Photos by Lauren Thomas
Historic Huguenot Street hosted the third annual “Artists on the Street: A Plein Air Event” last Saturday, August 8, showcasing the talents of 21 Hudson Valley artists. The event provided an opportunity for the public to leisurely stroll the historic neighborhood on a mild summer day and watch local artists at work, engaging with them in the process as the painters created works inspired by the buildings and landscape of the National Historic Landmark District.
The event has grown in size and scope since its first year, with more artists participating each time and this year being the first that the street was closed off to traffic to accommodate visitors. A number of artists from previous years returned for this year’s event along with some new participants, said artist Kevin Cook, who lives and works on Huguenot Street and organizes the event. He had a painting in progress on his porch, but also opened his studio up for the day for visitors to walk through. The other artists worked from various vantage points up and down Huguenot Street, having scoped out their locations in advance to choose their preferred subject matter.
At day’s end, the artists brought their work to the DuBois Fort to be displayed before enjoying a catered reception. The artwork will remain on display and available for purchase for another month. A percentage of the profits from works sold will benefit Historic Huguenot Street as well as the individual artist, “helping to support both the arts and historical interest in the area,” said Cook.
The participating artists worked in oils, watercolors, acrylics and pastels. A nicely put together pamphlet for visitors showed where each artist was working on a map of the street and offered bios of each artist for background info. Representative of a range of styles and interests, artists contributing their talents to the event were Jim Adair, Gayle Clark Fedigan, Kevin Cook, Carolyn Hutchings Edlund, Mira Fink, Lynne Friedman, Richard Greener, Janet Gunderson, Keith Gunderson, Emeline Hastings, Warren Hurley, Marsha Massih, Alan McKnight, Lucile Michels Morris, Howard Miller, Lana Privitera, Mitchell Saler, Prudence See, Joanne Sherlock, John Varriano and Marlene Wiedenbaum.
The practice of working en plein air — “in the open air” — is more difficult than a non-artist might suspect. One generally has to work relatively quickly, compensating for changing light conditions, and deal with varying weather and flying insects. And for an event like this that involves a lot of contact with people while working, don’t discount the difficulty of painting and talking to visitors at the same time; it’s a real right-brain-left-brain situation that requires some concentrated effort and was handled quite gracefully in all cases.
An informal survey of the artists at Huguenot Street last Saturday revealed that some were more accustomed to working outdoors than others. Those who generally work in their studio using photographic reference material, like Prudence See of Saugerties, took the event on as a enjoyable challenge to experiment with the process of creating something on site. Working with water miscible oil paint in the 1717 Crispell Memorial French Church burial ground, she created a striking canvas very much in the vein of her usual work that focuses on historical architecture.
Many plein air painters do informal studies from nature outdoors and then create a finished canvas back in their studio, like Kevin Cook. He takes inspiration for his luminous Hudson Valley landscapes from the real thing and then imbues the final canvases with romance and drama once back in his workspace. He might take written notes on location about color or mood or occasionally take a reference photo, as well. After time for reflection on how he wants to proceed, he’ll then complete the painting, sometimes combining elements from different locations into one painting in order to invent a more dramatic light-filled sky and sense of atmosphere. He usually works in oils and does some gouache (opaque watercolor) works as well.
Painter Lynne Friedman maintains a studio in Rosendale, but is also well accustomed to working outdoors, taking painting trips and doing artist residencies in places like New Mexico, Ireland and Southern France when she can. Friedman was working in oils at Huguenot Street in her signature style using bold brushwork and strongly delineated but very painterly forms to evoke the quality of the light. Like many of the other painters at the plein air event, she was working on a smaller canvas than she usually does, but that’s all part of participating in a one-day event meant to culminate in a finished work.
In general, plein air works are often smaller than studio works in part because of the difficulty of lugging painting equipment and canvases to remote locations.
The “Artists on the Street” event was free to attend. Cookies and beverages were available at the Reformed Church for nominal cost and the reception was free for the public. Cook says he believes the event will be back next year due to its success, as it’s “acquiring a life of its own,” moving from an invitational to artists contacting him about participating.
For gallery hours to view the finished canvases, visit www.huguenotstreet.org.