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Palo Alto Festival of the Arts brings out artists, musicians -- and food

Need culture? Artist booths will line University Avenue Aug. 28 and 29 for the 29th annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts. More than 300 artists and crafters will gather downtown to show their work, musicians will perform all day on two stages (at Waverley Street and Webster Street) and 50 chalk artists from the Italian Street Painting Expo will share the pavement canvas of Tasso Street.

Here are five artists to keep an eye out for:

Liza Muhly, gourd art

Fifteen years ago Liza Muhly's friend gave her a handful of gourd seeds, little expecting they would eventually become the canvas of Muhly's artwork.

"As a self-taught artist, I don't really follow directions, so I created my own way of doing things," she said. Muhly, 56, studied cultural anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the 1970s, when she became interested in fabric design.

Soon she was admiring the round bellies of her flourishing Santa Cruz garden of 100 gourds. Seeing the gourds as three-dimensional canvases, "I started putting my designs on the gourds themselves."

Each gourd usually suggests her theme, colors and patterns. In using a round canvas, Muhly can keep telling her story because it goes around the gourd, bringing a sense of movement.

Muhly mixes her own colors. The translucence of the paint is not unlike a stain on a wood, and brings out their natural colors and blemishes; like wood, there are lighter parts and darker parts.

Vincent "Vince" Taylor, architectural art glass

Certified in elementary education 40 years ago, Vince Taylor thought he was going to be a teacher. During his first year on the job, however, he met a stained-glass artist who inspired him to pursue glass art. He learned stained-glass basics from Marvin Mund in a community-education program in San Francisco, and taught himself the rest.

After 10 years creating stained-glass art, he began to etch glass. These days he often creates an etched image that is set into leaded glass at his Sonoma studio.

Man of all trades, Taylor also works with wood, particularly helpful to the customer who wants to set stained glass in a door. "I can now sell my customers a complete package: door, window, trim and installation," Taylor said.

Unlike many other artists, Taylor enjoys the collaborative process of commissioned work. He's found that working with a customer's particular setting and vision often push him to create something that he wouldn't have come up with on his own.

Sue Root, fine woodworker

Working in the electronics industry, Sue Root knew her real love was art. She spent weekends at art shows "to feed (her) soul." She finally quit her high-powered job and enrolled in a hand-tools class at Palo Alto High School's adult education program.

Her craft master mentor said that in his 25 years of teaching, he had met only one other person as naturally adept at woodworking as she.

"I really found my heart in the wood. It's hard for me to stop," she said.

Working with hand tools in her Morgan Hill studio, and using as much reclaimed lumber as possible, Root, 54, feels more intimately connected with the wood.

"There is a respect for the wood itself. I can feel the grain; I can feel the tree. In a way the wood speaks to me, and tells me what it wants to be."

Fox and Lois Garney, pottery

Fox Garney and Lois Traeger (now Traeger-Garney), of Cambria, met in San Jose State's clay lab in 1971 when Garney was pursuing a degree in ceramics and Traeger in art. They've been collaborating ever since, most recently at their San Luis Obispo studio.

With influences from Europe as well as the MOMA and Whitney museums in New York City, they follow cutting-edge art practices and styles. Still, some see their work as old-fashioned, because the glazes they use over the carving are reminiscent of old American-style pottery.

Much of their recent work includes carved pieces. Fox, 61, does the throwing and Lois, 60, the carving on pieces that include 6-foot totems. They find the design part the most challenging.

"You can repeat something or do a variation of it, but when we come up with a new idea or design, that's a really special thing," Garney said.

John Joy, glass sculpture

Thirty years ago John Joy apprenticed with master craftsman Cecil Brusey. "For some reason Brusey saw something in me that he liked," Joy, 56, said. In addition to his apprenticeship, over the years Joy has traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe to study local stained and art glass.

Joy often raids flea markets for hand-blown or pressed-glass pieces from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. "You can find these neat, interesting shapes or cut crystal that grandma kept. The cut crystal really picks up sunshine," Joy said. The colors and shapes of the pieces he finds have such character that he lets them drive the direction of his work.

He started making whimsical, Dr. Seussian sculptures with the glass he found, because he liked the look of glass with metal. He integrates the glass with leafy, flowing, art nouveau structures of copper metal.

While commissioned stained glass still makes up the bulk of Joy's work (he sometimes crates 8-foot domes), these sculptures allow him to create independent, autonomous pieces -- his creative outlet at his home studio in Scotts Valley.

What: 29th annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts

When: Aug. 28-29, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Where: University Avenue between High Street and Webster Street

Parking: Free parking is available in the public city lots within two blocks of University Avenue, but public transit and bicycling is encouraged. The Union Bank parking lot on Waverley Street will offer bike valet parking.

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