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East Lyme - With Independence Day in the rearview mirror, all dark thoughts of the day-long monsoon known as Super Storm Uncle Sam were vanquished on a lovely Saturday as crowds luxuriated at the Niantic Lions' 54th Arts & Crafts Show and 36th Lobsterfest & Chicken Barbecue.
Laid out on the grounds surrounding East Lyme Town Hall was a labyrinth of booths featuring eclectic works by close to 150 Creative People. All manners of citizenry strolled and perused - enjoying not just the bountiful wares but also a Gaugin-blue sky and a bay breeze that seductively pushed comingling scents of kettle corn, grilling chicken and boiled lobster.
Dave and Melissa Mazzaferro, along with their infant son Jonathan in a stroller, eased through the crowd with a couple of artistic purchases. From Granby, the family makes an annual trip to the area over the Fourth of July holiday and deliberately targeted the arts and crafts show.
"We actually wanted to look at works by local photographers," Melissa said, "but wound up with a painting and an antique map of our town." As for the food for sale nearby, Dave said, "We did eat some lobster - but it was at Abbott's in Noank. We thought we might try some here, too, but Jonathan's sleepy."
Nearby, in a booth occupying a high-profile space on Pennsylvania Avenue, mixed-media artist Smadar Livne was showing several brightly colored and striking canvases that incorporated abstract imagery with historical and poetic references.
An Israeli native now living in the U.S., Livne says he's been a regular participant at the East Lyme event. "I actually can't remember how many," he smiled. "In my business, I do a show every weekend and a lot of the details tend to run together." He said that, conceptually, his work attracts lot of Hebrew and Jewish customers.
"I know there's not a particularly big population here, but this is always fun and I enjoy meeting people. You never know who might find a work of art appealing - and the surprise factor is part of the fun."
The stylistic variety of arts and crafts objects was extremely wide. Naturally, there were a lot of indigenous sea and landscapes, but in addition to paintings, drawings, sculpture and pottery, there were booths featuring handmade flutes and canes, postcards and photographs, apparel ranging from kids' clothes to Phish-style tie-dyed wardrobes, birdhouses and books.
New Jersey painter Lloyd Garrison spoke at length with a steady stream of folks who were entranced by his pieces - which might be described as magical realism-in-oils. One showed a late-night streetscape of Broadway in New York, empty except for the spectres of actors and actresses long gone.
Another, titled "All the Good Men," set in 1869, depicted a corporeal Gen. Robert E. Lee on a porch, contemplating the lives lost under his Civil War stewardship. Joining him were the misty apparitions of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart.
Garrison pointed at the picture and then at another, just below, of a blooming flower. "If you paint a flower, it's a flower. I do it, and so do a lot of other artists," he said. "But I also try to think of ideas people don't normally see." He gestured back to the Lee painting. "I've often thought about the weight of General Lee's burden and could imagine him reflecting on it."
Of course, a huge and integral artistic component to the whole day was the food - and dozens of anticipatory people waited patiently in a line that stretched back across the grounds.
Kevin and Karen Kearns, from Windsor Locks, held down spots number 55 and 56. It was their inaugural visit to Niantic, and they said they'd enjoyed walking down Main Street and through the show. "I guess it seems kind of silly to wait in a long line to eat lobster here on the coast, where there are so many seafood restaurants, but we're here and everyone seems to know what they're doing," Kevin said.
Backstage, as it were, several Lions Club members, wearing purple and gold shirts, worked tirelessly and efficiently, manning the huge, fowl-clustered grill, tending to massive lobster pots fueled by roaring tanks of propane, sacking up fresh-popped kettle corn, and expertly crafting burgers and dogs. Just behind, the vast dining pavilion was full of happy folks enjoying culinary and conversational sustenance.
"You know, this is a lot of work. It really is, but it's also a great time and the money we raise doing this goes right back into the community - in a lot of very important ways," said Deb Updyke, president of the Niantic Lions Club.
Fidelco Guide Dogs, Niantic Little League, Camp Rising Sun for children with cancer, scholarships for graduating high school seniors, holiday food baskets for Care and Share, and many other causes are all part of the Lions Club's beneficence.
"What's also important is that people seem to really have a good time at this event, so that makes it even more worthwhile," Updyke said.
She smiled at the expressed hope that the Lions members at least take a bit of time to enjoy a lobster or some barbecued chicken. "Well, we do. But we also pay for our meals because, after all, that money is the whole idea."
What: Niantic Lions' 54th Arts & Crafts Show and 36th Lobsterfest & Chicken Barbecue
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today
Where: East Lyme Town Hall grounds, 108 Pennsylvania Ave., Niantic