MANKATO -- While one artist will use the occasion to bid Mankato adieu, another will make his local debut during the annual Arts by the River festival that begins Saturday.
The two-day festival that includes artist booths, vendors and a full slate of live music and all-ages activities will be held at Riverfront Park and is organized by the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts. In addition, visitors will be able to cast ballots for a People's Choice Award.
Kasota furniture-maker Gary Moore was the winner last year, earning him a free booth in this year's event. A transplant from Wales who carries a reputation for understated, elegant designs, he was an attention-getter at last year's event with his his hexagonally-shaped, honeycomb-inspired bookshelves and wine racks.
He, of course, will be present again this year with a variety of his handmade furniture pieces, including his recently created Gibson Sideboard, a functional sideboard with sliding frames that allow users to customize and change its look. But this year could be his last as the award-winning furniture designer is in the midst of relocating to St. Paul with his family.
He said this about the design of his new sideboard: "I get kind of bored with nice furniture. I liked the idea of a piece that could change appearance quite easily."
On the other hand, Eric Ouren will be making a local debut during the festival.
Though he began creating banjos, dulcimers and ukeleles from found materials in 2006, it wasn't until the last year or so that he began showing them publicly at art fairs and festivals. This weekend marks the first time that Mankato residents will have a chance to purchase his wares.
Ouren, who is also an art instructor at Bethany Lutheran College, characterized his initial attempts at building instruments from gourds and cookie tins as "not terrifically functional." Over the years, however, he's begun to standardize his instruments and draw inspiration from traditional styles of instrument-making.
His more recent models are completely playable and have a quieter timbre than their manufactured counterparts. He's sold one to the Minnesota bluegrass band Pert Near Sandstone as well as hobby musicians and art lovers. He makes a variety of instruments ranging in price from $100 to slightly less than $1,000 and said he's perfectly fine with buyers playing them -- or displaying them like sculptures.
"I guess I don't care as long as they leave my shop and go to a good home,"