Mystic art fest draws artists, buyers, collectors from near and far

Friends, from left, Angela Camp, Eleanor Lavery and Kathy Rucci, all of Westerly, take a look at a mobile by artist Melissa Rocklen during the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 in downtown Mystic. The 60th annual festival, featuring over 230 artists, continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Friends, from left, Angela Camp, Eleanor Lavery and Kathy Rucci, all of Westerly, take a look at a mobile by artist Melissa Rocklen during the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 in downtown Mystic. The 60th annual festival, featuring over 230 artists, continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Mystic — License plates from Kentucky, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania lined the streets surrounding downtown Mystic on Saturday.

A sight like this, even in the likes of tourist-filled Mystic, could mean only one thing: the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival is back.

The festival, which is the oldest of its kind in New England, is celebrating its 60th year this weekend.

Over the course of two days, it will draw in more than 85,000 people to the town’s center — many traveling from states near and wide to attend.

The festival’s success every year has banked on many factors. The quaint, seaside location is one, but so is the show’s longstanding reputation for displaying and selling great art.

And it draws crowds that are hungry to buy, something that attracts both new artists and those who have been coming to the show for decades.

But for patrons, the festival’s diverse offerings, ranging from traditional oil-on-canvas paintings to handmade clothing and pottery, is the special touch that they say keeps them coming back year after year.

“I love all the different things that you can find at this show,” Audrey Steinetz said while browsing around a booth displaying delicate hanging mobiles.

Steinetz, who lives in Westerly, said she has been coming to the show since the 1970s.

“You can’t find art like this unless you’re in Boston or in New York,” she said. “It’s really the place to be.”

For Mystic natives George and Linda Wagner, the show is a place where they come to explore various yard and home decorations.

The couple walked along Cottrell Street, looking at booths selling clean white birdhouses, garden pottery fixtures and stained glass hummingbirds.

“There are just so many diverse things to see, and it’s all things that you wish you could have in your own home,” George Wagner said. 

And even though the crowds made moving through the streets of downtown Mystic difficult, shoppers seemed unfazed and content perusing the pieces that could possibly line the walls of their homes.

Christine Anderson, who came from Long Island to attend the show, carried a bag over her shoulder with a large print of a rowboat sitting on water at sunset. She said that she has been coming to the show for the last 10 years.

“My sister saw this painting earlier and said that she loved it,” she said. “So, I decided to buy a print of it for her for Christmas.”

“We really don’t go out to art shows anymore, but for this one, we make the trip.”

This year, first-time attendees Heidi Barron and her husband, Paul, came from Michigan after hearing accolades of the show from a customer whom she met in Florida.

“She told us that we just had to come to the small little art show in Mystic,” Barron said. “So, we checked it out and I just had to laugh because this is no little show.”

For established artists, the Mystic Arts Festival also continues to remain a favorite, even for those who attend dozens of other shows every year.

Artist Gerald Robillard said he has come to the show for nearly 50 years from his hometown of Harrisville, R.I. His booth featured traditional oil-on-canvas paintings of ships and forest scenes was pulling in many intrigued spectators, including mesmerized children.

“This festival is really special,” he said. “The people who come here are really interested in art and are knowledgeable in art. You can’t find that anywhere else, really. And it’s because of that, that I always enjoy my time here the most.”

m.biekert@theday.com

Crowds walk past art vendors on Holmes Street during the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 in downtown Mystic. The 60th annual festival, featuring over 230 artists, continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Crowds walk past art vendors on Holmes Street during the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 in downtown Mystic. The 60th annual festival, featuring over 230 artists, continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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