Even though the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival is celebrating its 14th year, the event witnessed a few firsts this season: a massive hailstorm and tornado, a hog farm paint-out, and a sweep of all three major awards by a single painting.

What did not change was the festival committee’s tireless support of the 135 registered artists. Augusta is in the center of Missouri’s wine region west of St. Louis, and many of the event sponsors quite literally “wine and dine” the artists during the festival’s 15 organized paint-outs. Co-chair Cindy Kedrowski arranged hosting for out-of-town artists, too, so each visiting artist became part of the local community during the 10-day event.

“Morning on the Farm,” by Marty Coulter. Best of Show, Artists’ Choice, People’s Choice

Many plein air artists cite the changing landscape as one of their major motivations to paint — they know they can play a role in history by creating a visual record of their surroundings. But most artists don’t see those changes within a span of days like Craig Thomas, Zak Barnes, and Paul Schaefer did this year in Augusta. They painted a historic 150-year-old barn in the Missouri River Bottoms less than 48 hours before a massive storm blew through the valley and knocked it flat.
That very same storm provided a valuable lesson for first-time festival painter Allison Laupp. Laupp, who lives in a nearby town and has hosted artists during the festival in past years, finally took the plunge and registered to join them. She was painting alongside more than 50 others at Sugar Creek Winery when the sky turned dark and picked up a vivid green hue. “I knew I had to get going,” she said. “I quickly decided to pack up my easel and turn the piece in ‘as is,’ which I now realize is the best way to paint. What a lesson learned! I didn’t have time to overthink or overwork my piece.” Hail began falling soon after the artists beat a hasty retreat into the winery, then a tornado touched down not far from the area — a first for the Augusta festival. But Laupp wasn’t complaining; she won First Place in the pastel category for her simple, beautiful (and speedy!) painting of the vineyard that day.
Spencer Meagher, who won the mixed media category with his painting “Femme Osage Creek Rocks,” said the storm had a wholly different effect on his work. He painted on a low crossing by the creek alongside oil painter Nyle Gordon and remembers joking about being in the perfect place to get caught in a flash flood. When the storm broke, the pair took cover in their cars and parked under an old grocery awning to get away from the hail. It turned out the flash flood was no joking matter: In 10 minutes, said Meagher, “the peaceful stream had gone from a few inches deep to an angry, raging torrent probably three or four feet deep.”

“Wine Before Rain,” by Allison Laupp. First Place, Pastel

He had to return the next day to finish his painting, and subsequently overworked the watercolor. “I lost the original luminance I had in mind,” said Meagher. “In order to salvage what I could from the painting, I had to break out my gouache to do some opaque painting to recover the lost highlights in the rocky areas that were my original focal point. The opacity of the gouache laid atop the transparent watercolor revitalized the painting, enhancing the rocks, and making it read again the way I originally saw it.”
Artist Michael McLure made quick work of his top acrylic painting, but not because of inclement weather. “Sometimes it helps to have a sense of urgency,” said McClure. “I was parked on a farmer’s access road and was expecting to be booted off the place any moment, so I painted like the wind.” McLure is experimenting with a new approach, mixing his colors directly on the canvas. “This produces a lively surface and some unexpected color passages. What I’m looking for is energy and vitality, a sense of aliveness. So it’s fun to take a subject like a barn and give it that treatment.”
This year marked the first time festival artists painted at a hog farm. Augusta’s organizing committee seeks out at least one private estate owner each year to host one of the 15 daily paint-outs and purchase awards. This year, the owners of a hog farm near Washington, MO, hosted 40 artists on their property. Some (including the day’s purchase award winner, Michele Wells) elected to paint the farm grounds, but others ventured nearer the pigpens. Lon Brauer and I wound up painting just a few feet from our very curious subjects. I initially planned to create a quick study of a single pig, but by the time I finished sketching, the pigs’ comical antics drew me in and I couldn’t resist doing a group portrait.
This year, co-chair Kathy Kessler noted that the festival had expanded opportunities for artists to sell work. Volunteers staffed pop-up galleries in a Washington storefront and the Augusta visitor’s center all week. The committee also brought in new collectors by hosting paint-outs with sponsors in the surrounding towns, and offered two children’s paint-outs and multiple workshops and demonstrations.
Patrick Saunders, who won the top prize last year, returned to Augusta to teach a workshop and do a demonstration. In between those he found time to create an evocative piece on an old property within Augusta’s town limits. “Augusta is a jewel of the St. Louis area,” said Saunders, who hails from St. Louis. “There is so much history around every turn that there is never a want for subject matter. Around every turn is something new and unexpected.”

“Femme Osage Creek Rocks,” by Spencer Meagher. First Place, Mixed Media

In a competitive field of artists, Marty Coulter found some remarkable success with his painting “Morning on the Farm.” He took home Best of Show, Artists’ Choice, and People’s Choice; Kathy Kessler said that Coulter’s trifecta was the first in the history of the festival.
“This was one of those ‘perfect’ subjects,” Coulter said of his painting location, though it did carry an element of risk: He had to park along a busy highway to see the farm. “Only when I got down to work did I realize that there were massive trucks whooshing by continuously,” he said. “Several times I had to pick up tools that were blown away, but the beauty of the farm kept me focused.”
Coulter promises to be back in Augusta next year. “It’s a wonderful event with generous patrons and dedicated volunteers.”
To recap the major awards, Best of Show, Artists’ Choice, and People’s Choice went to Marty Coulter for “Morning on the Farm.” Awards in the oil category were: First Place, Marty Coulter; Second Place, Patrick Saunders; Third Place (tie), Nyle Gordon and Tim Breaux; Honorable Mention, Lon Bauer, Kathleen Hudson, and Roy Boswell. Awards in the watercolor category were: First Place, Gary Beazley; Second Place, Marcia Willman; Third Place, Spencer Meagher; Honorable Mention, Jim Peters.

A curious pig looked on as I blocked in the initial values.

Awards in the pastel category were: First Place, Allison Laupp, Second and Third Place, Michele Wells; Honorable Mention, Susan Rogers. Awards in the acrylic category were: First Place, Michael McClure; Second and Third Place, Craig Thomas; Honorable Mention, Rebecca McGuire. Awards in the mixed media category were: First Place, Spencer Meagher; Second Place, Donna Shortt; Third Place, Catherine Mahoney; Honorable Mention, Linda Green-Metzler.
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