NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI – Almost two years after the last festival, the Wickford Art Festival made its much-anticipated return last weekend as thousands descended on Wilson Park, which served as the main venue, and Wickford Village to view and buy works of art in nearly all media by 170 artists from across the region and country.

It was the first time in the festival’s 59-year history that it was not held in the village itself, but rather in Wilson Park, with the decision to do so in order to meet COVID guidelines at the time. of planning while still allowing Wickford restaurants the space to continue dining alfresco. Performers and stalls were set up in rows throughout the park, while businesses and restaurants in Wickford catered for passers-by and traditional village must-sees like the Strawberry Shortbread Stand and Children’s Corner at First Baptist Church .

For some artists, like Joanna Case of Mystic Clay Art in Mystic, Connecticut, the new venue choice has been well received.

“It’s a beautiful space,” said Case. “Before, we were on the street, which was difficult with all the traffic going through, but it’s beautiful. I hope to do it again.

As a potter, Case specializes in firing raku,

For others, like North Kingstown oil painter Sharon Smith, while she appreciated the compactness of this year’s setup, she said she preferred to stick with tradition.

“They like it, but they miss the city,” Smith said of some of his friends and fellow artists in the community.

However, all of the performers certainly agreed that it was great to see the festival return and that it had been missed a lot last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For artists and consumers, it’s really cool,” Connecticut painter Patrick M. Sweeney said. “It’s great to see the shows again, to see your friends and customers as well. People have been very receptive everywhere I have been and I think people have missed places like this.

“Last year was not a fun time,” said engraver Michael Perry of MP Images in Attleboro, Massachusetts. “I think it’s important to see other artists, to see other work, all the diversity and also to have a face to face conversation with another person. I think it is essential.

While the majority of the artists were from New England, others traveled from different parts of the country, including cabinet artist Garland Farwell of South17 in York, Alabama, who despite the distance is familiar with the area.

“I went to school in that area,” Farwell said. “I spent almost 10 years in Rhode Island and the New England area and wanted a good excuse to come back. I started doing festivals a few years ago and heard about Wickford online and it sounds like a great show so thought I would give it a try. It’s a great show and it’s a great way to kind of see Rhode Island’s ancient playgrounds.

As an artist, Farwell specializes in carpentry pieces made from reclaimed wood from older homes in Alabama.

“All of the work is created from the broken down homes in western Alabama,” Farwell said. “There are a lot of dilapidated houses along the country roads that are abandoned, so I just go in and take what I need. Sometimes I take an entire house apart, but usually it’s just a choice piece and I use it differently.

Overall, Farwell said it’s the people who keep him coming back to the festival.

“Such nice people,” Farwell said. “You think the only friendly people are down south, but the Rhode Islanders are pretty darn friendly too.”

Painter Sumiyo Toribe, based in Millbury, Massachusetts, supported this idea.

“I’ve been on this show maybe three or four times and each time the people are so nice,” Toribe said. “The organizers are very supportive and I really appreciate the location.

A watercolor painter, Toribe specializes in the landscapes of the New England wilderness, drawing inspiration from the photos she takes along the road as well as the spring cherry blossoms of her native Japan and their vibrant colors for create his pieces.

For Robert Wertz of Igneous Rock Gallery Stone Fountains in Mechanicsburg, Pa., It was a previous commission that first brought him to town and drew his attention to the festival.

“We sold a fountain to (a couple in the area) a few years ago and they live on Pleasant Street and that’s how we heard about Wickford,” Wertz said. “When my wife offered to install this fountain, we heard about the art show, then came back the next year and this is our third art show.”

Wertz creates fountains from 45-million-year-old colander lava he bought from a now-closed quarry in Washington state.

“It was the lava that rose to the surface, so when it cooled, it returned those colander arrows,” Wertz said. “What’s unusual about this stone compared to other colander lavas is that it is the thinnest, most colorful, and curvy colander lava on the planet, and you can stand by the same. place and see it all at the quarry, there are only a few acres. “

After establishing a good relationship with the owner of the quarry, Wertz was able to purchase the remaining colander lava arrows and carve them into natural stone fountains.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Wertz said. “I like to provide the aesthetic focal point for people who work hard and have little time to have fun in solitude or with the people they choose to be with, and provide them with something beautiful to watch in these. elusive moments is something worth taking. We all need to relax and it’s nice to have something beautiful nearby. “

For more local artists, such as photographer Alexander Nesbitt of Alexander Nesbitt Photography in Newport, the festival allows him to showcase some of his ocean-themed works to a local audience.

