Just like creating a beautiful garden, bringing a new art festival to life requires a lot of patience and nurturing, according to the organizers of Plein Air Shorewood, a three-day event that will bring more than 50 professional artists to the village beginning Sept. 19.
Some artists will “set up shop” near schools, parks, stores and residences. Others will locate in Shorewood’s well-kept gardens. (Please note: Homeowners and businesses that are open to hosting the artists have signed a list. Artists won’t be wandering through neighborhoods, trampling on anyone’s prize azaleas.)
The art festival’s opening night includes brats, beer and a live polka band at Hubbard Park Lodge. Food and drinks will be available for purchase, but all events are free and open to the public.
The festival’s casual opening is only one of the unique features of this unconventional, first-ever event, which has attracted professional painters from across the Midwest. Nationally known Shorewood plein air artist Don Berg, who headed the artist selection committee, notes with pride that all 50 spots were filled more than two months prior to opening. Berg also runs a design firm in Shorewood.
Berg explains that “plein air,” the French term for “in the open air,” is one of the fastest-growing facets of the art world. And Wisconsin is the nation’s No. 1 spot for plein air events. Second-ranked California doesn’t even come close, Berg says. Wisconsin’s largest and best-known plein air events are held annually in Door County and Cedarburg.
Shorewood carefully scrutinized those two events to determine what made them so successful. “We realized right away that putting the artists first was going to be critical to our success,” says Plein Air Shorewood committee member Jenny Heyden, a local freelance writer and artist. Because Heyden and Berg are artists themselves, they had valuable firsthand knowledge of artists’ needs.
Turning Shorewood into a temporary art colony is more than just a way to attract visitors to the area for one weekend, says committee co-chair Patricia Algiers. “We want to demonstrate that Shorewood embraces the arts. There are a lot of creative people who live here, and I don’t mean just artists. We have writers, musicians, poets and lots of entrepreneurs. We want to position ourselves as an art-friendly community.”
Each artist participating in the festival will complete three canvases, regardless of the weather. The 150 paintings will be hung Saturday night in a temporary art gallery, designed by Patricia Algiers, in Shorewood’s public library. A jury of painters and art historians will award prizes, and there will be a “public’s choice” award as well. Then the paintings will be offered for sale to the public.
The temporary gallery will also serve as the festival’s headquarters – the place where artists will register and the public can learn where they’ll be painting.
Some of the Wisconsin artists participating in Plein Air Shorewood include James Hempel, Shelby Keefe, Tom Nachreiner and Johnna Papin. Keefe, a Shorewood resident, recently won the $15,000 top prize for a work she created at a plein air festival in Frederick, Md. She’s featured in a September cover story in the glossy Plein Air Magazine.
The festival’s artists focus on a variety of subjects – cityscapes, lush floral landscapes, local landmarks and so on. Some will undoubtedly be tempted to line up their canvases along Atwater Park, located on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. But Berg says not to expect any two paintings, even paintings of the same subject, to be alike.
“Each artist will interpret the scene according to his/her own talents and perceptions,” he says.
Between Sept. 19’s meet-the-artists reception at Hubbard Park and the gala on Sept. 21, there will be a full schedule of cultural events. In an effort to offer something for everyone, the festival will feature live music, dancers and a fashion show at a Sept. 20 block party at Shorewood’s Kensington Square (off Oakland Avenue). Local fashion designer Miranda K. Levy, a former contestant on TV’s “Project Runway,” says she’s creating a white, canvas dress that artists will be invited to decorate.
The art festival received seed money from the Shorewood Foundation. Since then, many other local and national sponsors have jumped onboard, providing both cash and in-kind donations. Community groups will play an important role in handling some of the event’s most important tasks, such as registering the artists when they arrive and setting up the Sept. 21 gala.
On the Web
A list of events is available at the festival’s website at pleinairshorewood.com.