It’s spring break meets family reunion. That’s how Kathy Kessler describes the annual Augusta Plein-Air Art Festival coming up at the end of the month.
The outdoor painting series, now in its 12th year, is both a celebration of the local landscape and a coming together of people who appreciate all of its beauty, some local, but many from across the Midwest and beyond.
Plein air, which is French for “open air,” offers something that no other venue can, said Kessler, owner of Halcyon Spa in Augusta and co-chairman of this year’s festival with Robin White.
“You get to see the artist create something from start to finish,” she said. “They start with a blank canvas, and most are finished within two to four hours.”
Local artists are welcome to participate, whether they are novices or experienced painters, said Kessler. Everyone else is encouraged to come watch the artists at work.
“The fun of watching, especially for local residents, is seeing the places and landmarks they know come alive on the artists’ canvases,” she said. “You recognize what they are painting.
“It’s a warm fuzzy feeling to see your community on canvas,” she remarked.
Over 100 artists are registered to participate. At the end of each day’s painting time, the artwork is judged and the first-place piece is purchased by the day’s sponsor.
The rest of the artwork is then available for sale to anyone who is interested. Each artist sets the price of his or her piece.
Includes Uncorked 100K and Children’s Paint Out
This year’s Augusta Plein-Air Festival begins Thursday, April 24, with a “quick paint” event at Noboleis Winery. From there artists will move to the Augusta Shores neighborhood for a Paint Out beginning at 6 a.m. Judging will be at 5 p.m.
The festival continues daily through May 4 with a number of similar events at various wineries and venues, including Downtown Washington on Friday, April 25.
There are a couple of interesting additions to this year’s lineup, including an Uncorked 100K on Saturday, April 26, which invites artists to capture a combination of traditional plein-air landscape and figurative art (runners).
This four-person relay run will begin at Mount Pleasant Estates in Augusta, travel along the historic Katy Trail to the St. Charles Family Arena, and end with a party back at the Mount Pleasant Estates (learn more at uncorked100.com).
As the runners cross the finish line in the evening at Mount Pleasant Estates, artists will complete their pieces and have their day’s work on display. Art judging will begin at 7:30 p.m. and the festivities will continue until 9 p.m.
That same day, April 26, children will be invited to participate in a Paint Out at Montelle Winery beginning at 10 a.m. This event includes a lunch buffet, and reservations are encouraged.
Awards will be given by age groups: 4-6; 7-9; 10-12 and 13-16. Winners will be announced at 1 p.m. Another children’s paint out will be held Tuesday, April 29.
A paint out event will be held in Defiance Sunday, April 27, in conjunction with a car show. Artists will begin work at 11 a.m. and a winner will be announced at 3:30 p.m. This venue will include barbecue food and a winetasting.
A nocturnal paint out will be held Monday, April 28, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The winner will be announced at 10 p.m.
Sunrise and sunset paint outs also are planned. For more details on each day’s activities, people should visit www.augustapleinair.com.
Artists participate regardless of weather, said Kessler. If necessary, they will find a barn, porch, even a car hatchback or any covered areas to set up their easels and paints.
In fact, some of the artwork created on the rainy and overcast days in the past are quite beautiful, said Corinne Post, one of the event’s founders.
“It’s ethereal and very mystic,” she said.
Happenstance Visit Leads to Festival
Plein-air painting became popular in the early 19th century in both Europe and America, said Kathryn Frazier, festival committee member. Plein-air painters are drawn to places with a certain quality of light.
The first Augusta plein-air art event was held as a long weekend event in 2003.
The idea came from a nationally known plein-air artist from Kansas City, Joan Parker, who was encouraged to visit Augusta by her contacts at Kodner Gallery in St. Louis.
She ended up staying at the Red Brick Inn Bed and Breakfast (now closed), where she got to know owners Corinne and Gary Post.
“She was telling us we needed to do this kind of thing, a plein-air event, here in Augusta,” Corinne Post recalled. “She was participating in one in Flint Hills, Kan., and invited us to come see how it’s done.”
They did, and then brought the idea home to their community and the support was overwhelming.
“It wasn’t hard to convince anyone that we should do this,” said Post, who is credited with founding the event, along with her husband, Gary, Vic Brown, who owns Augusta Wood, and Connie Senfton.
The Augusta Chamber of Commerce was very supportive, added Kessler, who was a member of the committee its first year, but that’s no surprise.
“Augusta’s not afraid to take on big things,” Kessler remarked.
The first Augusta plein-air event was a modest affair. Parker assisted organizers with artist lists, contacts in Kansas City and many other details. About 45 artists participated, and there were no special events, just a small sale at Mount Pleasant Winery.
From the beginning, the purpose of the plein-air event was to showcase Augusta as a welcoming place for artists, said Post.
“It’s just a picturesque little place,” she remarked.
Parker, the artist who helped put Augusta on the map, returns here several times each year to do some plein-air painting.
“Her favorite thing to paint is what she calls the quilted fields,” said Kessler, “the patterns the fields make.”
‘Event’ Evolves Into ‘Festival’
Today the Augusta plein-air art event is a full blown festival. Each year new events are added and refined.
Live auctions and silent auctions have been held. The sale has customarily been held at Mount Pleasant Estates and the American Legion Hall.
The event continues to garner the support of local businesses and residents, said Frazier.
The event started out with a “Quick Paint” and added special days at the wineries: “Paint the Label” and “Paint the Poster,” then “Paint the Sunset.”
The event was extended to its present 11 days of painting to give the artists flexibility and to be able to accommodate additional event sponsors, said Frazier.
The “art event” has grown to an “art festival” attracting not only artists but spectators and buyers to the many daily events and sale.
The duration of the Augusta Plein-Air Festival is notable, said Kessler. Many similar events tend to fizzle out after a few years.
A good part of the success of the Augusta Plein-Air Art Festival is owed to the hospitality of the community, said Post.
“People in town bring food over to the visitors center for the artists, and everyone in town is just very welcoming,” she said. “We have a lot of support from the businesses, who are also prize sponsors.”
Organizers are hopeful that in years to come they will even be able to extend the Augusta Plein-Air Art Festival further, moving into the more neighboring communities with more events.
Funds raised through the Augusta Plein-Air Festival support the work of the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce (GACC) to promote a healthy cultural and economic community, including the awarding of educational scholarships to local area students.
Scholarships will be announced on the final day of the festival, Sunday, May 4, beginning at Mount Pleasant Estates at noon.
Everyone is welcome to attend the final sale being held that same day. The event begins at 11 a.m.
“Come and you’ll see all your favorite spots or recognize a tree or barn or the vineyards of your favorite winery,” said Kessler, who encourages local people come out at least one day of the festival to see what it’s all about.
“We want people to come out and be spectators, to take in the whole atmosphere of the wine, art and community.”