A Hard Road – report from Main Street Art Festival Fort Worth

Just got back from the Main Street Fort Worth Art Festival, and man, what an experience! First off, let me just say that this festival deserves its reputation as one of the top shows in the country. Spread out over four days, it is staged over five blocks in downtown Fort Worth. Festival tents are set up along Main Street, and an additional group of artists use their own canopies in a parking area between Commerce and Main. Most artists elect to erect their own canopies under the show structures. I wondered why the show went to all the trouble to set up tents, when most artists have a solid canopy. Well, the reason is the wind. Aside from the show we did a few years back in Rising Sun, Indiana, where Hurricane Ivan closed us down early on Sunday with 70mph steady blasts, the wind here is brutal, violent and destructive. Setup is on Wednesday afternoon, with staged load-in times. The show runs from 10AM-8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10AM-6PM on Sunday. The music continues later, and many artists choose to remain open, making sales until the music’s over at 11PM. Long hours, but generally worth it.

Weather at this mid-April show runs the gamut from hot, stifling Texas heat, to high winds and thunderstorms. This year, we were lucky, in that the storms that rolled across the state on Thursday night did not touch the show. Hail up to 2″ in diameter was reported as close as 20 miles from the site, and tornadoes killed two people up in Tushka, Oklahoma. Friday, the winds gusted up to 60mph, taking many pieces of artwork to the ground, and leveling some artists’ tents. Our tent, in the artists square, stayed standing, but not without assistance from Karyn, who leaned against the corner panel much of the afternoon. I helped our neighbors, Jeanne and Sam Maddox, take their artwork off the walls, and lower the tent to half height. One of the corner joints failed, and no amount of bracing and tie-downs kept it standing upright. By evening, the gusts had died down. Sam came back later, and rejiggered it for Saturday’s show. Saturday, the crowds were out in force. Sales were steady all day, better than Thursday and Friday. But mostly it was smaller prints. I did send a couple of good size pieces home with lucky customers on Thursday, and had great sales all four days of the show.

But the saddest part of the show happened to us on Thursday night. We had visited our trailer Wednesday morning, which we left parked and locked at the Marriott Towne Place Suites, just a few blocks from downtown. We got a couple of things for the show, and walked over to open up the booth. After a long day of visiting with patrons, we managed to get back to the hotel at around 9:45PM. Coming around the back of the hotel, Karyn asked me,” Where’s Artan?” (The trailer’s nicknamed the Artanic). There was a big hole where the trailer had been parked. The chocks for the back wheels were still on the ground, and the blocks under the tongue jack were still there. A long white arc in the cement showed where the foot of the tongue jack had been dragged along the ground. Evidently the thieves had towed or hauled the trailer out the back entrance to the hotel.

The big art trailer is affectionately know as Artan for short.

We immediately went to the front desk and asked the desk manager if the trailer had been towed for some reason. She had no knowledge of any towing operation, and went to get the general manager, Brian Tigner. We sat down with Brian, and gave him a full report. Brian called the Fort Worth police for us, and after waiting twenty minutes or so, an officer arrived to make a police report. We went out to look at the empty spot again, hoping that perhaps we had just misplaced the trailer. Of course, that wasn’t the case. The police officer gave us a report number, and a phone number for the police department. Brian gave us his cel phone number, and told us if there was anything he could do to help, to call at any time.

The  good news is that we were already set up for the show. The bad news is that all of our back stock and extra exhibit equipment was on the trailer. That included five ProPanels, a good Hollywood chair, the double canopy top and all the extra Trimline parts to set up a double booth. I also had a large number of prints, spare mats, frames, glass and framing parts on the trailer, as well as a full framing toolkit. The canvas racks were full, as we didn’t hang any canvas at the show — just the black and white work, and the new color stories. I also had a couple dozen spare framed pieces on the trailer.

