Jill Basham of Trappe anticipated a sky that would develop like an old-fashioned photograph in the darkroom magic trick of dunking glossy paper into a pan of chemicals. The sky above Harris Creek didn’t look much like the one Basham was painting at the moment. Nor that of most others spread out along the shoreline in the hours leading up to Plein Air Easton’s “Meet the Artists” party Saturday evening at historic Langdon Farm between Sherwood and Tilghman Island.
Basham has been a regular at the Plein Air Easton Festival, now in its 18th year, since 2012. “Events like this can make painting a career for us. Absolutely,” she says. Basham’s paintings can be appreciated – and purchased – at Trippe Gallery in Easton year-round. But the roiling turbulence of gray and atmospheric gloom on her canvas did not reflect the sunny sky-blue interrupted by cotton-ball puffs of white clouds that I saw, shading my eyes.
“I’m anticipating a thunderstorm,” Basham explained.
Just up the creek from Basham’s easel, a Plein Air first-timer from Wisconsin was painting a beach-and-estuary vista with a treeline anchoring the horizon. Marc Anderson’s sky was as yet undefined. “A bunch of my friends have painted here and did pretty well,” he said. “So I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m told that people here really appreciate art.”
Debra Huse of California should know. This is her 14th year at Plein Air Easton. She won a “Best Light” award one year and a quick-draw prize another. (Sort of sounds like a scene from “Gunsmoke,” except the “weapon” is maybe a watercolor brush.) “Waterways and boats, architecture and agriculture, you find beauty everywhere,” Huse says as she’s painting a tree she cannot identify. “It’s deciduous,” I offered unhelpfully.
Christine Lashley of Reston, Va., says, “It’s wonderful to be able to do what we do. I
prepare for a festival like this a week ahead. It’s kind of like a concert performance. When it’s on, you’ve gotta bring it.” She’s doing a sky-meets-water-and-lawn scene, trying like Basham, to forecast what the sky will look like by the time her painting is mounted for show-and-sale under the sponsoring Avalon Foundation’s tent. Yes, it’s almost a live concert event.
Kim VanDerHoek, also from California – yes, it’s a big state, but in the smaller world of plein-air vagabonds, she and Huse know each other – is a big fan of Easton’s festival. “It’s an incredible show. And they treat us really, really well. They help out in any way they can,” she says as members of the Avalon staff pull up in one of the ubiquitous golf carts to ask if Kim needs a bottle of water. “They believe that artists can do their best work if they feel appreciated. We get that here. Even the watermen notice us. ‘Oh, you must be here for Plein Air,’ one of them said as I painted near a dock.”
Moving away from the shoreline, I encountered a very different painting style. Beth Bathe of Lancaster, Pa., was creating an up-close, impressionistic interpretation of a tree branch in an apple orchard near the Langdon Farm pool and enclosed standalone dining room. She was going for a monochromatic image with strokes of green-to-red shine on immature apples. This is Bathe’s eighth year at Plein Air Easton. “I sold ten paintings last year,” she said and would sell another on this day. “It’s like the most prestigious event of its kind in the country,” she says, adding that a friend who didn’t make the final roster of artists this year got a call just hours earlier allowing him to enter due to another’s cancellation. “If you get that call from Plein Air Easton, you get here if you possibly can.”
Prices set by the artists are not negotiable, as a share of the sale goes to Avalon Foundation’s support for its myriad arts programs.
When Jill Basham’s Langdon Farm View went up under the party tent next to the circa 18th-century manor house, her sky looked just like the one then hovering overhead with the portend of an ensuing downpour — which ensued. Her painting sold for a whopping $5,400. Christine Lashley’s similarly anticipatory Cloud Progression went for $2,100. Debra Huse’s Artist Paradise, depicting an unnamed tree, fetched $1,500, while Beth Bathe’s An Apple a Day impressionist painting went for $950. I’m no pricing expert. But I consider that a steal. The barns near the entrance were one of the most popular subjects of the one-day sale of fresh paintings. Renaldo Dorado’s Langdon Farm Life watercolor, first up under the tent, sold for $1,800.
But this was just a preliminary. Now the Plein Air Easton competition begins with artists spread out to sites they have, no doubt, already selected around Talbot County or nearby regional sites. Their paintings go on view day by day this week at the Waterfowl Building in downtown Easton with the smell of wet oil permeating the gallery space. Winning entries will be exhibited at Academy Art Museum across the street starting on Saturday. Those will likely be dry by then.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts writer and editor now living in Easton.
Plein Air Easton Festival
Art show and sale, Waterfowl Building, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 40 S. Harrison St. Easton
Quick Draw Competition, in and around downtown Easton, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Artisan’s Market, outdoors near Waterfowl Building, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Competition and Winner’s show and sale, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton
Local Color exhibit and sale, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Christ Church, 111 S. Harrison St., Easton, pleinaireaston.com
Judge’s Choice: Walters Art Museum CEO Julia Marciari-Alexander discusses her choices for Plein Air Easton competition winners, 2 p.m. Sunday, Waterfowl Building
Pictures: Jill Basham in her studio