"Suspended Service" an 11x14-inch oil on panel by Debbie Mueller of Durham, New Hampshire, was Best in Show at the 2020 Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. She also won the People's Choice award for another oil on panel painting (12x16-inch), "Nubble Morning."

It took imagination and vast amounts of hard work, but organizers report that the 2020 Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival — PIPAF in Isolation — was a success.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions on travel, in only its fourth year PIPAF had to reinvent itself, going from a massive in-person festival luring artists and viewers from across North America to the Parrsboro Shore of the Bay of Fundy and replacing it with an online-only event. Instead of creating plein air (outdoor) art in person under the watchful eye of visitors and potential art buyers, 30 artists, still from across North America, posted videos of themselves creating their art at home and then viewers made their purchases via the internet.

The winners:

New Hampshire artist Debbie Mueller’s “Suspended Service,” Best in Show (shown at top)

Debbie Mueller

New York artist Diane Leifheit’s “Bog River Falls,” 2nd Place

Diane Leifheit of Paul Smiths, NY won the second-place award for “Bog River Falls,” a 9×16-inch pastel on paper work.
Diane Leifheit

Washington, DC artist Thomas Bucci’s Caffe Pomeridiano,” 3rd Place

The third-place prize of $750 went to Thomas Bucci of Washington, DC for his 10-x10-inch watercolor paper “Caffe Pomeridiano.”

Debbie Mueller won the People’s Choice Award for “Nubble Morning.” Awards for Best Nocturne and Best Use of Light went to Nova Scotia’s Wesley Lowe and Maryland’s Alison Menke, respectively.

Did it work? The 2020 festival drew thousands of viewers and, while sales are still available at www.parrsborocreative.com, the current sales total so far of $7,709 exceeds last year’s $6,367.95, once the value of picture frames, which weren’t possible this year, was added to the 2020 numbers.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was a challenge, one met by the organization and the participating artists,” said Jocelyn Li, Parrsboro Creative’s executive director. “We had no template to go by so we had to develop things as we went along. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of the artists, and we are happy they are making sales. We hope they can come here in person next year.”

Artists from as far away as Florida, California and British Columbia participated in the festival, based on a French style of outdoor painting that captures landscapes and views in natural light, a popular practice for centuries that requires specific skills and techniques.

“The folks at Parrsboro Creative did a fantastic job,” said participating artist David Lussier of Somersworth, NH in a post on his website. “In what seemed like the blink of an eye, they shifted their focus from planning a live event to planning an online festival that still had the focus on plein air painting.”

Key to the success, Lussier said, was how the organization kept the 30 participating artists aware of their plans “every step of the way” and managed to give the website the “flavor and vibe” of a live plein air event.

“We are deeply grateful to the artists, and the sponsors, who enabled us to proceed with this year’s event,” said Li. “It was a lot of work but definitely worth it in the long run.”

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