We made it through the show okay, but I spent several sleepless nights worrying about whether the trailer would be recovered in time for our load-out on Sunday night. I need not have worried, since we never got a call from the Fort Worth police. On Saturday, I made a call to U-haul, and reserved a trailer just in case. Saturday came and went, with lots of selling, and less wind, much to the relief of the artists. Many of them had heard about the theft, and came by to offer sympathy and assistance. Thanks to all of you who stopped by, and especially to Vince and Julie, who offered to let us park the rental at their house west of the city if necessary. As it turned out, I needed that U-haul. Sunday morning I picked it up, and made a stop at Home Depot to get some plywood to make a ramp, some tie-downs and a replacement dolly.

In the meantime, I made a report to our insurance agent, who is presently working on establishing a value for the trailer and its contents. I still do not know exactly what will be covered, but I do know that this is a significant loss of both time and money for me. I will be rebuilding the storage drawers for the mats, glass and prints, as well as the rack system that carries our panels and the canopy parts. A new trailer will have to be acquired, and it will be several weeks before I can get that ready for shows.

I discovered several things about trailer thefts during this experience. Several states don’t require a title for a trailer to be licensed, and some don’t even require that you have a license. These states include Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky. Here in Michigan, you must transfer title to a new owner and you must register the trailer with the state department of motor vehicles in order to tow it on public roadways. The hotel that we stayed at, the Marriott Towne Place Suites, chose not to install security cameras in the back of the hotel. They did, however, block the entrance by parking a van across it at night, so they were aware that there was a theft problem. Too bad the trailer was stolen during the day! They also posted signs saying that all valuables should be removed from vehicles, and that theft was not their responsibility. This wasn’t just the theft of an iPod, though. It was an ENTIRE TRAILER. But at no time did they ever warn us that it was a high crime area. Brian Tigner, the general manager,  led us to believe that their insurance company would be helping us to cover the loss, but when I spoke with a representative on Wednesday, she informed me that the hotel did not have insurance to cover this type of incident. I tried several times to speak with Mr. Tigner directly on Monday, but he was “not available” or “off the property”. I checked out without ever speaking to him in person. He did not offer any kind of compensation for our loss. I was hoping that he’d at least offer to comp the room, but evidently they don’t really give a damn. I do not recommend that anyone stay at this property. (It is a franchise, not a corporate property.) I didn’t feel safe there after the theft, even though we had to walk to and from the show. I’m glad my truck remained unmolested, though.

There are several things to be thankful for. No one was injured. We were set up for the show, and had our best show ever, sales-wise. I met many, many nice folks, and made some additional sales on Monday, which will help to offset the cost to replace all of the work lost on the trailer. My friends tell me that they are amazed at how well I’m handling this hard road. But to be truthful, I’m angry. At the thieves, at the hotel for not providing better security, and myself, for not protecting my own property better. The police tell me the only way to really protect a trailer that is parked is to use a police boot. Other friends told us of their experiences with trailer theft. One artist had their trailer stolen while it was still hitched to their tow vehicle! Another had a cube truck stolen with all of the equipment and artwork aboard.

After spending a good part of Monday making phone calls, I got on the road again, towing the U-haul back to Michigan. I made it as far as Hope, Arkansas on Monday night. Tuesday morning, I had to detour around a haz-mat spill on I-30. Traffic was backed up on State Highway 67 for 15 miles, and was barely moving. After waiting in line for an hour and a half, I found a back-road, and drove around the delays. Tuesday night, big storms rolled in again, with tornadoes spotted in downtown St. Louis, and up near Springfield, Illinois. I spent some quality time under the 1-64 underpass on I-255 waiting for reported hail-storms and tornadoes to pass through. Luckily, there was just heavy rain. I made it to Springfield, and holed up with friends for the night. Wednesday I finally pulled the trailer into our driveway at about 9:30PM. I’m extremely thankful that after all the hardship that Karyn and I are both healthy and safe. Seeing some of the damage from the tornadoes puts it into perspective for me. For me, it’s only stuff that’s gone. Stuff is replaceable. Lives are not. While I’m still adding up the losses, including the $650 it cost me to rent a trailer to transport my show setup home again, I’m also counting my blessings.

