10,000 Miles Down the Road

Dusk over the Organ Mountains

Las Cruces, New Mexico

It’s been close to a week since I got back to Michigan after six weeks on the road. And I gotta say, it was great to see my baby at home again, even though she spent most weekends with me at the shows. One thing I learned during the 10,000 miles I drove from Michigan to Florida to Arizona back to Florida and home again: there’s a lot of interesting scenery on I-10. Was sorta sad that I had no time to stop and make photographs, but many mental notes were made. The Atchafalaya Basin, the Texas hill country west of San Antonio, the Davis Mountains, Steins, Texas Canyon in Arizona, the “Thing”… many places and many stories just waiting for the light.

The shows themselves were a mixed bag, sales-wise. Florida started out strong, with ArtFest Fort Myers and ArtiGras in Jupiter. (See my previous post on ArtFest.) We had spotty weather, though, with winds and rain at Fort Myers, and cold days in Jupiter. I spent a couple days after ArtiGras in Orlando at the Baldauf-Astoria, and then headed west on I-10 towards Las Cruces, where I stayed a few nights with my mother’s sister, Nema.

Chloride, New Mexico

"Doodle Dum", Cassie Hobbs' Workshop

The two of us drove out to Chloride, a well-preserved silver mining town near Truth or Consequences. The owners, Don and Dona Edmund, have spent the last twenty years working on the town, and gradually restoring the cabins and the general store. It’s well worth the trip out there just to see the Pioneer Store Museum. We also had lunch at La Posta in Mesilla, and visited Bowlin’s bookstore.

Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills, Fountain Sunset

After leaving Las Cruces, I had an easy drive to Phoenix, where the Great Fair in Fountain Hills and the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival promised great sales and good weather. Alas, neither was forthcoming. The weather in Arizona, much like the weather in Florida this winter, was cold and rainy. Sales were very slow for good art at the Great Fair, and quality quite spotty. We were amazed that such mass-produced buy/sell crap could get into a show next to fine art. The jury selection process consists of writing a check — there’s no other explanation for the wide range of quality. With almost 480 artists, there are at least 180 too many vendors at the Great Fair. Two rows of booths on both sides of Avenue of the Fountains extend down to the beautiful fountain for which Fountain Hills is named, with additional booths along the drive. I was across from another good photographer, Timm Chapman, and that set the tone for the upper end of the show. Good stuff, bad stuff, good stuff, bad stuff.

The infamous Savings Sock booth

Don't tell me this was juried in!

No show complete without doggie visors

One good reason I'll never go back to Fountain Hills (it's not the customers!)

Booth Sign, Fountain Hills

What, are they kidding??!

Interspersed between the doggie visors, scented candles and glass nail files were at least another dozen photographers, none of whom seemed to be doing very well. The weather continued its uncooperative behavior, with cold temps and rain on Sunday, which drove most of the crowd away. Many artists broke down in the morning, with the permission of the promoter, and by five the threat of another storm had the rest of us scrambling to get up and away.

In between shows, I spent some time exploring the Phoenix area. I managed to get up to Wickenburg and the Vulture Mine, which was a great experience. I also climbed Pass Mountain, on the recommendation of a friend. I previously wrote about that, in an earlier post.

Carefree promised a better crowd, and more importantly, a higher level of art at the show. Put together by the experienced Thunderbird Artist group, the show is set up around the amphitheater and sundial on the charming downtown streets of Carefree. Setup on Thursday night was semi-chaotic, and we ended up dollying across Cave Creek Road to our location on Ho Road. (Or was it Hum?) We were sad to discover that the street sign marking the location of Ho and Hum Roads had been removed by the local authorities, to make room for a streetlight. Friend and fellow photog Darren Olson was set up at this intersection, and had a pretty good show. Matt Suess and Christine Hauber were sharing a booth down the street, and I was pleased to finally meet Christine.

Other than that I never had a chance to walk the show. From what I did see, the art was predominantly western, large, and wonderful. Saturday night the threat of a bad storm (once again) caused many of the artists to break down and leave. Sunday morning dawned cold and gray, with light drizzle. The holes in the show were glaringly obvious, and while we all had permission to leave early, many decided to stay and wait for those hardy souls who might brave the weather in search of fine art. Alas, the weather was not going to cooperate.

Before the show, Carefree AZ

Early morning shoppers at the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival

The featured artist, a glass artist, had left all of her work overnight, and merely had to turn it over to empty the evening’s storm water from her vessels! But the rains came in full force, promptly on time as the show opened at 10AM, and we all gave it up around noon. Most everyone was packed and gone by 3. We had a great lunch at Carefree Station — highly recommend.

