By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Wickford Art Festival (WAA), one of the most prestigious festivals in New England with over 400 artists scheduled to exhibit their “best of the best."
Many events are planned to mark the occasion as early as next weekend. But the events can’t begin without knowing how it all began.
In 1961, North Kingstown resident John Huszer was working at the Quonset Point Naval Station spraying insignias on airplanes by day and working on his passion, painting, at night. He trained at the National Academy of Design in New York City and the Art Student’s League, also in New York, but never worked full-time as an artist and only taught art classes "here and there."
“John, as with most people, felt that financially things could be better and came up with the wonderful idea of displaying his paintings,” said Gail Shawn Burda, Wickford Art Association Publicity Chairperson, WAA member for 44 years and festival exhibitor consecutively for 46 years. “With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, he got permission from the police to display his paintings and hung 250. Forty of his paintings sold enabling him to pay his bills.”
The next year, Huszer got other local artists who worked hard to put on an even larger show the next year. The official start of the festival was in 1962 and the three-day event was a huge success.
Over 50 artists displayed their work while an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 visitors walked through the village.
The artwork was displayed against storefronts, on picket fences, along the bridge and on automobiles.
Several weeks after the first festival, locals including businessmen Paul Wilson and Everell Colvin held an “evaluation” of the event; Wilson and Colvin urged the artists to establish an association so the town and Chamber of Commerce would be able to help them for future festivals.
And, with that, the WAA was formed and has been the sponsor of the festival ever since. According to historical information in The Standard-Times, in 1963, 75 artists exhibited their work at the festival, with an estimated viewing crowd of 38,000 visitors.
Huszer passed away in 1983 but his daughter will be at the festival this year displaying his work.
As a way to mark the anniversary, the WAA is looking for memorabilia, past t-shirt designs and written memories which will be displayed during the festival, as well as examples of art and paintings created by early members and past participants.
Elizabeth Donovan, Community Outreach Coordinator for the North Kingstown Free Library and Burda will give a slideshow presentation and talk about the history of the festival on June 20 at the library.
In mid June, the WAA and Wilson's of Wickford will co-host a historic exhibition in celebration of the anniversary. The public exhibit will feature works of art from founding and early members of the Art Association and Festival, and will be open through the duration of the festival. A gala exhibition opening is scheduled for Friday evening, June 15, at the store.
For more information on the Wickford Art Festival and the Wickford Art Association visit www.wickfordart.org .