved to cook sweets which was awful because my dad and I blew up like balloons. Before she married my daddy, my mother worked for Mrs. Milton as a traveling companion and they lived in Saluda, NC. Mrs. Milton was friends with Olive Dame Campbell and Olive invited her to come to the Folk School. My mother came with her as a companion and that’s when her love affair with the school started.
One Christmas Mrs. Milton needed to go to New York and my mother had already been to the Folk School for about a year. They attended a party and my mom went up and taught Nelson A. Rockefeller a contra dance at a party. I think that’s pretty neat because she learned to contra dance at the Folk School.
CP: What do you make?
BH: I’m an illustrator of life. I love fantasy; I love work that appeals to children and adults. I love to paint and I love to draw. I love to do it all.
CP: What do you do when you are not preparing for Fall Festival?
For many years I ran the Henn Theater in Murphy. Now I have a studio space down the street at the Artist’s Common. I work on my art and also teach art to children and adults. I do portraits for people with watercolor which I call “watertoons.”
CP: The dancing rabbits are a recurring theme in your work. What are the dancing rabbits?
BH: My mom showed me the dancing rabbits which actually exist it just requires patience to see them. I was about 12 when she showed them to me standing at her bedroom window looking out. She always planted red clover cause that always brought the rabbits out. There are rabbits that will jump up and go wheeeeee. It’s so cute. The moon is my mother in my paintings of the dancing rabbits.