This year’s Ava Gardner Festival is all about fashion.
The 14th annual festival will focus on the personal fashions worn by the film star and Johnston County native.
The festival will begin Friday, Oct. 3, with a cocktail reception and a performance by the Carolina Crooner, a Frank Sinatra tribute singer. That night, the Ava Gardner Museum will unveil “Ava’s Closet,” an exhibit of 16 outfits owned by Gardner. The exhibit showcases daytime wear, evening wear and even some tasteful “bedroom attire,” said museum director Deanna Brandenberger.
Raleigh native Justin LeBlanc, a fashion designer and “Project Runway” contestant, will be on hand at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, to talk about his 3-D printing process, his designs and how Gardner influenced him and the fashion world.
LeBlanc, like Gardner, embodies the spirit of North Carolina, Brandenberger said. “He is very interested in the history of this state,” she said. “It’s very important to him to know where (Gardner) came from and how it influenced her.”
The museum has teamed with the Clayton Piano Festival for a special performance by pianist Azamat Sydykov. As a tribute to Gardner, Sydykov will perform classic movie songs and flamenco music, which was her favorite. The concert will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Clayton Center, 111 E. Second St., Clayton.
As is tradition, the festival will screen some Gardner films. This year’s selections – “The Killers,” “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and “The African Queen” – are tributes to director John Huston, a good friend of Gardner’s. “The Killers” and “The Life and Times of Judy Roy Bean” will screen at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, on Saturday. “The African Queen” will show at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Heritage tours, another festival tradition, will take guests on tours of Gardner’s birthplace, the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up and to her gravesite in Sunset Memorial Park. Those times are 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Gardner’s desire to be buried in Smithfield rather than in Hollywood says a lot about how she felt about the community she grew up in, Brandenberger said. “She had her body brought back here because she wanted to be with her family,” she said.
This is Brandenberger’s first festival as the museum’s director. The California native moved to the area last year from Nevada to be closer to family. She has a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in archeology from the University of Nevada, Reno, where she also earned her master’s degree in cultural studies Since then, Brandenberger has worked as an archeologist and in museum consulting.
While she has faced a learning curve in her new job, Brandenberger said members of the museum’s board have helped ease her transition.
As the years pass and Gardner’s movies become less contemporary, the festival becomes even more important to Smithfield, Brandenberger said. “Every year her legacy gets older, but we don’t want to forget about it,” she said.
Brandenberger thinks the world is going through a period of nostalgia about the good old days in Hollywood. She points to the popularity of TV shows like “Mad Men” and hopes this trend will draw more people to the festival.
“I hope we can pique people’s interest again who might not have heard of her,” Brandenberger said.
Tickets to the opening on Friday are $25, heritage tours are $15, and tickets to the Piano Festival performance are $20. For the complete festival schedule, go to avagardner.org.