More than 30 artists will face off in an outdoor painting contest at the Minnesota River Heritage Park in Shakopee this weekend.
Metro plein air (French for "open air") painters often travel out of the Cities -- to Red Wing or the North Shore -- for painting weekends or competitions. But the upcoming outdoor painting competition at the first annual Minnesota River Arts Fair on Saturday and Sunday at Minnesota River Heritage Park in Shakopee will keep artists closer to home.
"This is just down the road," said Patricia Schwartz of Eagan, who will paint in the competition. "When this came up, I wanted to get in on it right away. It's terrific."
Schwartz and more than 30 other artists will select a scene at the quaint 1880s village along the Minnesota River and spend a week painting it. Prizes will be awarded during the fair, which also features a "quick paint" competition, fine arts and crafts booths with work by Minnesota artists, artist demonstrations, children's activities, musical performances, costumed interpreters in historic buildings and trolleys pulled by draft horses.
The Savage Arts Council decided to organize the event after being approached by the manager of the Heritage Park. "We basically jumped on the idea because of the location," said volunteer Denise Baerg. "It's such a beautiful venue."
"It's a good fit," said Greg Preslicka, who coordinates the competition aspects of the fair. He feels the location connects well with the history of outdoor painting, which became more popular in the mid- to late 1800s, when oil paints became available in tubes.
Preslicka said there has been a national resurgence of interest in plein air painting in the last few years. He attributes it to a renewed interest in realistic painting in general.
A devoted outdoor painter, Preslicka even works in below-zero weather. "Many painters paint all the way through winter," he said. "In Minnesota, we have so much green. When winter comes, you also have these blue shadows.
"For me, it's a great way to be outdoors," he said. "I also kind of love the challenge. When you are painting outside, the sun is moving. Typically a plein air painter will try to do the whole painting in one session. The next day, the light and the clouds may change."
"Nature always throws a loop at you," said Richard Kochenash of Chaska, who will conduct an outdoor oil painting workshop at the event. "Rarely does it let you just sit there. Just when you think you got the right moment, something changes."
He described the quick paint as a particularly fun challenge. "When the whistle goes off," he said, "all the canvases get handed in. It's kind of like a pop quiz. And it's not open book."
The art scene in Scott County has been growing in recent years, due in no small part to Jo Storey, director and owner of the Savage Arts Studio and chairwoman of the Minnesota River Arts Fair. She helped start a juried art show in 2006 and organize the Scott County Art Crawl in 2010.
Storey said the Minnesota River Arts Fair is unique in that it is limited to Minnesota artists. "We want to celebrate all that is Minnesota," she said. "We really want to celebrate our culture, our history, our art."
Fred Somers of Northfield, who will conduct a pastel demonstration at the fair, spoke long-distance during his plein air painting vacation in Grand Marais. Somers started painting outdoors in the 1970s, when he shifted subject matter.
"As a radical avante garde artist, I probably disdained what people like me were doing," he said. "I was kind of an arrogant fool. I'm very proud and happy to touch my heart and other people's hearts. I think there is something really powerful about landscapes."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.