“I’m not doing a super abstract job that I could take to California, I’m doing work out of Newport and the folks in Wickford and Rhode Island recognize Newport and it all works,” Nesbitt, who specializes in site photography and sounds of Newport, said. “(They are) like my people, so that’s the really cool thing about being here as opposed to a more distant art exhibit.”

For Nesbitt, being able to share his work again in person is crucial.

“People need to see you,” Nesbitt said. “Sure, you might be able to market on Instagram or something, but there’s no such thing as doing tangible things that you hold in your hand, for someone to take that in their hands. hand and feel it sort of, otherwise it’s not art.? It’s to feel it, and so being able to come out here in front of people again, that makes all the difference.

As a photographer, Nesbitt started doing only travel photography from around the world, but between trips he found himself practicing his craft around Newport and soon realized.

“I gradually realized ‘duh, Newport is a great place to take pictures’ and I ended up with this totally double collection where it’s half kind of awesome world trip and half Newport,” he said. Nesbitt said. “Some kind of documentary viewing informed the shoot in Newport, so I wasn’t just going for the sunsets in particular, I was trying to show it as it really is.”

In addition to experimenting with photography, Nesbitt has also been interested in the very medium his photos are printed on, including wood blocks and, more recently, more tactile pieces such as aluminum foil.

“During COVID, I modified my Epson printer to be able to run things flat on it and it was sort of a big engineering project and it allowed me to print on rigid aluminum plates with my own process and it’s just needing to do things other people don’t but also support you in something that’s a little more esoteric or like your own funky sauce, ”Nesbitt said. framing, not a lot of paper, we’re going a bit in that other direction now. “

Along with performers, food vendors including Del’s Lemonade, Newport Creamery, Gansett Poke, and Kettle Corn Express served their fare at the festival, while organizations such as the North Kingstown Educational Foundation and Friends of the Plum Beach Lighthouse Association have set up kiosks in the park.

The festival, as in previous years, also honored the recipients of the Wickford Art Association scholarship, with three of the artists, the Page Sullivan photography winner from Portsmouth High School, the High School drawing winner Elizabeth Cowart from Cranston West and 3D / mixed media winner Ella Rose from Cranston West High School by giving them their own booth for free.

For Cowart, who works primarily in graphite and charcoal drawings, winning the scholarship has been the most important to her of all the competitions she has entered because, in addition to the scholarship, it has given her the opportunity to display and sell at the Wickford Art Festival. .

“I never sold my art, so I put in everything I could, worked on more art, took pictures to sell and just see what is selling and if it is ‘is something I can do in the future, ”Cowart said. “I brought a lot of photographs from all over Rhode Island that I have, and then I sell some of my portraits and graphite and charcoal drawings that I have that are larger. I sell crochet stickers and key chains.

For Sullivan, she said the scholarship and her subsequent treatment by the Wickford Art Association meant more because of how personal it felt to her.

“A lot of them are just going to send you a check, but it was a lot more complicated,” Sullivan said. “We had an art gallery at the Wickford Art Association and of course this opportunity was great and they gave us a little care package of different supplies and everyone was so nice.”

A primarily photographer, Sullivan works in surreal and magical, as well as astrophotography and said the opportunity to sell has gone well.

“I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of different people and have feedback on my work and it was really cool,” Sullivan said.

Like Cowart and Sullivan, Rose said she liked the scholarship competition because it was different from a lot of other offerings, especially the ability to sell for free at the festival.

“We have the ability to sell here for free, which is huge because the application process to get a stand here is expensive and there is a judgment process that they have to go through, and we didn’t really have to go through. over there so it was a really great opportunity to bring art here and see what people like and see what I can sell in the future, ”said Rose.

On her pieces, Rose does mostly mixed media, but also brought a few other styles to the show.

“I also have a few embroidered pieces,” Rose said. “I bought drawings of figures and bought a few smaller paintings and drawings. I have worked a lot on mixed media painting and charcoal lately.

Overall, the festival was a welcome return for artists, patrons and the community.

“It’s really great to be back,” said Case.

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