Crowds pack Mystic for annual art festival

Activity around the booth of oil painter Bao Ke of New York City during the 57th annual Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival in downtown Mystic Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Mystic — Fall foliage is just around the actuarial corner, but there’s plenty of day-glo color on hand this weekend at the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival. In tents and booths lining the sidewalks of downtown Mystic and residential streets hard to the business district, the available art includes sculpture, paintings and drawings, wood carving, jewelry, mixed media, stained and blown glass, handmade clothing, crafts, pottery and — let’s not forget — vehicles.

The latter is a reference to the task faced by visitors, whose wile, persistence and vision in trying to find a place to actually park probably seemed, in many cases, just as creative as the artwork.

However, once safely wandering the expansive grounds on Saturday, the milling crowd seemed happy and frequently mesmerized by the visual feast as well as the olfactory possibilities: on a warm day blessedly free of humidity, the scents of grilling hot dogs, maple kettle corn, just-watered plants, patchouli and even fragrant pipe tobacco provided even more sensory data to go along with art.

Just before the show’s opening at 10 a.m., wood carver Skip Wiley of Gardner, Mass., played one of his hand-crafted drums, using his hands to lay down a Pied Pipery rhythm to lure customers. A retired chemistry teacher who learned woodworking from his father and grandfather, Wiley’s works also boast an aviary motif with all sorts of carved fowl and garden ornament whirlybirds.

“I love coming here,” said Wiley, who typically works about 50 art shows a year throughout New England. It was his fourth time at the Mystic event, and he said he spent the last few weeks making enough birds to supply the anticipated demands of Mystic.

“I got into this to have something to do in my retirement,” he said. “It’s gone so well that I guess I didn’t appreciate the scope of what I was getting into.”

He laughed. “I don’t think my wife did, either.”

Farmington’s Todd Brink, taking a break outside Bank Square Books, was pondering information he’d gathered as part of the initial part of his two-plank Art Fest plan. “Today’s browsing day. Tomorrow we buy,” he said. He was accompanied by Pipper and Sully, his mixed-breed rescue dogs who were calmly enjoying social interaction with dozens of pedestrians and other canines.

“I’m trying to learn what their artistic tastes are,” Brink said.

In the last — or first, depending on which direction you’re traveling — tent on Water Street, just in front of Oyster Club, Arizona-based Stewart Rein and his wife, Lil, were displaying his photos-on-canvas. The large works included gorgeous desert-scapes and evocative scenes from their extensive travels in Europe.

Rein said having a tent location at one extreme is a mixed blessing. “We’ve been coming here the past three years, and at first we saw this location as a distinct disadvantage,” he said. “If you’re the first artist people see, well, they just go by because they want to experience everything. If you’re last, maybe they’ve already bought what they’re going to buy. But we’ve actually done very well in Mystic. It’s a great town.”

Rein said that the photograph-on-canvas technique is fairly common out west, but he thinks it might be newer to New England art fans. “The texture is such that it makes the images really jump out at you — and the European and desert scenes are hopefully dramatic. People seem to like them.”

On Cottrell Street on the other side of the drawbridge, Rebecca Grills, with the help of her husband, Dennis, was hanging various selections of her “summer glass” objects. Using old multi-pane window frames or doors as skeletal anchor, for example, Grills incorporates stained glass and broken tea cups or bottles to present colorful works that invoke childlike whimsy as well as an older, folk-art quality.

Grills, a Mystic resident who “only had to travel three-quarters of a mile to get here,” said she doesn’t rely on the Muse striking at any moment to provide her inspiration, but she does enjoy working on a new tangent and “experiencing the tingles you get when you know you’re onto something.”

Across Main Street on Willow, Elizabeth Jancewicz said that preparing for an event like the Mystic show is very different than her usual creative process. If that sounds odd for a career artist, it’s important to know that she and her husband, Eric Stevenson, comprise Pocket Vinyl — the very popular “painting and piano” duo whose distinctive stage show features Stevenson singing his songs while Jancewicz paints a new and original canvas — to be auctioned off — during the course of a set.

“Doing a show like this is a bit of a strange mindset,” Jancewicz said, relaxing in a canvas chair next to Stevenson. “I actually signed up for this specifically to see what it was like to do some work without the time and creative constraints of being onstage. I found I still have similar inspiration and images, but I get to work on ideas that I’d otherwise dismiss because I know I don’t have the time to pull it off during a performance.”

She and Stevenson exchanged knowing grins. “We’re obviously still doing Pocket Vinyl, but we’ve decided this is fun. A lot of work, but definitely fun.”

Near the fountain circle at Main Street and Broadway, Groton resident Elise Sousa finished buying a print of Watch Hill’s Ocean House from watercolorist Diana Tyler of Hebron. It was decidedly not an impulsive purchase.

“My mom got my husband and me one of her prints when we got married and we really like it,” Sousa said. “Now we have some friends getting married and I wanted them to have one.”

It wasn’t to be the only work of art Sousa had in mind. She was next headed off in search of Vermont potter Susan Kramer’s booth. “I love the colors she uses,” Sousa said. “I bought my first piece of her pottery nine years ago and it’s become a ritual. I get a new one every year. That’s one of the things that makes this festival something I always look forward to. There’s always new stuff, but I’m also doing something traditional.”

The Mystic Outdoor Art Festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Twitter: @rickkoster

Crowds browse the artwork along Cottrell Street during the 57th annual Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival in downtown Mystic Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.  The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Crowds browse the artwork along Cottrell Street during the 57th annual Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival in downtown Mystic Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.


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