Plein air artists in St Augustine
Labeled photograph by J. Carver of the founding members of the St. Augustine Art Association.

St. Augustine Art Association Celebrates 95th Anniversary En Plein Air in Nation’s Oldest City

From the St. Augustine Art Association:

Ninety-five years ago, in the nation’s oldest city of St. Augustine, Florida, a small group of artists planted the seeds for the St. Augustine Art Association (www.staaa.org), now the epicenter of the local art community. Those founders followed in the footsteps of famous northern artists who worked in the studios of Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel—the opulent Renaissance-inspired “Resort of the South,” built in the heart of the historic town at the turn of the century.

St. Augustine Plein Air Artists at the Castillo de San Marcos (mid 20th century)

Despite numerous fits and starts, the young art group blossomed in the early 20th century under the leadership of artists like Tod Lindenmuth and his wife, E. B. Warren, well-known painters from Provincetown, and Anthony Thieme, a powerhouse from Rockport. They and other artists who wintered in the picturesque southern town, found inspiration in the Spanish architecture, quaint streets, and busy harbor, not to mention the mild climate. After the Depression, the founding artists and business chamber launched successful promotional efforts to entice tourists and aspiring plein air artists to the historic city. Their advertising campaign, “Like Painting in Europe,” was revived this year in PleinAir magazine to commemorate the St. Augustine Art Association’s 95th Anniversary!

3rd Annual St. Augustine Plein Air Paint Out QuickDraw participants at the Lightner Museum, formerly the Hotel Alcazar, built by Henry Flagler.

The 3rd Annual St. Augustine Plein Air Paint Out, held at the end of April, was the signature event for the Association’s year-long celebration. It was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and supported by a host of community partners. Seventy plein air artists from across the Southeast converged on the historic site that Pedro Menendez claimed for Spain in 1565. Working from dawn to dark, the modern-day art “explorers” produced a stunning collection of paintings that captured the essence of the town and imagination of viewers. The works were showcased in a juried exhibition, “Where Art Meets History,” at the St. Augustine Art Association throughout the month of May.

QuickDraw winners (l to r) Roger Bansemer, Mayor Tracy Upchurch (judge), Jeff Markowsky, and Paul Ladnier surrounded by the Gilded Age architecture of Henry Flagler in the historic district of St. Augustine.
Jeff Markowsky: Best in Show Winner for “Ingrid at Rest,” oil on canvas. 3rd Annual St. Augustine Plein Air Paint Out.

Canadian-born artist Jeff Markowsky claimed top honors in the exhibit—the $1,000 Best in Show Award, sponsored by local benefactors Clark and Alice Alger as well as the prestigious PleinAir Magazine Advertising Award. He was also a top winner in the Paint Out QuickDraw, judged by the mayor, Tracy Upchurch, an avid art collector and historian.

“St. Augustine is a truly beautiful city,” said Markowsky, who produced several paintings along the San Sebastian River during the Paint Out. “I was very inspired by the early morning scenes and late evening shrimp boats at the docks.” An art professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, Markowsky has traveled extensively throughout the U.S. painting en plein air and has received numerous awards and press coverage.

Bill Suys, Signature Member of the OPA and Portrait Society of America, traveled from Wisconsin to judge the exhibit. His other top picks included Antwan Ramar of Orlando, Florida (1st Place), Ray Brilli of Palm Coast, Florida (2nd Place), and St. Augustine artist Roger Bansemer, host of the PBS series “Painting and Travel” (3rd Place). Excellence awards were also given to Paul Ladnier and Robert Leedy of Jacksonville, Florida, Donna Biggee of Atlanta, Georgia, and Susan Astleford and Martha Ferguson of St. Augustine, Florida.

Anna Miller painting en plein air
Anna Miller painting en plein air

Kay Burtin, 90-year-old distinguished lifetime member of the St. Augustine Art Association, knew many of the early plein air artists personally. “I’m so proud to see such beautiful plein air paintings of St. Augustine, because this is how we started,” Burtin exclaimed while addressing the capacity crowd at the exhibit’s opening reception awards ceremony. “This is our history and now with such wonderful artists, it is our future!”

James Newman painting en plein air
James Newman painting en plein air

The St. Augustine Art Association is located in St. Augustine’s historic district. The organization is housed in a landmark 3,500-square-foot venue where juried exhibitions are produced monthly, along with educational programs for adults and children, cultural events, and concerts. The Association holds a permanent collection of artworks related to St. Augustine and has robust outreach initiatives that serve the community. For more information about the organization and the annual St. Augustine Plein Air Paint Out, visit www.staaa.org/pleinair.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Ummm…. St. Augustine, FL was founded in 1565. The oldest city in the country is probably San Juan, PR founded in 1521.

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