The affluent Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, Wisconsin, played host to a plein air event again this September, bringing with it new winners and some changes in its handling of artists. Who won, and what gives?
The organizer of the event, Jenny Steinman Heyden, reports that a record crowd of more than 3,000 visitors attended, and about 200 paintings sold on the last day, September 19. She points out that the community contributed $25,000 to support the event, in addition to providing more than 100 volunteers and acting as hosts to most of the out-of-town artists. “It was like a barn-raising,” Heyden says. “Everybody pitched in. It worked really well, so I guess we are going to have to do it again next year — ha. It went awesome.”
“Wedding,” by Edward Corkery. Best of Show
Heyden also notes that the weather during the four-day event presented a taste of all four of the seasons, and included a cloudburst just at the start of the Quickpaint. Through it all, the plein air artists endured and enjoyed, as plein air artists do.
Edward Corkery won Best of Show with his painting “Wedding.” The Chicago-area artist says the painting was years in the making. He spotted the church in Shorewood two years ago, and he’s witnessed people gathered for a wedding there. In his hometown, he sketched people outside a church after a wedding and noted how they held programs and purses. “It was those kinds of details I hoped to gather,” he says. “I also noticed how there’s always a smattering of old ladies and young children, and a lot of people who are contemporaries of the couple.” Corkery painted a 5”-x-7” value study of the church in Shorewood on the Wednesday of the event, and then painted the view of the church on location, adding figures as he remembered them and had sketched them previously, over the last two days.
“Daybreak,” by James Hempel. First Place
“I felt the painting was a success, and I felt pretty good finishing somewhere in the prize list,” says Corkery. “I’m always surprised when I get a first place, though.”
Or Best of Show, in this case. James Hempel won First Place with “Daybreak,” with Sherri Thomas coming in Second with “View From Atwater Park.” R.L. Weber won Third with “Custodial Preference.” Shelby Keefe won the Quickpaint competition with “Kensington Lights.”
“View From Atwater Park,” by Sherri Thomas, 2015, oil, 12 x 16 in. Second Place
Organizers report that “the majority of artists sold work, and the majority sold at least two pieces,” which points to another aspect of Plein Air Shorewood that the plein air market found interesting. This year Plein Air Shorewood instituted a $200 participation fee for artists, on top of the $40 entry fee. Some painters took to social media to express their displeasure, stating that it was a “pay to play” model that shifts almost all of the financial risk to the artists.
So what was the fallout? There were fewer artists, but whether that was by design is undetermined. Some artists sold out all their work and didn’t have to share the proceeds via a commission. They went home happy. Some didn’t sell any.
Elizabeth Carr Whitmore paints in the fog. Photo by John O’Hara
Heyden was pleased with the way things went. “Instead of watching people stand in line and fill out forms in triplicate, we saw collectors shaking hands with artists and walking away with art,” she says.
“Custodial Preference,” by R.L. Weber. Third Place
Heyden says sales were strong, but organizers can know this only anecdotally, as the artists had no way or reason to report sales. Can this model succeed over time? Will artists return to a place if they don’t make a significant profit above the $240 in fees? Can it succeed in other places, including areas where collectors are less enthusiastic? Many people will be watching carefully.
“Kensington Lights,” by Shelby Keefe. First Place in the Quickpaint competition
In the meantime, many of the artists participating in Plein Air Shorewood seem to have come away having simply enjoyed another well-run event. Heyden tells us of one happy incident. “One artist, D.K. Palecek, was standing outside in the pouring rain during the Quickpaint competition,” recalls Heyden. “She said she was stunned and moved to tears when a very attractive young woman in a dress and heels came and held a pink umbrella over her head for some time. Said Palecek, ‘That just doesn’t happen.’ When the woman had to leave to open her shop, a man came up and held the umbrella for an additional 45 minutes. He came to the show on Saturday and bought the painting.”