Many residents of Milford were seen at last week’s Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands in Dover last week enjoying a variety musical performances over four days. Milford artists Gwen Guerke and Cathy Walls were in attendance last week as well but spent their day helping to enhance the overall experience for event goers. Both artists were commissioned by the event organizers, Red Frog Events to paint customized TOMS® shoes for dozens of festival fans.
TOMS® shoes is a unique footwear company that is considered just as much a humanitarian effort as a for profit business. In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in a village in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS®, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. According to the company, they have given away over 10 million pairs of shoes to children in need.
This year at the Firefly Festival, TOMS® and Red Frog Events contracted artists from across the country to paint mini portraits on the canvas shoes. Individuals that purchased the shoes would explain to the artists what they wanted on their canvas-colored shoes and the artists began putting their ideas onto the footwear. Artists worked for eight hours each day for three days straight creating shoes that festival goers can remember the experience for years to come as they looked down at their feet.
Milford artist Gwen Guerke was chosen to be one of the more than forty artists chosen from around the country to paint the TOMS® shoes. Guerke is a fifth generation Milfordian and in 1989 Gwen was asked to work for the Delaware State News as a Features Editor where she began to report on human interest stories in lower Delaware. In 1993 the famous Tell Gwen column was started, rising quickly in popularity as she began to work between several local papers including The Milford Chronicle. Always having an affinity for art, Guerke has been a member of the Mispillion Art League in downtown Milford and was an artist selected for the Art on the Riverfront Tour that features public art on the Mispillion in the form of 4-foot sculptures of the Augusta yatch. This year was Guerke’s first year at the Firefly Festival as well as a TOMS® artist. A journalist by trade it is easy to see that above all she enjoyed meeting and speaking with individuals from across the country with varied backgorunds.
“It was rewarding, we met people from all over the county that came to Delaware just to be at Firefly,” commented Guerk. “It was really interesting talking with them and was a neat challenge putting their ideas onto the shoes.”
Being very detailed about the images on their shoes, some TOMS® fans were specific about their art including one individual that asked that Guerke portray the Beatles walking across Abbey Road on one shoe and a Led Zeppelin symbol and drum music on the other. She took those images out of his head and placed them onto his shoes.
Artist Kathy Walls was a TOMS® artist for the second year in a row as she enjoyed the entire experience that the festival takes on. Milford artist Cathy Walls is active in the arts locally and regionally. She is a founding member of the Mispillion Art League, a Delaware State Arts Council member, a member of the Delaware Arts Alliance and Millsboro and Rehoboth Art Leagues plus the Plein Air Painters of the Mid-Atlantic. She is also an artist selected for the Art on the Riverfront Tour that features public art on the Mispillion River. Walls enjoyed the experience of talking with people and helping them to take their ideas from their imagination to the canvas.
“It was a great experience as an artist, we spoke with so many people from all over,” said Walls. “Sometimes they wanted you to paint something you would normally not paint and it challenged you to stretch artistically.”
Walls could see that these shoes for festival goers were much more than just another pair of footwear. Many times after the shoes were painted, they became a representation of how the individual perceived themselves and the world around them. Among many personal stories from shoe buyers that stayed with Walls after the festival, she remembers one individual that was very interested in world travel. She painted two world hemispheres, one on each shoe, and on the back an image of the girl waving goodbye. Both Milford artists enjoyed their three day campaign of painting shoes for festival goers and they both are planning to apply for the artist position next year.
“It was a lot of fun, you get a lot of energy from everything going on,” commented Walls. “It is nice to see Dover host a big event like Firefly.”