Painting outdoors is a community practice. See how one artist is encouraging plein air with “a self-contained painting station.”
by John Berton
A BertonBox is a self-contained painting station originally intended to encourage community participation in the Port Wing Plein Air Painting Festival, Port Wing, Wisconsin. I can’t remember what prompted me to make the first one, but it happened in the summer of 2017. I painted them BumbleBee Yellow and had 11 of them around town for a couple of weeks before the festival and for a week after. They were attached to a pipe that was pounded into the ground. This was a bit tedious, and removal was an issue that had to be worked out.
Each easel sported a short history of plein air painting and stated that the canvasses produced would become the property of the festival and would be used strictly for promotion of the Festival. We collected 53 canvasses. The artists ranged from young kids to professional painters. Many canvasses were started by one artist, left, and finished by another.
Early this spring, I refurbished the 2017 easels and made 11 more. An artist at the festival last year suggested calling them a “BertonBox.” So I did. I no longer pound a pole into the ground. I’ve attached the easels to a car tire rim which supports the easel. The base is filled with soil and flowers to calm the sensibilities of some town folk.
The easels are not as tip-proof as when the mounting poles were pounded into the ground, but the improvement in ease of use is worth it. We had a ferocious storm with 60+ mph winds last week, and five of 17 tipped over. The only damage was scattered soil and flowers that had to be replanted. The easels are pretty sturdy. When finished with a canvas, painters text me with the easel number. I collect the painting, replace the canvas, clean the brushes and palette if needed, and check the paints and water. Regardless of use, I visit each easel every day to water the plants and do general upkeep.
This year I’ve asked painters to put their name and address on the back of the canvas if they want to keep it. Once photographed and once the exhibition is over, I mail them back.
Some of the expenses related to use of the boxes were generously supported this year by a couple of businesses in town. I have funded production of the boxes myself. I did not intend to sell them and was pleasantly surprised when five of the boxes were purchased by an artist at the Port Wing Plein Air Painting Festival this spring for use at the Loring Park Art Festival in Minneapolis and at Plein Air Grand Marais. I intend to have boxes for sale (soon at www.bertonbox.com) and to have them each year at the Port Wing Plein Air Painting Festival and at other Plein Air events.
The people who use the BertonBoxes love them. No fuss. Just open the box and start painting. I haven’t asked the artists to clean up but most do. The reward for me is opening a box for maintenance and finding a completed painting.