The third annual four-day Penn Valley Plein Air Fest hosted more than 60 artists, offered $5,000 in prizes, and sold more than $15,000 in paintings at the opening awards reception at Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.
Penn Valley Plein Air Fest is an urban experience in the pastoral setting of Penn Valley Park. The historic park offers a series of lookout points affording shifting views of the Kansas City skyline. Built on 134 acres on the edge of downtown Kansas City, the park was once a heavily forested route for pioneers heading west on the Santa Fe Trail. 

Lawrence Rudolech’s First Place winner. Photo by Marcia Willman

By the late 1800s the area was blighted with dilapidated housing dotting the deforested hillsides. But by 1904, the city repurposed the area with a three-acre man-made lake, children’s playgrounds, a field house, swimming pool, tennis courts, and three miles of winding lanes through hillsides, ravines, and limestone outcroppings.

Marcia Willman’s painting that took Second Place. Photo by Marcia Willman

In honor of those who served in World War I, Liberty Memorial was erected on park land in 1926. Its tower rises 360 feet above street level and offers an open-air lookout platform at its rim from which a magnificent panorama of Kansas City is visible. Liberty Memorial is also the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
Most of the park facilities were razed in 1949 for Interstate 35, with an on/off ramp bisecting the park. Suburbs exploded, and the park became neglected.

Spencer Meagher at work. Photo by Kirk Peterson

The last decades have brought renewed efforts to preserve the park. A volunteer group was founded, the Penn Valley Park Conservancy, committed to restoring and enhancing the park. The Conservancy sponsors the plein air fest, which has brought renewed local interest and vitality to the spot.
For plein air painters used to participating in regional small-town and rural settings, the urban bustle along with rush hour traffic and nearly continuous helicopters overhead for traffic and weather reporting, plus unrelenting sirens from ambulance, fire, and police vehicles, posed a challenge to concentration and productivity. While painting, Spencer Meagher opined, “I don’t think I could live in a city with all this noise. What are all the helicopters doing up there?”

Artists at the Quick Paint event. Photo by Kirk Peterson

Meagher’s nerves were salved when he won the first of three $500 two-hour Quick Paints from a lookout with gorgeous evening views of the city. Patrick Saunders won the second evening Quick Paint, held at Liberty Memorial. The third, a morning Quick Paint held at Penn Valley Lake, was won by Lawrence Rudolech.

Craig Lueck paints the view. Photo by Peggy Wilson

Top awards went to Patrick Saunders, Best of Show; Lawrence Rudolech, First Place; Marcia Willman, Second Place; and Zak Barnes, Honorable Mention. Craig Lueck won the $1,000 large-painting purchase award from One Park Place. Michael Albrechtsen served as awards juror.


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