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Arts, history converge


Historic Savage Mill is not just a collection of shops.

That's part of the message behind the first Cultural Arts Festival this Saturday and Sunday. With an assortment of performers from jazz singers to a Vietnamese dance troupe, festival organizers said they are striving to celebrate the mill's history while showcasing the many talented artists there.

"We all want people to know what we do here," said Camellia Blackwell, an artist at the mill and a festival organizer. "We would like the mill to be viewed as a cultural center for the town of Savage."

The mill has undergone several transformations since it began a century of textile making in 1822. What followed were years as warehouse space and a massive Christmas shop before its last transformation into a commercial area. .

Many people would like to see the mill, now a retail center, expand to take advantage of its legacy and its being nestled in the historic town of Savage. Blackwell, who also is executive director of the International Center for Artistic Development, said the mill's beauty is enhanced by the artists there.

"We want to draw on the artists that are here and the fact that we are here in Savage, which is a great area," she said. "We really believe that we can have a viable, exciting and prolific cultural center."

The theme of the festival is "Heyday of the Mill, 1820s-1940s," and it will co- incide with the dedication of the Bollman Truss Bridge. Performances, an artists market, crafts, mini-workshops and activities for children are planned.

Artist Jo Israelson will unveil her work - which incorporates sail-like forms, cotton, shells, rope and a loom-like chair to evoke memories of slavery, the mill's history, and the cotton raised and processed by African-Americans .

"The shapes in the [Bollman Truss] bridge are triangular, and there are triangular shapes within my piece, which I thought was kind of nice," said Israelson, whose instillation art is part of "The Pillars of the Community" project that celebrates Howard County's sesquicentennial. "I don't know if people are always aware of the history of a place, so it gives people two solid reminders of the 150 years of history."

Joan McNeil, who is in charge of promotions for the festival, said organizers hope to see the festival grow and to continue it annually.

"I've always wanted to see a festival at the mill, and it's nice to see it come to fruition," she said.

The festival is open free to the public and will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Parking also is free. Information: 800-788-MILL.

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