While I still can’t believe that this happened to us, I am using this opportunity to rebuild my body of work and my show setup. It’s unlikely that the property will be recovered. Thanks to all our friends who have offered assistance and sympathy during this difficult time. A large number of my limited edition prints are now floating around in the unknown. What bothers me the most is that some thief may be selling my work at a huge discount in some flea market in Bountiful Butt, Oklahoma. If you do run across my work in such a venue, please let me know, and please do not purchase signed originals from anyone except me. And wish me luck as I travel the hard road of an itinerant artist.

Another feather in the cap – merit award at Barrington Art Fest

Another award for outstanding work

Frank Truong and Jim Parker

Yet another nod to my work came in the form of a merit award at this past weekend’s Barrington Art Fest in Barrington, Illinois. — this photograph courtesy of “brother” Frank Truong, who drove up from Chicago to visit. We also had a nice chat with old friends Richard Pahl and his partner Dennie, who stopped by from Elgin.

The show, a new addition to Amdur Productions Chicagoland festivals, was a pleasant two-day affair on the downtown streets of suburban Barrington, a sleepy upscale community northwest of Chicago. Many familiar faces were in attendance, including Steve and Anita Baldauf, Marc and Wendy Zoschke, Antoni Kozlowski, Bob and Patti Stern and other artists on the northern circuit.

Anita, Karyn and Wendy show off VetroCaldo jewelry

Anita Baldauf, Karyn Kozo and Wendy Baxter-Zoschke

The weather was unseasonably warm, which may have kept attendance down on this lovely Memorial Day weekend. Buying seemed light, although several artists reported good sales. The native American art by our neighbor Dennis was well-received, and Jon Walton, another nature photography seemed to be doing well with his macro images of flowers and vegetables. Western photographer Rudolph DeRam also seemed to working his cowboy images well.

Barrington Fine Art Fest

Street scene from Barrington Fine Art Fest

All in all, we had a good time, made a little money, and managed to get home in time for thunderstorms and picnicking this evening. Thanks to everyone who stopped by, admired the work, and took some original art home!

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!

It’s good to be the King!

James W. Parker - Booth Ann Arbor State St. 2009

James W. Parker - Booth Ann Arbor State St. 2009

As many of you may have heard already, I was the honored recipient of the Best of Show / 2D Award at the recent Ann Arbor State Street art festival. Competing with painters, printmakers, and some other fine photographers, I was surprised to learn that I had won early on Thursday morning. Kathy Krick, the show’s director, stopped by with her entourage to present me with a nicely framed award, a director’s chair and a healthy honorarium. And to top it off, I was also featured on the noon news, in a brief interview with Val Clark of local Channel 7, the ABC affiliate. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

The work I hung for the State Street show was a bit different than my colorful Southwestern imagery. I decided at the last minute to show my “Disappearing Agrarian Landscape” photographs, which are all sepia-toned. Interest in the work was high. I spoke with all three judges, who spent time discussing technique and subject with me: a refreshing change from the drive-by judging so prevalent at most shows. Likewise, many patrons enjoyed the images, and a few of the pieces traveled to new homes. I did hedge my bets, though, by including my color work in the bins.

For me, one of the fun parts of winning this award was the director’s chair. I offered to take a photograph of anyone who was willing to pose in the chair, and captured a few patrons and artists alike. Since it’s Ann Arbor, we get to see a lot of our show friends, including Steve and Anita Baldauf (our very first art show friends!); Marc Zoschke and Wendy Baxter, of Vetro Caldo, showing their beautiful dichroic glass jewelry; Antoni Koslowski, who sent over some friends to model his amber jewelry; Steve Potts, woodturner; Steve Daniel and Jasper, showing his new tree frog series (way cool); and Jeff Lewis, of Lewis Creek Instruments; Angie and Doug Dresie; and Suzanne “Q” Evon, two other terrific jewelers. Karyn was in heaven, but conflicted about which artist’s jewelry to wear on which day. Many compliments later, I discovered that it was good to be the king.

(Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image).

