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Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival will not sell controversial poster at festival

The photo stirring controversy (Source: Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival) The photo stirring controversy (Source: Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival)
PONCHATOULA, LA (WVUE) -

The Ponchatoula Strawberry festival will not sell its controversial poster on festival grounds, the organization announced on Wednesday. Organizers are also apologizing for the poster that some considered racist.

"We publicly apologize for offending anybody with this poster, the intent of course was not there to hurt anybody's feelings, or make anyone upset," Donald Lanier, the chairman for the 2015 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, said.

Lanier said the organization also pledged to include African-Americans in future decision processes.

The cries to pull the poster grew louder this week after the NAACP demanded the poster be plucked from the festival today.

"I was disgusted by it, because I know what it means to me, to my children, to my grandchildren and to black people in general," Patricia Morris, President of the Greater Tangipahoa Branch of the NAACP, said.

The poster depicts two faceless children, a boy and a girl, with strawberry red lips, dressed in nice clothing, holding a flat of berries.

"Not putting any identity in the face, who is Louise and the other name, they call it, who are these people and who do they represent, certainly not the black community," Morris said.

Morris, who has never been to the Strawberry Festival, said the artist should take sensitivity training.

Kallé Siekkinen, the artist behind the poster, won't apologize for his art, though, saying people who are offended don't understand the meaning behind the paint.

"I sympathize with those who feel offense by it, and I encourage them if they learn about the art, Bill's art, my art, that it is in no way intended to offend," Siekkinen said.

Siekkinen was inspired by the late Bill Hemmerling, who was known for painting silhouetted or black figures. Siekkinen's art often features the two children, he calls Simon and Louise.

The firestorm of social media attention, has sparked a large outcry of support for the artist, many of whom are already purchasing the poster through the gallery.

"All of the posters that were numbered sold out in four days," Carol Siekkinen, the artist's mother, said.

The gallery ordered a second run of the poster and the phone is ringing off the hook with people who want to purchase the art.

The proceeds from the poster go directly to the Kiwanis Club, just one of dozens of charities who benefit from the Strawberry Festival.

"All our booths on these festival grounds are non-profits organizations, they depend on the people coming here to get through a year," Lanier said.

Now Siekkinen hopes his painting will inspire more people to take a look at his work, many who already have grown a sweet spot for the Southern art.

"Art is very interpretive, and can be seen in any way you choose to see it, and due to the fact that a large majority of people from all races choose to see this in a positive light, that influences me and helps me believe in my self and do what I do," Siekkinen said.

Ponchatoula residents also expressed their opinions on the issue. 

Christine Barnett said, "Personally I'm not offended by it but I could see how someone could be offended by it."

Cate Higgins added, "I think that's a little ridiculous. I think everyone is just a little sensitive about the subject."

Judy Thornton said, "With the way things are today you don't know how they might respond, it could be dangerous. It could cause a scene and that's not what these family gatherings are for."

Mobile users can compare this poster to posters from past Strawberry Festivals. See the slideshow here: http://shout.lt/Y3V7

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