For Stephen Griffin, the 2023 Plein Air Easton (PAE) festival is his 17th in 18 years and his 13th in a row. “Plein Air is the reason I moved to Easton,” he said while dabbing finishing touches on his “Sheep at the Barn” oil painting as two horses tried to get in the picture.
Griffin was living in Edgewater, along the South River near Annapolis, when Cedric Egeli, a friend who later painted the official portrait of then-Gov. Larry Hogan suggested he apply for a new outdoor painting competition across the Chesapeake Bay. “To me, Easton was just a place you drive by on the way to the ocean,” he recalls. But after his first-time painting scenes in and around town, “I told Cedric, ‘If you can find me a studio, I’m moving here.’ And two weeks later, I moved to Easton.”
Not all 57 artists from across the United States – plus one from Italy – are so impressed with Plein Air Easton, now in its 19th year, that they would move here. But all ten painters interviewed at Saturday’s sold-out Meet the Artists event sang their PAE praises.
Christine Lashley of Reston, Virginia, calls the festival “an incredible event. Basically, all you have to do all week is to paint. It fosters creativity.” Lashley and her fellow artists compete for a juried ribbon and sales of one or more of their paintings. Olena Babak, who drove down from Hartland, Maine, for her eighth Plein Air Easton, says, “The way they treat us is completely unmatched.” Other festival organizers “are nice to us wherever else we go. But here, they treat us like kings and queens.” As a result, Babak says, she has completed up to 12 paintings during a week’s stay.
Kim VanDerHoek, who flew in for her eighth PAE from Orange, California, painted along the shoreline confluence of the Wye River with Gross and Lloyd creeks framing a view of Wye Island and, in the distance from Gross Coate Farm, Bennett’s Point in Queen Anne’s County. She joked about the clouds over the scene she was committing to her 24-by-36-inch canvas. “They don’t pose for you,” she said, adding that she chose her spot beneath a sprawling tree for the shade and a breeze off the water as relief from the smothering afternoon humidity.
Nearby, in the shade of a weeping willow, DK Palecek said she “drove like a banshee” for 15 hours from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, for her first Plein Air Easton. At Meet the Artists, she switched locations on the farm’s vast lawn where she had sketched a stand of trees in the blazing sun before moving to the waterfront for a respite, adding orange daylilies to her composite painting.
Placing his easel under a linden tree with a second-story veranda stretching across its hefty branches, Richard Sneary, a retired Kansas City, Missouri, architectural artist, painted the 1760 brick mansion of the Gross Coate estate. “I like the character of old buildings in their natural setting,” he said, noting that he’s done many new architectural wonders, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Ravens’ stadium before it was named for a bank.
Near the foot of the lane leading to the mansion, Philip Carlton painted on a smaller scale – a 6-by-10-inch hardwood board. He chose a shady spot overlooking a large pond upon which a steady breeze and sparkling sun reflections created a constant ripple against a treeline background through which a field of sunflowers peeked. From western Colorado near the Utah border, Carlton was returning for his third PAE for its “very different landscape and bright greens,” as opposed to the desert hues where he lives. “But I don’t think I could live here,” he said of the heat and humidity. “I’ll take 105 degrees back home to 85 degrees here.”
By 6 in the evening, many of the day’s paintings had been mounted near the waterfront for show and sale under a tent surrounded by cocktail tables and sofa lawn furniture arranged in quadrants, most with umbrellas. By 7, gray-white stripes of evening clouds partially obscured the sun before it set—no thunderstorms in sight. Several paintings were already marked SOLD, even as they went up under the tent. It’s not unusual for Meet the Artist’s paintings to attract a buyer even before it’s finished and framed.
Griffin, the artist who moved to Easton after his first Plein Air, put his “Sheep at the Barn” up for a modest $900, while California painter VanDerHoek sought $6,300 for her “Upward and Onward.”
The festival continues with painting demonstrations through the week at PAE headquarters in the Waterfowl Building at Harrison and South streets and in Tilghman on Monday, July 17, and an Easton “paint-in” on Tuesday. Tickets to the Collector’s Preview Party on Friday, July 21, give a head start on the show-and-sale opening to the public. The preview ticket price can be applied to your art purchase. The smell of fresh oil paint permeates this event as signs warn you of “Wet Paint” on many works.
A July 22 kids competition concludes the next day with an exhibit, sale, and prizes. Awards in various categories of the professional competition, juried by painter Jove Wang, go up for show and sale at the Academy Art Museum on the final day, Sunday, July 23.
Across the street at Christ Church, “Local Color,” a show and sale outside the PAE festival, is open July 20-23.
Plein Air Easton festivities began indoors with Friday afternoon-into-evening receptions at three downtown art galleries.
Troika Gallery opened its fourth annual “Fabulous Forgeries” exhibit featuring artists it represents who have copied some of the Great Masters’ greatest hits on canvas. In addition, works by Sara Linda Poly, the 2016 Plein Air grand prize winner, and classically based paintings by Matt Zoll are on show and sale through Aug. 31.
Further down Harrison Street, Trippe Gallery premiered its “Women in Plein Air” exhibit of works by seven artists among 20 past and/or current PAE painters, including Jill Basham of Trappe, who has appeared in every Plein Air Easton festival since 2012.
Turning the corner onto Goldsborough, Studio B hosted a reception for its “Masterstrokes: Visions of Jove Wang” show running through July 24. Jove is a juror for this year’s Plein Air Easton.
As the gallery receptions drew to a close, an audience estimated at 200 was assembling in lawn chairs arrayed on Harrison in front of the Tidewater Inn for Perfect Storm Productions’ presentation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on a stage adorned with plastic flowers and blinking-light garlands bathed in clamshell footlights.
The tale of mismatched lovers, confused by magic and mischief, was performed by a large and nimble cast and crew that dodged raindrops as thunder dispersed some of the crowd near the show’s end.
A video intro to “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the tragedy within the comedy, drew robust applause for Wall, erected by the couple’s fathers to keep the lovers apart. A final resolution of love lost, found, and reassembled is portrayed in immersive style as a cast of fairies, a jester in donkey ears, and a vagabond troupe of players mingle with the audience as a royal wedding becomes one for four couples whose love survives the harrowing “dream.”
Rain all but curtailed the “Nocturne Paint-Out” scheduled to follow the play, though a few artists with easels painted scenes from the “Midsummer’s Night” show. (The final performance is at 7 p.m. Sunday at Oxford Community Center.)
More festival highlights include the Collector’s Preview Party on July 21, The Plein Air Quick Draw Competition on Saturday from 10am to 2pm which is open to anyone and will see thousands of collectors and over 200 artists painting in a two block area of downtown Easton. The Next Generation Painting Competition, for painters 18 and under runs on Saturday as well from 10am to 3pm. The festival concludes this Sunday, July 22, at Small Painting Sunday from 10am to 3pm with complimentary Bloody Marys and Mimosas and at 2pm The Judges Talk where Plein Air Easton Judge, Master Jove Wang will reveal why he chose each of the winning paintings. Plein Air Easton Headquarters is open with hundreds of freshly painted Eastern Shore scenes daily except for Thursday. More details at pleinaireaston.com.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts writer and editor now living in Easton.
PLEIN AIR EASTON
Through July 23 in Easton and various Talbot County locations. pleinaireaston.com