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Art with a Message

by Roberta McReynolds

I took my own chair to the Art & Wine Festival. Mike purchased this cherished item for me last year and my back is grateful each time I use it. It's a tad weighty and bulky to carry, but so worth it. A regular folding chair from the gallery was an option, but those things are like being subjected to a form of medieval torture after the first four or five hours.

My collapsible chair is constructed of heavy-duty blue canvas, with cup holders in both armrests. The real selling point is the clever, adjustable canopy for shade. I didn't need the canopy this time, but it was reassuring to have just in case. It wasnt like I could just dodge the sun whenever I pleased while listening to music, imbibing a glass of vino, or observing demonstrations: I was one of the demonstrations. I had agreed, for the second year in succession, to set up a canvas and paint.

A hefty slice of downtown gets fenced off for this annual event. Id estimate three blocks of J Street and short branches on the cross streets. My station was set up near the 10th Street Plaza at the intersection 10th & J streets, while my car was parked around the corner on 13th Street. It wasn't bad as far as distance goes, but its been 15 years since I last made a routine of walking on concrete sidewalks during my daily lunch break. Plus it took two trips to haul all my stuff to the assigned location.

I could have snaked my car through the booths, tents and tables springing up from the asphalt. I did that last year and thought my car was going to end up part of an exhibit before I was able to inch my way back out after unloading my gear. Besides, Im certain my prized parking space in the shade would have been seized long before I could master a 21-point turn and escape the perimeter.

My (first) spot was located in the sun. I was disappointed, but decided not to dwell on it. Californias San Joaquin Valley is miserable in the middle of August and being hot under the collar could only make it worse. Minutes after I got completely set up, I was asked if I would mind moving to another site in the shade. Are you kidding me? Would I mind? I pulled up stakes in a flash.

So, I set up twice. I was feeling the effects of the morning before the gates ever opened.

I don't know if the festival was as well attended as last year. Many people can't spare $10 to walk in and look at art they can't afford right now anyway. It was still fun though and I got plenty of compliments, some from other artists. I had two large, donated paintings on loan from a hospital and three smaller paintings on display. Many people were especially drawn to the one I had done from a photograph my cousin, Perry, took of Cape Falcon, Oregon. I think the silhouetted pine trees against a background of purple mountains rising from a dense layer of fog must have been inviting on a hot day.

Painting with acrylics is my first choice, preferring them to oil or watercolors. The rapid drying time allows me to transport a fresh canvas without fear of ruining my next great masterpiece. The challenge outdoors in a 100-degree climate is the same: rapid drying time. Its difficult to work with acrylics much beyond slapping a brush full of paint thinned with water against a primed canvas and hope for the best. I have noticed that it does force me to work fast with a freedom absent from my usual style. Im notorious for overworking large areas with a ridiculously tiny brush.

A father and mother with two daughters highlighted my day. The girls, probably five and seven years of age, had been to a craft table for children where they created flowers out of coffee filters. They watched me paint, and after a few minutes I stopped to make a fuss over the girls' flowers. When the parents were ready to move along, the older of the two girls flung her arms around me and gave me an enthusiastic hug. The parents were startled by the unexpected gesture, remarking that the child is normally quite shy and reserved.

"Its that grandmotherly aura," I smiled. It wasnt the first time I had been spontaneously adopted and Im sure it wont be the last.

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