The Plein Air Festival is out and about in a way that almost makes you forget about the pandemic, if that’s possible.
At last Saturday’s Meet-the-Artists preview party, there was hardly a mask in sight for this outdoor soiree, as well as all the active painting events in the festival. After all, “Plein Air” translates from French as “painting in outdoor daylight”—even though some among the 58 artists competing in this 17th annual art happening are concentrating on nocturnes.
Those meeting the artists were 90 or so contributing supporters: Friends of Plein Air Easton. The artists were all at work painting scenes at Forrest Landing, the sprawling horse farm estate property of Cynthia Rickman and Joel Texter. The dress code was “country club” casual. Ladies were attired in summer dresses ranging from full-length diaphanous gowns to bare-shoulder cutaways; men in sports shirts over khakis or Bermudas.
Paintings by each festival artist went up in a tent on the long, sloping lawn from the Colonial Revival-style mansion down to the headwaters of Pickering Creek. Many were snapped up via credit card as soon they were mounted. Others were sold even before framing, plus a few while still receiving finishing touches on the artist’s easel.
A live band serenaded artists and guests alike who availed themselves of an open bar and chilled gourmet take-out dinners on their way out.
Here are a few of the creative artists and their processes we witnessed:
Leonard Mizerek keeps returning year after year to Plein Air Easton from his home in Westport, Conn. This summer marks his 12th competing in this open-air paint fest. “I love this event because of the community that supports it,” he says. He appreciates how welcome he feels during the weeklong festival and the three or four days in advance taken to get a head start on scouting out scenes to paint for the various opportunities to display and sell his art. When not prepping, painting, or polishing up his finished product with a snazzy frame, he has a cottage all to himself.
Each artist is expected to produce at least two paintings for the competition, which will be judged after Wednesday’s deadline by Daniel Weiss, president, and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Mizerek and 57 others participated in the Meet-the-Artists painterly reception Saturday afternoon and evening at Forrest Landing amid mile after mile of cornfields and waterfront mansions that have replaced farmhouses northwest of Easton.
Before toiling all afternoon painting a scene at the edge of Pickering Creek, Mizerak spent a couple of days in Bellevue. He was looking for just the right early morning light to paint workboats heading out on the Tred Avon River at the ferry landing to Oxford for his competition entry.
Although he has yet to be a winner at Plein Air Easton, Mizerak says he has no regrets. “I may not be a winner, but I’m a seller.” Sure enough, he sold his meet-the-artist painting of the creek, glistening in the afternoon sun beneath a blue sky with cotton-puffy clouds, grounded by a weathered boathouse to one side of his canvas and bright yellow lilies at the bottom.
Among others choosing this fetching view was Alison Barry of Lusby in Southern Maryland, who brought her own shade in the form of a tall, heavily anchored tent. This is just the second festival for Barry. The first was truncated by COVID last year. “But the sales were good,” she recalls. Although there was little contact between artists and the public, even if masked, their paintings were displayed for sale in the commercial space in TalbotTown, formerly occupied by the NewsCenter. Barry arrived two days ahead of Meet-the-Artists to figure out where in Talbot County she will paint this year’s competition entries. “I don’t plan ahead,” she said. “I want it to be spontaneous.”
Other painters were arrayed beneath the line of sycamores lining either side of the quarter-mile lane leading to the mansion. The dean of this assembly of painters was John Brandon Sills of Cockeysville. This is his 15th Easton festival. He won the grand prize in 2014 but still vividly recalls his first plein air here. “The first guy I met just flew in from Colombia” (South America),” he said. “He wasn’t even in the competition, though he was a painter. He was here because he heard such good things about it.” Like Leonard Mizerek, Sills has found this to be a very welcoming community for artists. “I’ve had a place to stay here for the last ten years,” he said. “We’ve become very good friends. I have a key to the barn guest house.”
Sills was painting a scene anchored by triangle-roofed stables with a field of soybeans in the foreground and a “dramatic” blue sky above. As for his main competition paintings, Sills says he plans to return to his nocturne specialty at a so-far undetermined location.
Nearby his smallish canvas, Crista Pisano of Nyack, NY, stood over her even smaller panorama (5⅛ x 1⅛), adding brushstrokes to the linear forest that defines the landscape’s horizon demarcating the bright sky from rows of soybeans below. A past winner of the Small Painting Sunday competition, Pisano has been coming to Plein Air Easton since 2015. She favors an unusual framing technique. Each side of her rectangular frame–this one the color of shimmery charcoal–is a bit wider than the art itself. The painting adheres within the frame by way of Velcro.
Stephanie Amato of greater Atlanta, Ga., took a larger take on the scene with a portrait-shaped canvas conveying a sky that seems to go on forever with the stables as a focal berth. In this her fourth Easton festival, Amato says she “loves coming here,” having been somewhat intimidated by her first time. “I was a newbie as a painter then,” she said after hanging her painting in the tent with 50 or so others. “Now I have a better idea of what to paint. It’s so beautiful here.”
Ben M. Young of San Diego, who heard about the festival from a college friend who lived in Annapolis before moving to California, is making his Plein Air Easton debut. Rendering his take on the Pickering Creek scene, Young was one of the artists who sold his painting before it was completed.
Among the oddities under the exhibit tent were two paintings of the outdoor bar. Each was colorful, at least. But both were unsold as we left for the evening.
As expected, many Talbot artists were in the mix, led by Nancy Tankersley, a founder of the festival. She titled her Meet-the-Artists painting “In the Clover,” portraying horses on the estate chowing down in a meadow. She won a blue ribbon for best architectural painting in 2018.
Other local artists in this year’s fest are Tim Beall of St. Michaels, the grand prize winner in 2006 and 2018; Jill Basham of Trappe, a Small Painting Sunday honorable mention in 2018; Stephen Griffin, a 10-time winner in varied categories; Diane Dubois of Easton, an Academy Art Museum painting instructor; Sara Linda Poly, the grand prize winner in 2016 and first place in Small Painting Sunday in 2017; Mary Veiga of Tilghman Island, and Stewart Burgess White of Easton, a grand prize winner in 2009.
COMING UP AT PLEIN AIR:
Road Trips: Tips on buying art, visiting galleries in Tilghman, Oxford, St. Michaels, and Easton. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 13-14.
Nocturne Paint Out: 8:30-10:30 p.m. Everybody and anybody get to paint alongside the Tidewater Inn. Wednesday, July 14.
Collector’s Preview Party: 5:30-7:30 p.m., Academy Art Museum, Waterfowl Building, Easton. Get a jump on seeing all the paintings in competition before they are open to all for purchase on Saturday. $250 admission applies to any art purchases, including at PAE exhibits in Oxford, Tilghman, and St. Michaels’ Chesapeake Maritime Museum. Friday, July 16.
Quick Draw competition: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., all over downtown Easton. Registration $10. Saturday, July 17
Plein Air Kids Korner: Avalon Theater, register for art activities for kids on Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18, art exhibited for sale Sunday afternoon.
Small Painting Sunday:10 a.m. Exhibit and sale of paintings 6×8 inches or smaller. Sunday, July 18.
Plein Air competition paintings on exhibit for sale: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18. Free admission. Details at pleinaireaston.com, 410-822-7297.
Steve Parks is a retired arts writer and critic now living in Easton.