McCray gives found objects new home in second-annual arts festival

UP photo by Karisa Norfleet

UP photo by Karisa Norfleet

Outside the outdoor restrooms are vibrant tiki heads and totem poles placed in various sections of a green yard. A treehouse is dedicated to a pet cemetery below it. A teepee is in one corner of the grounds, opposite a colorful stage ready for a band.

This is a place ready to host an arts festival.

“I’m inspired by so many different artists and so many different cultures, that’s why there’s a lot of different symbols you’ll see in my artwork and archetypes,” Nathan McCray, founder of the Preying Mantis Arts Festival, said, as he surveyed the large lot at his Beaumont home.

The second-annual Preying Mantis Festival will be held April 15, 4 p.m. to midnight. Admission is free.

The festival will feature local artists, musicians and performers, as well as a Surrealist fashion show and a drag show.

There is a reason McCray changed the spelling of the creature.

“The preying mantis — prey, like a predator— is the icon for the surrealist movement,” he said. “The female destroys her mate and the Surrealists played off of that.”

Usually, art is labeled as low brow or high brow. The Preying Mantis Festival is a “no-brow art fest,” McCray said, because with ‘Preying Mantis’ anything goes, any type of art.

To prepare for the festival, McCray held drum circles around a campfire on his grounds, where musicians come together, sit around a fire and play songs spontaneously for hours.

“I work during the week, and I’ve had drum circles, and every few weeks people come to the drum circle and we’ll do planning,” he said. “You don’t have to drum, you can bring tambourines and any kind of instrument that you like to play.”

The first festival was held in 2012 and the theme was “Alley Catz.” The second festival was themed “Leaping Lizards” and the third was the steampunk festival called “Screaming Locust.” The fourth festival played on a fairytale theme called “Enchanted Village,” which was a metaphysical festival, McCray said.

“Costumes were a steampunk blend of Victorian-style clothing but with a mechanical modern futuristic aspect,” he said. “‘Enchanted Village’ was a Renaissance type of fair, metaphysical type of thing, card readings. When everyone dresses up, costumes make the event fun.”

McCray is not only hosting this event but displaying his work as well. His artwork, which often features intricately-carved wooden totems, will be the decorations for the event, along with other permanent creations already in the yard.

“I’m inspired by so many different artists and so many different cultures, so that’s why there’s a lot of different symbols and stuff you’ll see in my artwork, and archetypes,” he said. “A lot of those archetypes are universal, but I do my own interpretations. I started carving after the hurricanes. I ended up having all these trees around and so much wood.”

McCray says it’s hard to say what pieces that he is most proud of because he enjoys working in all mediums.   

“I love carvings, working with wood, sculptures, and I love painting,” he said. “I work in kind of a series. So I’ll do one theme or one series of pieces and then I’ll do a series. Of course, in each series there are pieces that I like that turn out better than others. So I’m kind of all over the place.

“People throw away so much good stuff in this country and other countries don’t have stuff. People use lumber, building materials and stuff like that, and they keep cutting down more and more trees destroying the world— and we’re sitting here throwing it away.”

McCray recycles as much as he can. Even the restrooms were mostly built out of found material.

“All of this fence I found after the hurricanes, collected,” he said. “It’s about the environment and using what we have.”

McCray said the problem with large wooden pieces is where to store them. Southeast Texas weather and the moisture makes it difficult for him to display his work or keep it in his yard. One particular piece he is saving for the festival is a wooden dragon that is kept safe in his shed, along with other wooden creations.

“I started first making tiki heads, totem poles, and it just evolved from there, collecting drift wood,” he said. “Anything I see in the woods, you know birds, fish, dragons, just whatever. And then some of the pieces I ended up building into larger pieces, some with found objects.”

McCray is building a runway out of pallets for the fashion show, as well as manufacturing toilets, a shower and a sink.

“This is the first year, I just built them — and they actually have a window of nature,” he said.

McCray says he would like Beaumont to become an art center rather than people going to Houston or Dallas or elsewhere to enjoy art.

“It’s an outdoor artist market and it’s all about supporting the artists, performers and musicians in the area and showing the talent we have here,” he said. “(It’s about) educating the public about it and getting the public to come out a support local artists.”

The artists are responsible for the sale, display and taxes on their own artwork, McCray said.

“Whatever the artists make goes in their pocket,” he said. “So they get what they have produced from their artwork, whereas, galleries like (in big cities) charge 30 to 70 percent to display and sell. It also makes it more affordable for people to buy, paying the artists and not the gallery.”

“The Preying Mantis Arts Festival” promises to be a visual feast with something for everyone.

Karisa Norfleet

UP Contributor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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