Saturday, July 14, 2018

Adirondack Plein Air Festival Marking 10 Years

St Regis with Heron Marsh by Jacqueline AltmanWho organizes a major event, without ever having taken part in a similar one? An artist would…. we create new things on a blank canvas all the time! I heard about something called Plein Air Festivals over 10 years ago and one day had a brainstorm. It seemed that if you had a scenic location, you could set the dates, invite a bunch of artists, give them a couple days to paint and then hold an exhibit. So without ever having participated in one, I organized the first Adirondack Plein Air Fesitval in Saranac Lake in August 2009.

Why hold a Plein Air Festival? To share the great beauty of the Adirondack environment with new people. Artists who may never have painted in this area, as well as local residents and visitors who may never have considered buying a work of art. A painting of a place you know, or have visited on vacation might be appealing. Or the fact that you could actually watch an artist as they worked, outdoors, on location, and then purchase that very painting!

Rock Outcrop by Nancy BrossardAnother reason was economics. Besides fabulous outdoor recreation opportunities, we don’t have a lot of tourist attractions to generate income for businesses that struggle to stay open year round. So, without needing any infrastructure and not harming the environment, a successful Plein Air Festival could bring business to town.

Final reason – totally selfish! I love to paint outdoors. If I organized an event, it would be a great excuse to avoid doing other “stuff.” Participate in my own Plein Air Festival? Yes, I have to go out and paint every day! (I wouldn’t have organized it if I couldn’t take part – but I do excuse myself from consideration for any awards.) Now it’s a week long event and I love it! I do nothing but paint, eat, and sleep.

Five artists have taken part each of the 10 years of the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. Well, their 10th experience will be Aug 13-18, 2018. To recognize this accomplishment, the Paul Smith’s College VIC is hosting a “10 Years of Plein Air” exhibit for the month of August. It will feature Jacqueline Altman, Lake Placid, Nancy Brossard, Lake Clear, Tarryl Gabel, Poughkeepsie, yours truly, Saranac Lake, and Diane Leifheit, Gabriels. The VIC has also been part of the Festival for 10 years. There are so many wonderful scenic views on the property, many of them just a short walk from the parking area, that it’s the perfect introduction to the Adirondack landscape. There are babbling brooks, bogs, mountain views, wildflowers, wetlands, rocky outcrops, huge old growth forest, the butterfly house and more, so every year of the Festival, the VIC has been the site of the first day of painting. Paul Smiths College has also generously donated a prize every year since 2010. In 2018 the VIC painting day will be Tuesday Aug 14.

The Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery in Saranac Lake has actively supported the Festival and has been event headquarters all 10 years. In addition, the gallery hosts the “Paint the Town” Silent Auction. Each artist donates a small painting done in the village and the proceeds are shared by Saranac Lake ArtWorks, the artists, and other area not-or-profit arts organizations. Over the years, over $10,000 has been donated.

plein air painting by Tarryl GabelThe first Plein Air Festival exhibit, with paintings by 27 artists, was hosted by Historic Saranac Lake, in the John Black Room of the Trudeau Laboratory. I don’t even know if anyone sold anything – we didn’t keep track! In 2010, with increased participation, the exhibit was moved to the Harrietstown Town Hall where it has grown and filled the entire auditorium. Artist attendance once reached over 70, but now it’s a juried process and is limited to 50 artists, a manageable number. Even so, results in 2017 was over 400 paintings on display, all created during the week of the event, and over $40,000 in sales!

I suspect that got your attention. The 2018 Adirondack Plein Air Festival will be Aug 13-18. Artists check in on Monday, the 13th and may start painting. There will be a “Meet the Artists” Reception that evening, from 7 to 9 pm, on the 2nd floor terrace of the Hotel Saranac, and the public is invited. Artists will have the opportunity to paint some nocturnes, after the sun goes down. The Hotel will display the Nocturne Contest paintings until Thursday evening, when the winner is announced during the ArtWalk.

Barnum Brook by Sandra HildrethTuesday is “Paint the VIC” day and spectators are encouraged to attend and go for a hike. See the artists at work and enjoy the trails and the “10 Years of Plein Air” exhibit. Some artists will likely stay into the evening (light late in the day is the best for painting and photography), and the trails are open until sundown.

Wednesday the artists can paint where ever they wish, so will be harder to find. Maps and directions to suggested painting locations will be available at the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery.

Thursday Aug 16 all the artists will be painting in the Village of Saranac Lake, plus it’s a 3rd Thursday ArtWalk from 5 to 7:30 pm. Art and live music throughout the downtown area. The “Paint the Town” Silent Auction will be set up by 5 pm.

Plein air painting by Diane LeifheitFriday morning the artists have the option of painting at the Saranac Lake Fish & Game Club, but their framed paintings are due in the Town Hall for judging early in the afternoon. Our Juror of Awards for 2018 is nationally known, award-winning painter Joe Gyurcsak, from New Jersey. He was the 1st Place winner of the prestigious Easton Plein Air Festival in 2017, one of the largest in the country. The Special Preview Party & Awards Presentation will be Friday evening, Aug 17, from 6 to 9 pm. Over $5000 in prizes will be presented, most donated by area businesses and organizations, as well as some major arts retailers Tickets for this event are $20 per person, and refreshments will be provided, by event sponsor AdkAction, and attendees will have the first chance to purchase their favorite paintings.

Saturday Aug 18, the Show & Sale in the Town Hall will open at noon and there is no admission charge. But before that, artists are invited to take part in the “Quick Draw” competition. They will have 2 hours to complete a painting in the Village, starting with a blank canvas at 9 am. Artists will work fast and furiously and then set up their paintings and easels on the sidewalk out in front of the Town Hall for judging. A winner will be announced at about 11:30 am. Then the doors will open at noon for the Show & Sale. It’s a great opportunity to see the wonderful variety of work produced and how uniquely each artist interprets the Adirondack landscape. Come see your local artists, those who have attended previous Festivals, and meet some of the new ones who are coming from as far away as California and Georgia. There is even one artist coming from Ireland! Perhaps take home your own, original, “piece” of the Adirondacks.

More information is available at

Illustrations from above: St Regis with Heron Marsh by Jacqueline Altman; Rock Outcrop by Nancy Brossard; Plein Air Painting by Tarryl Gabel; Barnum Brook by Sandra Hildreth; and Plein Air Painting by Diane Leifheit.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks. Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

2 Responses

  1. Rich Frischmann says:

    Sandra,Keep painting. In my living room I have hanging two beautiful landscapes done by a friend of mine from the Finger Lakes,John Cameron. John passed away several years ago but was very prolific,even in his latter years. He had been a student of Frank Barney, and exhibited a great deal of Barney’s style. When my eyes rest upon these beautiful scenes I experience a moment of peace and serenity. I feel John’s presence as if we were walking in solitude down the path his brush has so capably captured. Sharing these God given talents is a gift to all. I wish I could join you but I am presently living in North Carolina.Lord Willing and hopefully some day. Rich, in the LORD

  2. Rich, that was so kind of you to share your comments. I do hope people will value my paintings for the same reasons you value those painted by your friend.
    Thank you.

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