In South Knoxville, one of the sure signs of spring – apart from redbud and dogwood blossoms – is Vestival, the music and arts festival hosted at the Candoro Marble Building, 4450 Candora Ave. at Maryville Pike.
For the past two years – thanks to the pandemic, spring hasn’t sprung, so to speak, and the 2019 edition of Vestival took a hit from Mother Nature in the form of daylong rain.
So to say that board members of the Candoro Arts & Heritage Center, which sponsors the event, are happy to see Vestival return on Saturday, May 7, is an understatement.
“I think the general feeling is we absolutely cannot wait to do this thing,” says board member Hannah Zechman. “It’s a beloved event in the community. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet face to face with the Vestal community and the South Knoxville community. It’s an opportunity to share who we are – not only the history of the building but what we’re doing as a nonprofit.”
Carman North is the current president of CAHC.
“We are determined to have it happen,” says Zechman, who is in charge of rounding up musical performers for the event and insists on keeping a positive outlook on the weather. As for the musicians’ reaction to learning Vestival was coming back, “They were pumped,” says Zechman.
Zechman is new to the Candoro board but not to South Knoxville. She grew up near Ijams Nature Center and the Island Home area and attended Dogwood Elementary School before her family moved to Fountain City, where she went to Gresham Middle and Central High.
She attended Vestival as a child and kept close ties to her South Knoxville relatives. She learned to drive on the quiet roadways of Woodlawn Cemetery – at age 12 in grandmother Shirley Murrell’s big Buick.
She and her husband, musician Zach Russell, recently moved back to the area after three years in Nashville when she got a job as community-engagement manager at the East Tennessee History Center. Russell’s family is from La Follette, and the couple settled in Clinton.
As a native South Knoxvillian, she is all about the magic of Candoro.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful place,” she says. “It’s a gorgeous backdrop to this rich history.”
The Candoro Marble Company was created in 1914 to cut and polish marble quarried locally into artistic and architectural pieces; eventually, most of the marble supply was imported. The marble works was built first. In 1923, the showroom and offices were moved into what’s now known as the Candoro Marble Building, a marble-veneered structure designed by Knoxville architect Charles I. Barber. The wrought-iron front door, restored in recent years, was crafted by master blacksmith Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia.
In 1927, Italian-born Albert Milani was hired as chief carver, a post he held for 40 years. Milani crafted the detail on the exterior of the building in addition to creating marble pieces for clients around the world.
For several decades, Vestal was an area of thriving industry thanks to Candoro and the Vestal Lumber Co. It was a vibrant, working community. Candoro also gained a place in some of the finest buildings in the country, including the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, both in Washington, D.C. Knoxville’s downtown post office building boasts Candoro marble, including four five-ton decorative eagles on its front columns on Main Street.
Marble gradually fell out of favor as a building material, and Candoro Marble shut down in 1982. Other marble fabricators continued to work on the site, but the showroom building fell into disrepair.
Trudy Miller Monaco became familiar with the building while working there and rounded up a group of people to form what eventually became Candoro Arts & Heritage Center. The first Vestival started as a plan in 2000 and was held the Saturday before Mother’s Day in 2001.
The CAHC spent years establishing Vestival and providing upkeep for the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, with further assets of the site added in 2005. In 2014, the Aslan Foundation bought the building with the intention of restoring it and allowing CAHC to continue promoting the historic aspects of Candoro and do programming and outreach there.
In 2019, Candoro was closed for renovations, which were completed in March 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Sanders Pace Architecture and Tennessee Marble Co. revitalized and upgraded the building, earning several awards in the process.
Aslan and Sanders Pace Architecture received an East Tennessee Preservation Award from Knox Heritage for the restoration in May 2021. At the American Institute of Architects East Tennessee chapter 2021 Design Awards in November, Sanders Pace was given a Citation Award. And in February 2022, John Cierech of Tennessee Marble Co. received the Craftsman of the Year Award from the Natural Stone Institute.
A virtual tour of the reborn building is available. Tri-Star Arts manages the building and its artist studios and organizes exhibitions.
Vestival will have a few changes this year. The traditional Mother’s Day brunch will not be held, but Zechman promises that there will be plenty of delicious eats from food trucks and vendors to make any mom happy.
The family-friendly event will have the main music stage at the Carriage House to the left of the Candoro Building. (It was built as a garage, but its aesthetics recall the elegant days of the horse and carriage.) The Tennessee Sheiks are the headliners this year. Other acts include Tim Woody, Jodie Manross, Pistol Creek Catch of the Day and the Zach Russell Band.
Chairs will be set up, but visitors are also welcome to bring their own camp chairs.
The kids’ area and the East Tennessee Bluegrass Association tent will be on the Maryville Pike side of the grounds. Dragonfly Aerial Arts will perform on the lawn at the corner of Maryville Pike and Candora Avenue. Members of the Cattywampus Puppet Council will wander the grounds in their whimsical costumes.
Food and arts/crafts vendor spaces are still available. A registration form is available on the website.
The nearby Sustainable Future Center, 201 Ogle Ave., is providing sound equipment for the Vestival performers. SFC’s monthly Makers Market falls on the same day as the festival and is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m., while Vestival is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so it’s possible to enjoy both.
A donation of $5 is suggested for admission. Money raised will help CAHC acquire Candoro-related artifacts and offer programming to the public.
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.