The sticky buns from Big Buns in Carefree

The BEST sticky buns in the world!

So, Monday morning found me back on the road to Florida. Another stop at Nema’s, where we drove up to the base of the Organ Mountains, and had a fine dinner at the famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse. I meet people at shows who are familiar with Las Cruces and Mesilla, and Cattleman’s is an institution. I have to say, it used to be better, but it still serves up a fine rib-eye in an authentic atmosphere.

Tuesday I was back on the road, with three days to get back to Bonita Springs, and, you guessed it, more rain. One out of three days on the road was gorgeous, with puffy clouds dotting the blue sky, and the horizon beckoning. The miles flew by like a knife through butter. Arriving Thursday night in Bonita Springs, it was rainy, with more of the same predicted for Friday’s setup. And sure enough, it poured most of Friday, so Karyn and I waited until later in the day to get our tent up. We were able to have dinner with our close friends Wendy & Marc Zoschke (Vetro Caldo Designs) and Anita & Steve Baldauf, where we presented Wendy with her very own “Savings Sock” from the Fountain Hills Great Fair.

Saving Sock

Anita and Wendy share a laugh

Darren Olson

Darren Olson's warning clamps to alert drivers not to knock down the awning poles

But the Bonita Springs National Art Fair was a disappointment. The weather was beautiful all weekend, in the low seventies. Perfect for an art show. But attendance was light. Most of the artists spent the weekend wandering around talking to each other. And that’s not a good sign. We ran into C.C. and Shiu Ping Lee, P.J. and Dick Commerford, RC and Kim FulwilerMichele LeVett, and Madison Latimer, the Crazy Chicken Lady. We had a party. But we didn’t sell a whole lot of photographs. I’m coming to the conclusion that South Florida has far too many art shows, and far too few patrons. Colorful sells, as does jewelry and wearables, but photography is tough.

Okay, so on to Winter Park, the crown jewel of my early spring schedule. I had high hopes for Winter Park. It’s a great show, in a lovely part of Orlando, with some of the best artists in the country. The last time I participated, I did well and we had a great time. So I was definitely looking forward to being in the show again this year. Winter Park was the main reason I rearranged my schedule and drove 5,000 miles back and forth between Florida and Arizona.

I headed up to Orlando on Monday afternoon, and played golf at Timecuan with Steve Baldauf on Tuesday. I carried my clubs for 8,000 miles without a single putt or drive anticipating a little more golf than I actually played. Again, with the chilly temps. It turned out to be a nice day, and we had a good time. Wednesday I caught up on paperwork, and then Thursday it was time to setup the show. Thankfully, it didn’t rain. No, it saved that for Sunday afternoon. But Friday and Saturday the weather was good, and we had great crowds. I won another award, an Award of Distinction. The artists dinner on Saturday night was awesome, and then we headed out to another party.

Rainy morning at Fountain Hills

Rainy morning at Fountain Hills, Avenue of the Fountains

Sales on Friday and Saturday, again, were slower than expected. Sunday, usually a day where all the buyers come back and go crazy, started out well, but by noon, the rain had started up again, and the weather radar was not looking promising. Still I had some good reactions to the new black and white work, and prints were flying out of the bin. Once the torrential downpour started, however, it was all over. We packed up the art, rolled down the walls, and went off to see some of the other artists while waiting for the park to clear out so we could get the Artanic in to load up. Then we went to Starbucks and had a cuppa joe. An hour later, some of the madness and the flood waters had subsided, and we were able to move the trailer onto the street and get packed up. Winter Park, on the whole, is a well-run show, with very very high quality artists and work from around the country. From the guys directing traffic in the close-by artists parking areas, to the load-in and load-out process, to the awards judging, this is a high-class act. If invited, I would definitely go back.

We saw lots of friends at Winter Park, of course. Glen and Linda Mace were there. Wendy and Marc were there. PC James was there from Chelsea Michigan, and we had dinner with him and the Zoschkes at Denny’s after breakdown on Sunday. Antoni Kowslowki was there. Lots of friends. Lots of good times.

The Navigators eat lunch

Our traveling critters, the Navigators, love french fries

Monday I dropped Karyn at the airport, and hit the Florida Turnpike. 1250 miles later I was finally home. The drive back was uneventful. I think it was warmer in Michigan than the average temp in Florida this year. Would I drive this many miles next year? Probably not. With the economy the way that it is, and the logistics, I may stay closer to home next winter. But I say that every year. Wait and see what the schedule turns up. In the meantime, I’m gearing up for a solo exhibition, two shows in April, and a full summer of traveling.

Happy Trails everyone!

