Alabama artists celebrate wildlife at new Wetumpka festival

When Thomas Harris learned that the Kelly Fitzpatrick Memorial Gallery in Wetumpka was featuring wildlife from Alabama during their art exhibition series this fall, he envisioned a larger, more far-reaching event that would have a greater impact on the city and state.

The result: The museum, better known as “The Kelly,” hosts the inaugural Wetumpka Wildlife Arts Festival in partnership with the Smoot Harris family and the City of Wetumpka. The festival is a celebration of Alabama’s wildlife and field sports through the arts and will culminate with an all-day, action-packed event in historic downtown.

“Alabama is all about wildlife, north-south, east-west,” Harris said, noting that Wetumpka’s central location in the state makes it the perfect location for the festival. “Our goal includes a desire to help the Wetumpka area by helping to increase tourism, influencing economic development, promoting The Kelly to a wider audience and hopefully creating an ongoing event for this charming community, as it continues to evolve into a mecca for the arts.”

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Harris, founder of Alabama Black Belt Adventures, grew up in Wetumpka and has deep roots in the community. In addition, his mother, Ethel Smoot, took art lessons from John Kelly Fitzpatrick, a Wetumpka artist who gained international recognition for his work before his death.

The late artist John Kelly Fitzpatrick was from Wetumpka. (Encyclopedia of Alabama)

“My wife, Cindy, and I wanted to give back to Wetumpka and do this in honor of my family,” Harris said. “I think this is going to be a fun event with lots of energy and excitement.”

The celebration begins with Art Gone Wild, an exhibition at The Kelly running September 27-November 19, which takes an up-close look at wildlife and nature through the eyes of local and regional artists including Sue Key, Dirk Walker and Andrew Lee.

The excitement will build, culminating on November 5th with the premiere wildlife arts festival on the banks of the Coosa River. The free event includes demonstrations by award-winning craftsmen including chef Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club and woodcarver John David Foote.

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Wildrose Kennels, a nationally recognized breeder of British and Irish Labradors, will be presenting their sporting dogs at the festival. And the Alabama Wildlife Federation, which operates the Alabama Nature Center in nearby Millbrook, offers animal encounters. Visitors have the opportunity to watch animals painting and purchase their works. There will be educational workshops, artisans, vendors, children’s activities and games, and live music.

Wild Rose Kennels bring their famous sporting dogs to the festival. (Contribution)

“We are using this momentum to nurture and grow the arts in Wetumpka,” said Belyn Richardson, president of The Kelly, in a press release about the festival. “With beautiful rivers, lakes and abundant wildlife in Elmore County, as well as the nearby Alabama Nature Center, it only made sense for us to work with the Smoot Harris family and the city to bring a world-class festival to sweet home Alabama. We are grateful for their enthusiasm and support.”

Jennifer Eifert, executive director of The Kelly, said the festival will allow visitors to see artists in action.

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“Artists will be painting all over the city and selling their pieces at the festival,” she said. “It will be a way for them to introduce their work to a whole new group of people.”

Alabama Power is a sponsor of the event along with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils and Wind Creek Wetumpka.

“The festival will be a great opportunity for people to have a fun day out and see what our beautiful city has to offer,” said Eifert.

Visit the gallery’s website at for more information and a calendar of events.

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