For artists, brisk business beats the heat

Artscape draws crowds on the festival's final day

July 29, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Steve Hazard had heard from friends that Baltimore's Artscape crowd had some serious art buyers. Otherwise, he wouldn't have loaded a 12-foot van with his glass, iron and clay wares and driven cross-country from San Marcos, Calif.

But Hazard was surprised when he sold three large pieces, priced between $900 and $2,000, at Friday night's opening. And business picked up as Hazard sold many smaller bowls and vases, and met a Bethesda gallery owner interested in displaying his work.

By the final hours of the 21st annual Artscape yesterday, he had deemed the weekend a success and said he would return if the festival would have him.

"I've been to all the major shows, and the audience here is every bit as sophisticated," he said.

Hazard's experience highlights an aspect of Artscape often overshadowed for the tens of thousands flocking to the three-day festival by its free concerts and the stands selling pit beef, funnel cake and ethnic dishes: the scores of artists taking a chance on appreciation.

Many sculptors, painters, carpenters, jewelry makers and potters travel great distances and pay $260 a booth for the privilege. They count on Marylanders to buy their art and make their trips financially worthwhile. In general, it's a good gamble, artists said yesterday.

Hazard sold an etched glass piece to John and Louise Warmath, who live a few blocks away in Bolton Hill. The Warmaths attend every year. Although they don't consider themselves serious art buyers, they go with open minds and potentially open pocketbooks, they said.

"We came this close to buying a $2,000 painting last year," said John Warmath, holding his fingers an inch apart. "Hey, if we find the same guy this year we might buy it yet."

As it was, the couple had bought Hazard's piece, several ink etchings and a pair of silver earrings.

"You can find really good stuff at all ends of the price range," Louise Warmath said, pushing 2-year-old daughter Ellsie in a plastic car bearing an "I Love City Life" bumper sticker.

Artists expect the majority of festival-goers to be mere browsers, but people such as the Warmaths, casually interested yet willing to buy, are what they

count on.

Spurts of relief

The commerce continued yesterday despite sticky 95-degree heat that made free cardboard and plastic fans the most popular items of the afternoon. Merciful emergency workers attached sprinklers to fire hydrants, creating spurts of water to spray overheated walkers.

One man, when he saw a hydrant spit water, shouted, "Forget this Artscape thing, the hydrant is open."

Vilja Klein of Reisterstown, ducking in front of a hydrant for several moments, observed, "It's so hot, you just have to do it."

Klein attended all three days of Artscape and said the heat did not ruin her good time. "What a lovely idea this is," she said. "It makes me think about living in Baltimore."

Others battling the heat crowded under trees or the shadows of buildings. A few stood in the crisply cool lobby of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, one of the few air-conditioned spaces around.

It was close enough to hear the steady jazz beat throbbing from the makeshift stage at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Mount Royal Station, where electric violinist Rodney McCoy and singer Lysette Wilson were performing.

Fries and barbecue attracted many, but the lines at ice cream and snowball stands appeared consistently longer.

Happy artists

In the display area, artists fanned themselves steadily and complained that their tent-booths cut off any breeze. Most said they were happy anyway.

"This just might be the best festival I've ever had," said Sidney Carter, an Atlanta painter whose work depicts jazz and blues musicians. "The scary thing is people are even buying my big stuff."

Carter, whose paintings were priced from $50 to $800, was one of the few artists working at his craft yesterday. He applied splotches of paint to a canvas even as he chatted with a stream of potential customers. He often paints at festivals, he said, because "I stay so busy traveling that the only time I have to paint is on the road."

The activity also helps attract buyers, he said, smiling.

Carter was one of many artists to praise the crowd.

John Cheer of Allentown, Pa., said he was stunned that so many recognized him from a profile in the magazine Craft Report. Cheer fuses clay with glass to create shimmering sculptures that garnered attention from many browsers despite price tags as high as $850.

Cheer said he wasn't sure what to expect from the crowd at his first Artscape but was inspired to see so many respond positively to his work. He sold several expensive pieces during the weekend.

"Art is something that strikes you, and if it hits you in a certain way, no matter where you are, you just have to buy it," he said.

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