Plein air season kicked off in Indiana with the 18th iteration of New Harmony’s First Brush With Spring. Dozens of artists descended on the town for three days, painting the historic streets laid out by the Harmonists and Owenites in two successive attempts to create a utopian society on the banks of the Wabash River.
Even if the 19th-century utopias didn’t fully pan out, this idyllic town is now a plein air artist’s paradise. “New Harmony is an enchanting place to paint, especially when surrounded by so many wonderful artists,” said 18-year-old Stephanie Thomson, whose painting was judge Bill Suys’s top pick in the non-professional division.

Jerry Smith won First Place with “A Walk Down Main.”

One of those artists was Jerry Smith, who had a full audience when he set up his easel near Main Street to paint his First Place painting. “I was in the direct route of hordes of schoolchildren walking down the street headed for the Labyrinth,” he said. Fortunately most of their commentary was positive, and his prime spot put him within easy view of the festival volunteers’ golf carts as they buzzed around town delivering food to artists.
Linda Mayer Volz won Best in Show with her painting of a farm near New Harmony. The bold colors of some farm implements caught her eye and she began painting on an orange-toned canvas. “I was drawn to the dark sky in back of the building and the warm sunlight hitting the front,” she said. “The biggest challenge for me is to not chase the light!”

Carol Strock-Wasson won Second Place with “Richard in the Garden.”

Like Linda, I went further afield for my painting of a hillside farm at sunrise. Two hours in, a farmhand drove by and pulled over to take a look. “I’ve raised cows here all my life,” he said. “How much for the picture?” “This one is $850,” I said. He cracked a grin, and with the air of someone bestowing a real gift, he exclaimed, “Well, I’ll tell you what…I’ll give you twenty dollars for it!” It took me a second to realize he thought I meant $8.50 rather than $850. I suppose I’ll be more specific next time.
Forty artists gathered for the Quick Draw on Thursday night. A torrential downpour forced the registration inside, but the timing worked out perfectly — the rain stopped by the time the foghorn signaled the start of painting time. The winners were Jerry Smith, David Seward, Chris Newlund, and Donna Shortt.

Jeanne McLeish won Third with “Spanning Spring.”

Watercolorist Jeanne McLeish is on her 16th year of painting in New Harmony. She decided to make her piece, which ultimately took Third Place, a painting of the bridge over the Wabash. “I enjoyed the struggle so much, I painted it twice!” she said.

Kathleen Hudson’s piece, “Early to Rise,” won Honorable Mention.

Chris Newlund opted for a less serene location, although a viewer wouldn’t know it from the calm atmosphere in her painting. Newlund found a vantage point next to a thunderously loud air conditioning unit. “Since earplugs aren’t part of my plein air setup, I stuffed paper towels in my ears and tightened my visor on top of them — not a great look,” she says. She found it worthwhile, though: “I like the composition that was naturally there and had to make few changes to make it work. I also felt the color harmony was pleasant.”

Chris Newlund won the Quick Draw with this piece.

Donna Shortt had to employ a little more artistic license in creating her award-winning pastel painting. She loved the lines of the trees in her composition, but strongly disliked the color of the wild mustard in the background. “I changed the color of the background to the replace the mustard color in the actual scene,” she said. “Artists are the boss.”
At noon on Saturday, artists lined up their easels under an overcast sky in a large yard off Main Street. Each artist picked one painting for judging and left it numbered on the easel, then headed across to where sponsors had set up tables laden with pizza. There, artists had the chance to meander around and see other paintings in an informal “show and tell” exhibition.

The pieces lined up and ready for judging

For a full list of winners, click here.


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