Iona Art Sanctuary hosts annual arts festival

Jackson Harwell (C’22) reads at the Iona Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of Julia Harrison (C’20).

By Rego Jaquish and Vanessa Moss
Contributing Writer
Executive Staff

The entrance to the Iona Art Sanctuary is a small, easy-to-miss stretch of gravel that runs off of Garnertown Road and into the woods. Down the path, there is  a field surrounded on all sides by tall grasses and trees, impossible to find unless one knows where to look. In the center of this field is the large grey barn where Edward Carlos, professor emeritus of the University, hosts the Iona Art Festival, an annual event running from September 17-20, where artists from across the Sewanee community come to share their work.

“We have tremendous writers here,” said Carlos, “not just professors, [but also] husbands, wives of professors, and students.”

The name “Iona” hails from the Isle of Iona in Scotland, a spiritual locus of Gaelic monasticism and spiritual artistry in the early middle ages. The Abbey of Iona was founded in 563 and housed a famous scriptorium where religious texts were converted to art through gilded illustration. Spirit and art merge at the Isle of Iona, and has translated across the Atlantic ocean to Carlos’ Iona.

“It’s such a hidden gem here and it really speaks to the cultural significance of this area,” said Saylor Sniatecki (C’22), who attended the event on September 17 with Meredith Moore (C’22). 

The art at Iona is not limited to just spoken word; the barn is decorated with wall-to-wall paintings and sculptures by Carlos. Readings took place in the top branch of the cross-shaped gallery space, to a crowd seated on a miscellany of wicker chairs and plush couches crowded into rows, backed by a life-size sculptured nativity scene.

“I thought it was such a lovely show of some of the talent we have here on the Mountain, especially [of] talent that reaches outside of the University,” Moore echoed. 

Guests were treated to food, drinks, and live readings of pieces ranging from essays to poems written by professors and students alike. 

“You’re on the edge of the bluff in a wonderful place that you can get to in ten minutes from campus,” said professor of history Dr. John Willis, whose photography series Chantily’s Horse, was displayed all week. “This is a wonderful way of encountering the diversity and the strength and the creativity of the folks who live here.”

The festival hosted local musicians including Tom Gladstone and Linda Heck; Dr. Christopher McDonough’s dissection of the Iliad; two associate directors of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Gwen Kirby and Adam Latham; local poets, fiction writers, and students across the college.

Once the final reading closed, the crowd trickled out into the field surrounding Iona, mingling and praising the pieces while admiring Edward Carlos’ most recent installation,“The Celestial Sky – Messiah,” a four year project by Aaron Carlos and Edward Carlos of iridescent constellations punctured into a series of tall metal panels. With night fallen, the little light of these terrestrial-bound stars and the sky’s pinpricks fell on the crowd as murmurings quieted, car doors shut, and the night’s audience shuffled from the artistic Isle of Iona back into the world.