Artists find inspiration in the diversity of subject matter in Easton, from historic architecture dating back to the Colonial era to painted picket fences to lush in-town gardens. The surrounding area is blessed with 600 miles of waterfront, which provides endless fodder – from piers to yachts to small sailboats. Artists are also drawn to open spaces that are punctuated with stands of trees, country farms, wildflower fields, and tiny crossroad villages.
As a visitor, one of the most satisfying experiences is stumbling onto artists at work: In the forlorn corner of a parking lot, a trio of artists painted crabs atop a tower of baskets. In an alleyway next to a restaurant, a painter captured toppled trash cans on canvas. Nearby, another artist perched himself on a ladder on a busy street corner.
"People are drawn to the painters. There's an inexplicable energy around an easel," explained Camille Przewodek, a plein air landscape artist who hails from Petaluma, California. "People love watching an artist's interpretation of what's right in front of both of them."
"I call it outdoor performance," said Nancy Tankersley, one of the founders of Plein Air – Easton and owner of South Street Art Gallery.
Plein Air -- Easton is widely recognized among the arts community as one of the most important plein air events in the country, where artists not only compete and meet one another, but also do what keeps working artists alive – sell paintings. "It's a running joke among artists that Plein Air – Easton is Disneyland for plein air painters," said Al Bond, executive director of the Avalon Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization based in Easton that manages the festival. "They get to paint, hang out with other artists, meet collectors, and exhibit their work in an accredited museum."
Plein Air – Easton is unique among festivals in that it's connected to a museum. The Academy Art Museum, located in a 19th-century white clapboard schoolhouse, boasts a small but important permanent collection that includes works by James A. M. Whistler, Robert Motherwell, and Robert Rauschenberg. During the festival, the museum exhibits and sells the work of featured artists.
"The museum's involvement elevates the event, since it exhibits and, in some cases, acquires our work," noted DeWaard.
Przewodek was a festival judge for the past five years before participating this year as a juried artist. "The caliber of artists is very high, and you have America's top painters in the competition," she noted. (Przewodek's "Gambrel Barn," a landscape of a lonely red barn surrounded by yellowing fields, won this year's Vanishing Landscape prize.)
Many artists stay with local families during their week in Easton. For Milwaukee-based Shelby Keefe, bunking with a local family insight to what life is like on the Eastern Shore, which helps inform your paintings," she said.