Taking Their Art on the Road
Through bone-chilling rain and searing heat, thin crowds and crass comments, they come back year after year to set up their tents and tables, socialize a bit and try to sell their wares. Meet the soldiers of the summer art fair circuit.
They spend the winter turning clay and steel into sculpture, twigs and stones into home decor, skins and fabric into one-of-a-kind fashion. Come spring, they carefully pack up their sculptures and paintings, weavings and furniture, and take to the highways.
It’s the life of an art fair artist — fraught with difficulty and distance, but not without reward. Many, like Benzie County ceramicist and watercolorist Pat Custer Denison, have been at it more than a quarter-century, starting when they were fresh out of art school. Over the years, they’ve shared the joys of friendship, the closeness of the arts community, and have watched their children grow up together.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 22. A lot of years,” says Denison. “Now that everybody on the art fair circuit seems to be in their 50s, I see fewer kids, but when we started out in the ’70s, there were babies and art fair children everywhere, and they all seem to have grown up to be accountants or engineers — anything other than artists.”
Indeed, it’s tough to find a new face in the show. “I like to think it’s because this life is so hard and they just don’t have the wherewithal,” says Denison. “But I think it’s just because we’re still here, clogging up the works, and the more years you’ve got into doing this, the more experience you have getting your slides together, getting your act together, getting in the show.”