By LILLIAN DUNNING
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWNâ€”It was a triumphant weekend for the Wickford Art Association.
By the close of the 49th annual Wickford Art Festival on Sunday evening, exhibitors, attendees and organizers all shared a sense of relaxed satisfaction in the success of this yearâ€™s event.
A yellow-shirted Festival Staff member commented that â€śA lot of people have been coming up to the Information Booth with compliments, saying itâ€™s the best year yet. When they take the time to seek you out and tell you this, you know they really mean it.â€ť
As in the past, the festival was well-organized, well-executed, well-attended, and chock full of the highest-quality art available anywhere.
What set this year apart? For one, the spectacular weather.
From start to finish, the 2011 Festival was gifted with sparkling blue skies, warm sunshine, and cool breezes off the harbor.
It was hot, but not too hotâ€”just about the right temperature for enjoying a frosty Delâ€™s, available for purchase from one of the numerous vendors who wedged their carts between shopfronts and art-filled stalls.
In fact, the weekend was perfect for enjoying all the pleasures the Festival had to offerâ€”from delectable food to live music to the games and crafts at the Kidâ€™s Corner, sponsored by the First Baptist Church. And, of course, what everyone came for: the artwork.
According to the Wickford Art Associationâ€™s website, the festival is limited â€śexclusively to original works of fine art painting and hand pulled prints, photography, and three-dimensional, non-functional sculpture,â€ť but within these parameters, there was something for every collector.
Paintings ranged from moody oils to light-drenched pastels, with a variety of subject matter to suit any taste. Alongside multiple, various beach and lighthouse vistas were some more unexpected offerings. Providence painter Melissa Mastrangelo, who focuses on gritty scenes of urban and industrial decayâ€”atmospheric renderings in acrylic of rust and telephone wiresâ€”noted that the contrast between her work and the venue offered by Wickford village â€śgets peopleâ€™s attention,â€ť and ultimately seems to work in her favor.
Aside from diverse works of painting, photography and sculpture, this yearâ€™s Festival included etchings, silkscreen prints, stained glass, and tiled mosaics. Clearly, one of the major contributing factors to the perennial appeal of the Festival is the quality of the artâ€”which the Wickford Art Association is continually working to assure. Providence-based photographer and Association member Sandi King pointed out that â€ś45 new artists were juried in this year. Itâ€™s some of the best art weâ€™ve seen recently.â€ť
For exhibitors as well as patrons, the intimacy and charming setting of the Wickford Art Festival is a draw. British-born, Florida-based pastel painter Jennifer Gardner commented that the festival is smaller than many of those she attends, and â€śfeels more like a community show.â€ť Gardner, who has established a firm client base in the area over the last six or seven years, comes up to the Northeast each summer to do â€śthe circuit.â€ť She makes it a point to â€śalways start the season off in Wickford. I just love it.â€ť
From the perspective of the local population, the Wickford Art Festival means trafficâ€”and though this may result in a few inconveniences to residents attempting to go about their weekend errands, the crowds also add a carnival mood of excitement and fun to the quaint, usually quiet streets of downtown Wickford. And the Festival contributes to the vitality of the village economy as well as its atmosphere: Sandi King noticed that â€śI see more people carrying canvases out this year. They seem to be spending a bit more.â€ť
This influx of visitors to Wickford Village is a boon to local businesses, too. Bee Givan, co-owner of the eclectic lifestyle boutique Green Ink, noted that the benefits to local merchants are by no means limited to one weekend in July. The Festival, she said, â€śis good for business in the long run. A lot of people come back later, saying it was too crowded.â€ť
After getting a glimpse of what the village has to offer, shoppers return in the future to spend more time. Though attendees hail â€śfrom all overâ€ťâ€”according to a festival stafferâ€”many are from within Rhode Island, making it easy for them to get back to Wickford for return visits.
Energized by the myriad successes of their 2011 efforts, the Wickford Art Association now turns its attention to the task of planning the Festivalâ€™s golden anniversary.
Although the content of next yearâ€™s festivities is not yet forthcoming, enthusiasm ran high at the Information Booth, where a staffer mentioned that â€śwe want to do something really special.â€ť
Organizers canâ€™t do much to ensure a repeat of this yearâ€™s perfect weather, but one thing is certain: the 50th anniversary of the Wickford Art Festival will once again bring the very best in fine art painting, photography and sculpture to the village.