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Creating in the open air

Painting competition draws artists, spectators to North Bennington


Contributing writer

There’s nothing quite like the immediacy of watching an artist in the act of creating a painting.

And that simple principle is what powers the North Bennington Plein Air Competition, a “paint-out” in which professional artists vie to capture the appearance of landscapes as the lighting, atmosphere and weather change.

The French expression “en plein air” (pronounced “plen air”) literally means “in the open air.” Long a tradition with landscape and seascape painters, plein air competitions generally take place in scenic communities around the country and include artists who are keen observers of the effects of light and weather.

The competing artists work outdoors and are judged on their close observation of nature and their ability to transform their impressions into a vision on paper or canvas.

Last year, an experimental plein air competition organized in North Bennington proved to be a runaway success.

“It exceeded our expectations by a great margin,” said Tony Conner, an area artist and one of the competition's organizers. “We knew artists painting in public would draw attention. But the weather wasn't that good, and the turnout was still great.”

This year, the 2nd Annual North Bennington Plein Air Competition will take place from Tuesday through Sunday, Sept. 6-11. The participants will be 25 professional artists chosen by a selection jury, in contrast to last year’s invitational competition, Conner said.

Participants for 2011 will include the top three winners from last year’s event as well as several prize-winners from other national paint-out events, including three artists who competed in the prestigious Plein Air Easton Competition, held annually in Easton, Md.

The artists can use any medium to create their portrait. Conner said last year’s competition involved painters as well as several watercolorists and pastel artists thrown into the mix.

Public events all week

For this year’s competition, the painting area has been extended to include Shaftsbury, Bennington and Old Bennington. The artists will produce and exhibit up to six paintings, and two paintings from each artist will be selected for competition.

David Macaulay, the author, illustrator and 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is the awards juror and will announce the winning paintings at the Grand Exhibit on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Conner said all Plein Air Competition events are open to the public, including two presentations by Macaulay on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 8, at Bennington College, and a second geared for children on Friday afternoon at Park-McCullough House in North Bennington.

Information for visitors, including the locations where artists will be painting, will be available daily throughout the competition at the North Bennington train station, on Main Street across from the post office.

Conner said one of the most well-attended and interesting events last year was the Quick Draw Competition, a timed painting competition open to anyone interested.

“All participants are required to complete a painting within two hours,” he explained. “And it's not as easy as it might seem. Last year, we had 20 folks who were not participating artists do quick draw. It’s a difficult challenge in some regards and the most interesting thing we do. It definitely draws crowds.”

This year's Quick Draw, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, takes place on the grounds of Park-McCullough House. The Quick Draw paintings are exhibited and juried, and awards are presented, immediately after the two hours of painting.

The overall competition ends on Sunday, Sept. 11, with a reception for the 25 professional artists and an awards ceremony.

“A lot of people watching the artists translates to people attending the exhibition and reception on the weekend,” Conner said. “Once you watch an artists paint, there's this natural curiosity to see the finished product.”

For more information about the North Bennington Plein Air Competition,
visit the Web site www.pleinair-northbennington.com
e-mail info@pleinair-northbennington.com
or call (802) 733-6570.

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