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Let there be art: St. Louis Art Fair and Art Outside are becoming September traditions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 9, 2009 - I admit it.

My name is Susan, and I'm an art fair junkie.

This weekend, the weekend after Labor Day, I'll be doing what I do every year -- spending a major chunk of time at the St. Louis Art Fair in downtown Clayton, with a detour to the Art Outside fair at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood.

As veteran art fair-goers know, the St. Louis Art Fair is a happy mix of art, food, music -- and, hopefully, balmy, beautiful weather.

This year, the newest addition to the festivities is the Art Studio, a kind of Creative Castle for adults, says Cindy Lerick, the president and executive director of Cultural Festivals, which includes the Art Fair and the Big Read. Open from 6:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, the Art Studio allows adults to indulge their creativity -- whether it's throwing a pot, crafting a bracelet, decorating a cookie or learning calligraphy. Of course, wine and beer will be for sale if your creativity needs a little spark to get flowing.

Still, the main draw is always the art. Lerick says that of the roughly 1,500 applicants, this year's event showcases about 170 artists, of whom 54 are new to the show. While Lerick was reluctant to single out specific artists, when pressed she mentioned a few whose work may be different than what people may expect:

  • Frederick Warren, a glass artist from N. Muskegon, Mich.: Warren's work "is very unique because it looks like ceramic," says Lerick.
  • Hetty and Norman Metzger, paper artists from Homosassa, Fla.: Their two-dimensional mixed media work stood out for Lerick because "the images (as in the fair brochure) don't do the work justice."
  • Lewis Tardy of Kalamazoo, Mich.: His bold metal sculptures may attract some of the men who aren't necessarily there because of their love of art.
  • Lerick enjoys the contrast between the urban, colorful work of painter Michel Delgado of Key West, Fla., whose work is featured on the art fair's T-shirt and the subtle prints of George Raab of Milibrook, Ontario, whose image of a solitary tree is featured on the fair's poster this year.

For my part, I'm looking forward to seeing what some of my favorites have in store this year.
I'm always fascinated by Nicario Jimenez of Naples, Fla., who won best of show last year. His three-dimensional retablos, a form of Andean folk art, depict incredibly detailed scenes of daily life. Some have traditional themes, like a mask maker's shop or even, ironically, a retablo workshop, but others are jarringly contemporary, like scenes of the border patrol or the civil rights movement.

Then there's the more whimsical fiber art of Chris Roberts-Antieau who won the Denise Ward-Brown Jurors Award last year. Her pieces, described as textile applique, have a playful, even folk arty, quality. (I detect a theme here.)

And there are some photographers I have my eye on as well.  The saturated colors of Lawrence Oliverson of Sullivan, Wisc.,  and the almost day-glo otherworldly alleyscapes of Xavier Nuez of Fremont, Calif., both look mesmerizing.

Lerick, who's worked in Minneapolis and Florida, expects the economy to have some impact on the fair this year. The trend in other markets so far this year, she says, has been high attendance but moderate sales. People come out for the fun and free entertainment but may be more careful about opening their wallets. The artists have responded. 

"The artists understand the economy," says Lerick. "Yes, you'll have the big items, but also more affordable" pieces as well.

The point, she says, is to enjoy. 

I know I will.

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.