Downtown Medford will turn into a springtime festival showcasing fine artists from up and down the West Coast Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11. The occasion is the eighth annual Art In Bloom, a celebration of art, flowers, wine and food. The event will offer live entertainment, art, wine tasting, food, floral workshops for adults, a raffle, children's art activities, cash awards for artists, and more.

Downtown Medford will turn into a springtime festival showcasing fine artists from up and down the West Coast Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11. The occasion is the eighth annual Art In Bloom, a celebration of art, flowers, wine and food. The event will offer live entertainment, art, wine tasting, food, floral workshops for adults, a raffle, children's art activities, cash awards for artists, and more.

Including an election. "American Idol" is fine for singers, but how about voting for your favorite artist? The Rogue Gallery and Art Center is presenting its annual exhibit in connection with Art in Bloom Festival, and festival-goers can vote for their favorite art work, with the winner being named the People's Choice. Entries are hanging in the Rogue Gallery.

Nearly 100 artists and horticulturists have been selected to exhibit and sell their work during the two-day festival. Some of the money generated will go to fund future Art in Bloom events and help support youth art programs.

The event was recognized as the "Best Art, Cultural or Heritage Event in Oregon for 2004" by the Oregon Festivals and Events Association, and it hasn't quite finished growing.

"We think the crowds are getting bigger," says The Rogue Gallery's Judy Barnes. "You can't exactly count, because they keep moving."

Art education is one of the chief goals of Art in Bloom, and over the course of this year the nonprofit organization has funded art projects at high schools in Medford and Phoenix.

South Medford's art students are decorating smudge pots much like the whimsical ones seen at the festival each year. Students are free to come up with original ideas, the quirkier the better. One student has even turned a smudge pot into Medford's Black Bird located in front of the store of the same name.

North Medford's art students are producing individual tiles depicting faces that will become part of an enormous mural on their high school campus.

At Phoenix High School, students are creating a tile sculpture that will join a pond and landscaped area designed by the students and enhance a quad area on campus.

The students' art will be on display at the festival's educational outreach tent.

A special feature this year is the botanical art of Catherine Watters, who teaches at the botanical gardens at Filoli Estates in Woodside, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area. Watters, who works in graphite and watercolor, will discuss the history of botanical art and describe her technique in a free program from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday in the big tent on Main Street set up for the event.

Watters also plans a workshop for all day Friday; call 772-8118.

During the first Art in Bloom back in 2001, 100 old, rusted smudge pots from the old days of the orchard industry were spruced up with flowers and plants and placed around the festival area by Flora Henningsen and the Southern Oregon Sogetsu study group. Henningsen used six smudge pots to create a sculptural piece with flowers.

Organizers wondered: What if these old smudge pots were pushed a step further? Could these ordinary objects be turned into art? With Medford's heritage as the "pear capital," recycling smudge pots into objects d'arte seemed a perfect fit, and the Medford Smudge Pot Pourri was born.

Each year starting in 2002, artists have been commissioned to create a work of art from a smudge pot. Sponsors have chipped in.

An auction was held in 2003, and the 44 smudge pots from the first two years of the project raised $57,000 to benefit the Rogue Gallery and Art Center, The Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater and the Art in Bloom Festival.

This year's featured artists in the Rogue Gallery's "People's Choice" contest are Denise Baxter, Anne Brooke, Charlene Brussat, Robert DeVoe, Barbara Eshoo, Adele Marie Hiles, Judy Hanson Howard, Robert Jaffe, Mary Rollins, Ruth Hickok Schubert and Judy Weiner.

Also in connection with Art in Bloom is a smudge pot exhibit, with pieces available for purchase through a raffle, silent auction or at the gallery's annual Auction in September. In the smudge pot event, artists are commissioned to create a work of art from old-time, utilitarian orchard heaters, turning "smudge pots" into art objects.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.