Ho and Hum Road intersection, Carefree, Arizona

The corner of Boredom and Ennui

Some thoughts from ArtFest Fort Myers

Fort Myers Booth

Fort Myers Booth

It’s the middle of February, and amidst one of the coldest, snowiest seasons on record, Karyn and I have officially started the 2010 show season. Last weekend, we participated in a windy setup at Fort Myers. We got to the show site at noon, and found a spot to park the Artanic. It was a short dolly into our space, and we were able to leave the trailer in the lot all weekend. But the setup was difficult, with winds gusting up to 40mph, and we had a tough time remembering how to get the double into the air. Luckily, our friends Wendy and Marc stopped by to help keep the giant kite on the ground, and after struggling for a couple of hours, we had the walls and the panels up. Moving all of the rolling stock into the tent, we left hanging the work until Saturday morning. At about 4PM, the heavens opened up and it rained cats, dogs and frogs for a couple of hours.

The show itself was well judged, with some new faces and some old friends. The space we had at the end of Hendry Street was a cul de sac, but the booths were back to back, so we had customers’ eyeballs to ourselves. We were off the beaten track, and being closer to the Caloosahatchee River, we got the brunt of the wind most of the weekend. Sales were slow on Saturday, partly due to the unseasonable cold weather. Sunday was better, and I had some good sales of my newer black and white work. In the end, I was happy with the show. The crowd seemed more laid back than the Atlantic Coast patrons, and even more relaxed than the Naples folks. I was surprised to meet several people from the Dakotas and Michigan, although the Gulf Coast does appeal to the Midwestern snowbirds.

The show is well-organized, and not over-orchestrated. The director, Sharon McAllister, and her capable staff, including block captain Carrie, are visible during the show and at the lovely artists’ breakfast, which is served both days. Awards are presented after breakfast on Sunday morning, although this year, the prize money was eliminated. Ribbons are fine — let that additional cash go into promotion and advertising. And it appeared to work. There were lots of people, eager to visit and talk about the art. I think it’s a good thing when award money is diverted to create more awareness. And Fort Myers certainly appears to love this show, although many of the people we spoke with were snowbirds or transient visitors down for a week or two.

Award of Distinction at Fort Myers

Award of Distinction at ArtFest Fort Myers

The icing on the cake for me came Sunday morning when two volunteers came by with an award ribbon. Evidently the judges liked my work very much was the message relayed. One more yellow ribbon for the wall at home. Thank you, Fort Myers!

This weekend, I’m on the opposite side of the state, in Jupiter. ArtiGras starts tomorrow, and I just found out that I’m in, off the waitlist. Early morning setup, with just 3 hours to get in, get unloaded, get set-up and hang the work. It oughta be a good time. Let ya know how that goes next week!

Till then, Happy Trails!

Coconut Grove — getting too commercial?

I have completed two shows out of my three scheduled shows in Florida this year. My wife Karyn and I just set up the third show — the prestigious Naples National Show, in Cambier Park (more on this show next week). Two weeks ago, the Boca Museum show was a pleasant surprise — the weather was beautiful the entire weekend, and we were able to reconnect with a few old friends. We had a nice spot real close to Starbucks (always a plus), and some prior patrons went out of their way to look us up. Mizner Park is a beautiful venue, and the Museum staff and volunteers go out of their way to create a low-key atmosphere centered around some very fine art. If you stopped by, you got to see my work showcased in a double booth, which allows me to show more of my gorgeous 6′ Western panoramas.

St. Stephen’s, in Coconut Grove, by comparison, was a zoo. The load-in and load-out were chaotic. The weather turned ugly on Sunday afternoon and drove the few folks interested in art away. Monday brought more bad weather and apathetic crowds. Most artists reported that sales were down in the Grove overall this year — I had expected much more out of this show and its cousin, the Coconut Grove Art Festival. It seems to have turned into more of a circus than a fine art festival. People just didn’t seem to be there for the art, but for the corn on a stick, meat on a stick and the kettle corn. Usually I can connect with people and have some good conversations — even that seemed hard in the Grove.

The Miami Herald never even mentioned the award winners at the Coconut Grove Festival; attendance and sales were down, and judging from this article, customers and artists alike were unhappy. This is not unusual these days. There are more shows, more artists and more promoters. Since it takes good money to put together a show, promoters also must attract high level sponsors, like Lexus or Washington Mutual, to share the cost of presenting art to the public. If the sponsors become more visible than the artists, the point of the festival becomes more about advertising and less about hand-made crafts. We all need a little more hand-made art in our lives, and shows are a great way to meet and interact with the people behind the art. Artists get very discouraged when cars replace art, and bank sponsors get better spaces than painters. What shows really need is balance, and it really seemed to be missing at the Grove this year.