Traveling artists transform James Brown Arena parking lot into makeshift campsite

Janet Heath’s white Winnebago found a nice camping spot off Eighth Street – cricket chirps and shady trees not included.

Her “traveling workshop,” as Heath calls her Winnebago, idled in the James Brown Arena parking lot next to about two dozen other RVs and motorhomes. Heath is part of a family of traveling artists and vendors who form makeshift campsites as they journey city to city to sell goods at Christmas Made in the South arts and crafts shows.

The 27th annual Christmas Made in the South stopped in Augusta this weekend, the fifth of seven shows on the circuit. The three-day show continues today and Sunday.

Heath, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., drove straight to Augusta from Macon, the show’s fourth stop. She arrived Monday to get the best spot in the parking lot near water and electric hookups. Others spend downtime between shows exploring the state or making a quick trip home to gather more crafts to sell.

The ringing church bells and rumbling, tooting trains near James Brown Arena didn’t bother Heath, who said she has learned to sleep through most every loud noise as a traveling artist. The train sounds reminded Heath of her father, who worked for railroads.

“I can sleep in a truck stop next to an 18-wheeler refrigerator truck,” said Heath, an artist selling handpainted glass ornaments.

Next door, Sandra and Billy Davis, of Chatsworth, Ga. kept camp with their cat. Murder mystery author and motorcycle enthusiast Wayne Littrell parked his sleeping trailer equipped with a writing studio farther down the line.

Life on the road staying on asphalt campsites has become the norm for most artists. Many have traveled for decades, growing to know one another and their children.

On Wednesday night, the artists’ campground celebrated Heath’s birthday with ice cream and cake. The night before, friends enjoyed warm weather by grilling out and lounging in a circle of camp chairs.

“You get to develop a big sense of camaraderie,” said Littrell, who is selling copies of his book The Lone Wolf Murders while his wife sells pottery. “We aren’t really (circus) carnies but we do arts and crafts and such.”

Sandra Davis also enjoys friendships on the road, many built over potluck dinners. Davis and her husband, a jewelry maker, visited Heath when they all vacationed in Key West, Fla.

Artists busily set up their vendor booths Thursday, moving boxes of crafts, signs and displays from their RVs to the arena. Heath unloaded 21 plastic containers filled with glass ornaments. Between shows, the containers pack neatly into the bunk space of her Winnebago.

Traveling for more than 40 years, Tina and Donn Clark have perfected the science of their gourmet food business on wheels. The couple hauls a 70-foot trailer stocked with prepackaged Tina’s Original food mixes behind their deluxe motorhome. They also have a red pickup truck towing another trailer with specially built devices to secure the display cabinets for their vendor booth.

Inside the Clark’s motorhome, their dinette table that seats four lost half its space to a laser printer that supports the business. The refrigerator stores cream cheeses, sour cream and other foods that they use to mix samples at the booth. In each city, they typically search out a Walmart to replenish supplies.

The Clarks, who travel for 25 weeks a year, have also learned some important lessons on the road such as scrambling to replace a blown-out tire for the motorhome between shows.

The couple tries to park a few spots away from the other campers. Sometimes friendly neighbors can get overly chatty, Tina Clark said.

Still, she loves the potlucks, especially the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.

IF YOU GO

What: Christmas Made in the South

Where: James Brown Arena, 601 7th Street

When: today, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $7 adults; children 12 and under, free

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