Capturing the Sopchoppy spirit | Local News

You might not see Rachel Mathis at this year’s Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival, but you will probably see her influence.

Mathis is a local artist who has been creating the artwork for the official festival T-shirts since 2018, and since the festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, this will be the third year the Sopchoppy Preservation & Improvement Association has used her design.

She caught the SPIA’s attention when she entered the art competition to have her work featured on the T-shirt, which had been the annual tradition. But that all changed with Mathis.

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She became the SPIA’s resident artist for the festival.

“I think that’s a huge honor,” she said. “I was really blown away by that and really flattered.”

A Sopchoppy native who now lives in Crawfordville, Mathis said the presents a design to the SPIA and then they collaborate with her vision.

For this year’s T-shirt and in honor of the festival’s 20th year, Mathis wanted to do a compilation of memories of the festival throughout the years, so the image includes inspiration from photos of people who have attended the festival in the past or have become synonymous with the event, from Gary Revell, the “godfather of worm gruntin’ in Sopchoppy,” to the “Wormettes” who dance around the festival every year, sporting colorful feather boas or other costumes.

“It’s just a lot of fun to watch them,” Mathis said, “so they’re in there.”

And as important as including the memorable faces in the scene was including the ancient oak tree that provides shade for festival goers who eat under its shade, and shelter for the elusive white squirrels.

Mathis said she remembers waiting as a little girl under that tree for the school bus.

The scene also includes native flowers in bloom during the festival season, such as yellow daisies.

“I tried to keep it as native as I could,” she said.

Performing on stage is Wakulla Rising, playing their special concoction of swampy folk music.

“They’ve been around as a band since the ’70s,” she said.

Mathis said she became interested in art at Wakulla High School because Coach Murphy, who taught art and coached wrestling, encouraged her.

She said in class they watched a lot of Bob Ross tutorials. “He took a liking to my style of art,” he said.

That encouragement built her confidence in her talent. She did a lot of drawing and enjoyed working with colored pencils. Later she started experimenting with acrylic paint.

All that was mostly put on hold when she started raising a family, until her aunt told her about the T-shirt contest for the festival in 2018.

To create the original artwork from which the T-shirt is based, Mathis used watercolor pencils, colored pencils and some acrylic paint. To keep the layers of the different media in place, she uses a spray fixative.

The originals from previous T-shirts, including hers, are on display in the depot in downtown Sopchoppy.

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