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Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013

Plein Air Shorewood: Painting the Outdoors

Art goes outside in Shorewood

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Although plein air painting may seem more like a relaxing weekend pastime than a profession, growing numbers of artists are making a substantial portion of their income by painting pictures in the open air.

With its sometimes brutal climate, Wisconsin isn’t comparable to the south of France as a plein air mecca, yet in the U.S., the Badger State is top ranked for plein air festivals, hosting 44 annual events involving large numbers of painters working outdoors with canvas and brush. California is second place with only 26.

Wisconsin’s newest, Plein Air Shorewood, premieres this weekend. The genesis of the event, according to co-organizer Patricia Algiers, was to mark the third anniversary of the installation of a sculpture in Shorewood’s Atwater Park by Jaume Plensa. Adds Plein Air Committee member Jenny Heyden, the concept grew into “a way to involve the public in public art.” Algiers explains, “We wanted the community to know what public art is and to become part of it.” Fifty-three professional artists will be taking part in the event and competing for juried prizes.

Shorewood has always been a bedroom community, a tree-lined village where birds and bicyclists flourish. In recent years, new boutiques and cafés have transformed the sleepy Oakland Avenue business district into more of a destination. With the Plensa sculpture as inspiration, some residents decided to transform Shorewood into a little Paris on the Northshore. As the Plein Air Committee circulated word of their festival, they were surprised by the number of artists in all disciplines who make Shorewood their home.

Unlike most “public art projects,” which amount to cliques imposing particular ideas on common spaces, Plein Air Shorewood has captured the community’s imagination and spurred involvement from the entire village. The Shorewood Women’s Club will make coffee and greet artists at Thursday morning’s “Welcome Artists” breakfast. The Men’s Club will help hang paintings produced during the weekend and throw a beer and bratwurst bash. All four public schools are participating in programs with the artists. Organizers hope to involve virtually every community organization as well as many small businesses. “What sets us apart is the number of people engaged in the event,” says Heyden. “The volunteerism is high.”

Unlike many plein air events, this one will be spread across the length and breadth of its host community. “We are creating an environment for artists to paint and a place to sell their work,” says the Plein Art Committee’s Don Berg. “We are making arrangements with homeowners to let artists into their yards to paint their homes.” And if the homeowners like the artists’ work, many of the paintings may end up indoors, gracing the interiors of Shorewood dwellings.

Plein Air Shorewood runs Sept. 19-21. For more information, visit pleinairshorewood.com.

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