The show was blessed by decent weather this year. Normally, there’s at least one microburst followed by hot, humid weather, followed by rain, followed by high winds. This year there was none of that. It was mostly mild, and nobody lost an EZ-UP. Will wonders never cease? Crowds seemed somewhat lethargic, however, at least at my end of the show at William and Thompson. Granted, my spot is a bit out of the way, but it’s quiet, and frankly, it’s easy to get to. Sales for me were about the same as they always are, and many previous customers stopped by during the four day event. It was fun, and exhausting.

For more pictures of the folks enjoying “king for a day”, read on

Crosby Gardens Festival of Art – Review

The last weekend in June, 240 artists converge on the Toledo Botanical Gardens for  the Crosby Gardens Art Festival. I did this show last year, and although the booth was towards the back of the show, I had lots of visitors, and did pretty well. So this year we returned to the same spot.

Set-up is fairly easy. You can setup on Friday morning from 9AM to about 4:30PM, and the show officially opens for a VIP preview at 6PM. If you need extra time you can setup on Thursday, and the organizers will even let you setup earlier, on prior approval. It’s low key, and pretty easy to get your vehicle near your booth on the paths that wind through the park. Weather is usually beastly hot, though, and this Friday’s setup was no exception. Humidity after Thursday’s torrential rains made it especially sweaty.

The VIP Preview saw a few people wandering through the park, but not a lot of purchases seemed to go by our booth. Electricity is available in certain areas of the park, but not where I was. I did bring a little generator, a 2000W Honeywell inverter jenny that I found at Home Depot for a song. I was able to place it well out of the way of the artists and the walking path, and it powered my 110V lighting system quite well. It was a big help at dusk. The booth had a nice bright feeling to it, in contrast to the astrophotographer next to me who had a very dark booth, more suited to his galactic imagery.

Saturday the good folk of Toledo came out to see the art. Our show neighbors Jim and Denise Ardis made good sales of his copper sculptures. There were a lot of empty spaces, though. The painter who had been next to us last year was a no show. I was able to hang a couple of pieces on the side wall, which garnered a lot of attention. I spoke to a couple of the judges at length, which is always nice. Later, we learned that I won a ribbon — third place in the photography category. Nice ribbon and a small check (in the mail). Recognition is always welcome!

Sunday there was a bit of a shower overnight, but by 10AM, the rains departed for good, and we had brisk traffic most of the morning and afternoon. Ross Hocker of WGTE, the public radio station in Toledo, interviewed me on the live feed from the show. He asked me about my western landscapes, and we talked for a few minutes on the air. That was fun. Later, Ross came by the booth and chatted with Karyn and I about his work and art in general. But overall, sales were down for many people. I didn’t see a lot of work going by, a few 2D pieces. Photographers Doug and Leah Cavanah, from Auburndale, Florida, reported slow sales. Our mutual friends, Randy and Jackie Kuntz had a great show with Randy’s glass, however. Saturday was better for him than Sunday.

Denise Ardis introduced us to an interesting custom: she sprinkles “abundance oil” over her wallet, and chants a mantra to encourage sales. Abundance is not always equal to sales, but can come in the form of friends, laughter, love — you don’t have to believe in this bit of art show voodoo for it to work. What you need comes to you, but it isn’t always what you expect.

Perhaps the best part of the show was the new friends we made. We got to know Doug and Leah a bit better, as we all stayed with Jackie and Randy at the Kuntz Kastle in Holland. Saturday night, we sat out on the deck and watched fireworks over the lake. We spent time with Shirley Brodbeck, who was the first person who ever recognized the make of the tractor in “Field Day”! Shirley stopped by to say hi place of daughter  Barb Brodbeck, who I worked with at Ross Roy, in the 90’s. Barb was working and wasn’t able to make the short trip down from Bloomfield Hills. Hi, Barb!

Although sales at the show weren’t up to my expectations, it’s an appreciative audience and a lovely park. Bottom line: I’d go back because it’s a pleasant show, and I have several followups yet to complete.