One day last week, John Schisler of Millsboro, Delaware stood beneath the sloping roof that covers the weathered concrete loading platform at PT Hambleton’s crab and oyster wharf in Bozman.
Positioned out of the way of watermen bringing in bushel baskets filled with scratching crabs, he studied the scene carefully. What he saw eventually found its way onto the canvas he had propped on his wooden, three-legged easel.
Schisler worked steadily, dabbing the bristles of his brush in the various colors of his palette, applying detail and color to the composition he had chosen, finding the right combinations of light and shadow to bring life and depth to the two dimensional scene he created with his paints.
It was a hot day, like many last week, and Schisler was happy to be working in the shade. Todd Hambleton, John’s uncle, touched base with his nephew occasionally, checking out his progress between tallying baskets of crabs and rolling them on a dolly into the cooler.
“I’ve known him since he was about this tall,” said Todd, holding his hand knee high.
There was a time when the artist was the only one who painted scenes around Hambleton’s during Easton’s annual plein air competition and exhibition. “I knew this was a good place to paint because of my uncle’s family,” he said. “But word’s gotten out and others have found their way here now to paint the boats and the wharf and the people who make their living on the water.”
Schisler was among 58 artists from all over the United States – among hundreds of applicants – who were selected by an art professional to come to Talbot County for the 2021 competition. They painted in the towns, villages, farms and waterways between July 11 and 18, framed and exhibited their works, and entered their best in the competition for thousands of dollars in cash prizes.
Founded 17 years ago by the Avalon Foundation as a cultural event for the Talbot community and as a fundraiser, Plein Air Easton has generated millions of dollars over the years for the foundation and local economy.
This year’s event brought out not only the juried artists chosen for the competition, but also hundreds of other painters who exhibited in other shows and participated in the two-hour, quick-draw event on Saturday. Thousands of people looked at the fruits of the artists’ labors throughout the week in exhibit spaces around the county and enjoyed social events associated with the event.
On Saturday, with Harrison Street in Easton partially closed to traffic, crowds braved the heat, drank free water provided by the Avalon Foundation, listened to live music on a streetside stage, and took a close look at the plein air paintings produced that morning. The easeled works lined both sides of the street along with their creators.
All the paintings created over the week-long event were for sale and many sported the red dots cherished by artists indicating the piece had been sold. A portion of each sale benefits the foundation.
Billed as The Nation’s Largest Outdoor Painting Competition, Plein Air Easton’s 2021 event was clearly a success. The positive energy among the artists and those who came to appreciate their talents added an extra level of excitement, especially in this bounce-back year following last year’s pandemic-modified, but still successful, event.
Dennis Forney grew up on the Chester River in Chestertown. After graduating Oberlin College, he returned to the Shore where he wrote for the Queen Anne’s Record Observer, the Bay Times, the Star Democrat, and the Watermen’s Gazette. He moved to Lewes, Delaware in 1975 with his wife Becky where they lived for 45 years, raising their family and enjoying the saltwater life. Forney and Trish Vernon founded the Cape Gazette, a community newspaper serving eastern Sussex County, in 1993, where he served as publisher until 2020. He continues to write for the Cape Gazette as publisher emeritus and expanded his Delmarva footprint in 2020 with a move to Bozman in Talbot County.
Photos by Dennis Forney