By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

Preparations for Saturday's Take 190 West arts festival at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center were well under way Thursday.

A giant, decorative balloon sculpture occupied one of the center's rooms, while a 30-by-40-foot sculpture tent went up outside. Artists were set to begin displaying their works, ranging from books to paintings.

Now in its third year, the event has attracted authors and artists from across Texas and the United States, co-chairperson and event founder Connie Kuehl said.

"There's 21 artists, 26 authors and eight sculptors," she said. "(We) love for local artists to have an opportunity to let people know that they can buy art in Killeen, not just Austin or Dallas or Houston. They can get it right here at home."

The event begins tonight with an invitation-only preview. Saturday's event, sponsored primarily by the city of Killeen, is free and open to the public.

Authors will sell and sign their books from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Artists will also sell their works.

The quality of art in the show is high, Kuehl said. Entries were narrowed down by a panel of local arts enthusiasts.

This is the first year the Take 190 West has included a sculpture contest. Sculptors, including Dean Reganess of Terrell, N.C., will begin chiseling away at their limestone slabs at 8 a.m. today in the festival tent. A winner will be crowned at 5 p.m. Saturday.

"They've got a little pressure going on there," Kuehl said, laughing.

Kuehl, the conference center's director, said she hopes the festival will continue to grow. Next year, she'd like to incorporate performance art and music into the festival, pending the renovation of the old First Baptist Church downtown that the city of Killeen recently purchased.

The festival has already begun to outgrow the conference center, she said.

Deanna Frazee, director of Killeen's public library system, helped screen and recruit authors, including Ohio-based Bram Stoker Award winner Gary Braunbeck, for the festival.

The community's response to Take 190 West shows that the arts still matter, she said.

"A lot of people like to think people aren't reading, but they are reading," Frazee said. "We want everyone to experience the joy of literature, the imaginativeness, the creativity of it."

The Killeen creative community is the best-kept secret around, she said.

People are always saying there's nothing to do in Killeen, Kuehl said, but that's changing.

Killeen artist Joe Friddle teaches painting classes throughout the area. He'll be showing and selling watercolor paintings and prints Saturday.

He invited the public to come and make connections with artists.

"When they choose something, it will become more of a personal piece to have," he said. "I think that's the best part of it right there. It becomes a little more meaningful to them. There may be a story behind it."

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