2011 Plein Air–Easton! Stands Up to the Heat

An old expression goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The 2011 Plein Air–Easton! Competition & Arts Festival once again proved that this event is not only “in the kitchen,” but dishing up fresh fare each year. Despite the odds—record breaking, three digit temps, oppressive humidity, and travellers faced with traffic backups at the Bay Bridge—artists from across the country sweated it out for a four-day painting marathon, and an estimated 10,000 visitors came to the event, resulting in a weekend of vigorous sales of high caliber art.

The number of paintings sold during this year’s Plein Air–Easton! exceeded the totals for 2010. The Quick Draw events remained extremely popular with significantly increased sales over previous years.

Al Bond, executive director of Plein Air–Easton!, was pleased with the outcome. “Given the economy, and given the heat,” he said, “I was thrilled. It was overwhelming to see people from all walks of life go the extra mile to make this festival successful. Easton and Talbot County should be proud of what we have accomplished as a community. Everybody did a phenomenal job. It really worked.”

Fifty-eight artists from across the country and around the world competed for $20,000 in prizes in the national competition. Besides their two competition paintings, each artist was permitted to bring up to eight additional works to be rotated onto the gallery walls as other paintings sold. This year, for the first time, competition artists had the opportunity to participate in several pre-event paint-outs, which allowed them to increase their portfolios of replacement paintings depicting local landscapes. Close to 200 artists competed in the Quick Draw; afterwards buyers and art enthusiasts filled xxx abuzz Harrison St. during the Quick Draw Exhibit & Sale. Approximately 100 children participated in the Children’s Quick Draw. About 60 artists participated in Quick Draw: The Next Generation, a competition for emerging artists age 25 and younger. In addition to these figures, the Local Color show, sponsored by the Working Artists Forum and held at the Tidewater Inn, sold 35 paintings by artists from the Delmarva Peninsula. Local Color hosted several artist demonstrations, with some demos having standing room only attendance. (Proceeds from the Local Color show help fund college scholarships, a donation to the Academy Art Museum, and donations of art supplies to local elementary schools.) The Plein Air–Easton! Photography Competition received 300 entries from across the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. Winning photographs are exhibited at the Easton Gallery of Photographic Arts, located at 21 N. Hanson St.

Local businesses also reported strong sales. “Plein Air–Easton! is a great economic boost for the town,” says Plein Air–Easton! Director of Communications Kathy Hanna. “Thousands of people come to the event and stay in town, eat in restaurants, and shop at downtown businesses. This year we estimated Plein Air–Easton! attracted 10,000 visitors to Talbot County. Foot traffic increases dramatically, especially over the festival weekend, and lodging establishments report that this is one of their best weeks of the year.”

Plein Air–Easton! continues to grow on a foundation of strong community support and an increasingly high quality of art produced during the weeklong event. In his opening comments at the Awards Ceremony, Awards Judge M. Stephen Doherty stated that this year’s Plein Air–Easton! Competition exhibit is “one of the most outstanding shows I have ever seen.” Doherty is an active outdoor painter and the editor of the recently relaunched PleinAir magazine. Prior to this, he worked for 31 years as editor and publisher of American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines. He serves on the advisory boards of several arts organizations, including the New York Academy of Art, the Florence Academy, and the Portrait Society of America. He has been a judge in various national and international competitions.

“While the numbers are strong,” says Jessica Rogers, Plein Air–Easton! director of operations, “they barely represent the hard work of the artists, staff, volunteers, supporters, host families, art lovers, Friends of Plein Air–Easton!, and others that made this event possible, especially in such extreme heat. The Avalon Foundation is grateful for all who make Plein Air Easton! possible. It is truly a community event and this community should feel very proud. It is not the Avalon Foundation that makes this event great; it is the people behind it. They are the ones who have built the amazing momentum that keeps Plein Air–Easton! forward-looking, exciting, and dynamic.”

Among the winners in 2011 was Stephen J. Griffin, a painter who moved to Easton several years ago after being inspired by Easton’s vibrant arts community. Griffin is now the only artist to have won at least one award in all seven years since the event’s inception in 2005. In 2011, Griffin won the Best Marine Award, sponsored by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, for his painting titled “Eastern Shore Heritage.” Griffin’s “Golden Morning” brought the highest bid ($3,100) at this year’s Winners’ Paint-Out, Brunch & Live Auction. Will he continue this amazing streak next year? Mark you calendar now for the 8th annual Plein Air–Easton!, which will take place July 16-22, 2012.

Plein Air–Easton! is the work of the Avalon Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide diversified arts and educational programs that improve the quality of life in the Mid-Shore region. The Academy Art Museum provides is the museum venue for the competition exhibit. The event is supported by Friends of Plein Air–Easton!, the Talbot County Arts Council, and corporate, media, and community based sponsors. For information, listing of winners, painting galleries, artist bios, or to become a Friend of Plein Air–Easton!, call 410.822.7297 or visit www.pleinaireaston.com.

Photo: “Mind’s Eye” by Jennifer M. Hunter from Easton won the Best Spirit of Plein Air–Easton! Award in the 2011 Plein Air–Easton! Photography Competition.