Summer Skies

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on July 3rd, 2013

The radar on my phone’s weather app glared at me like a brooding teen throughout the days (and hours) leading up to the Woodson Art Museum’s Plein-Air Paint Out last Saturday. Checking it repeatedly didn’t change the screen: Highs in the upper 80s complete with little cartoonish lightening bolts and dark gray clouds. “What can you do? You can’t control the weather,” my coworkers comforted me in my testy and anxious state.

Saturday morning aligned with the predicted forecast – overcast, rainy, and humid. Tents were set up on the riverfront for artists who worked through the rain to capture beautiful scenes of the river from the bridge bike path near the Eye Clinic of Wisconsin. Artists working near City Hall took shelter under awnings and trees during the rain and painted the doorways, spires, and historic cobblestone facades of the churches near McClellan and Fourth Streets. The rain subsided later in the morning just in time for a walk to Downtown Grocery for a yummy lunch.

Artists settled in for their afternoon painting shifts and got busy tackling new subjects in and around downtown Wausau. Foot traffic picked up Saturday afternoon as the dreary clouds parted and made way for some sunshine. I was treated to a Kathy Foley Energizer Bunny routine during the afternoon as we walked back and forth between the two painting sites for three hours. The combination of summer sun, hospitality responsibilities, and keeping up with Kathy left me tuckered.

It was fascinating to watch plein-air artists at work downtown on Saturday and in the Museum’s sculpture garden on Sunday and observe how they blocked in color and shapes with impressive agility and speed. While watching a painting take shape on canvas is intriguing, my favorite thing to see was how artists determined their subjects – considering light, shadow, and shapes that could be blocked swiftly – and compositions. Many artists used viewfinders to determine how the scene before them would translate onto canvas while others, like Plein-Air Painters of American (PAPA) president Gil Dellinger, used their hands to create a rectangle and scan the horizon for the ideal layout.

The busy day came to a close at the Museum, where artists, visitors, and staff enjoyed refreshments (and air conditioning!) and viewed the fruits of the day’s labors. More than a dozen freshly made artworks adorned tables in a lower level gallery and featured a range of subjects, styles, and mediums. Paint-Out artists worked in watercolor, pastel, and oil. If you missed the Paint Out or the evening artwork review, you can view and also purchase the Paint-Out artworks at the Museum for the duration of Celebrating Summer: Plein-Air Painters of America, through August 25.

Despite the threat of serious storms looming large in the days before the opening weekend Paint Out, the event went quite well and I was thrilled with the results –beautiful artworks, excited visitors, and new friendships formed with local and national plein-air artists. Paint the Town: A Plein-Air Paint Out funding comes from a Community Arts Grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin, with funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Community Foundation, and the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. In the afterglow of the Paint Out, the spirit of plein-air painting and the beauty of summer lives on in the Museum galleries and throughout the summer’s upcoming programs, summer art camps, and events.

I’m headed home to Chicago for July 4, taking advantage of the opportunity for a long weekend and catching up with friends I haven’t seen in awhile. I look forward to seeing the familiar city skyline – the perfect backdrop for some fireworks.

If your plans either keep you in the Wausau area for the holiday or have you visiting north-central Wisconsin, swing by the Woodson Art Museum this Saturday and create your own fireworks-inspired sculpture during Art Park Open Studio, 1-3 pm. The Museum is closed for the holiday on Thursday, open on Friday, 9am – 4pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, Noon – 5pm.

Have a great holiday and enjoy the summer weather – rain or shine.

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