AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
It all began 16 years ago when a group of local artists decided to get off the fence - or perhaps stay on it - and do something different. They had decided to display their work on old snow fences, and the Fence Show Artists were born.
Next, the artists needed to find a venue to show their artwork. They began by setting up fences in the Old Lyme A&P parking lot during the town's annual Midsummer Festival, which attracts throngs of visitors and brought them many admirers and buyers.
After several years, the Old Lyme Inn offered to host the Fence Show Artists on its grounds during the festival, where the art exhibit remained through the summer of 2011.
"We started with 10 or 12 people (exhibiting) and have had as many as 36," recalls founding member Richard Christofferson of Guilford. "All different artists are welcome. They come from as far away as Brooklyn (Conn.). It's a very independent, loosely-formed group."
There is a $35 fee to enter the show, but no commission is taken by a gallery or art center-all proceeds from sales go to the individual artists. The group owns six 50-foot fences which they erect the night before the event. Artists then hang their own work on a 10-foot section.
"There aren't many venues where you can show a lot of your work at the same time," notes Dick Traskos of Mystic. "This is an avenue to show 12 or 30 or more of your pieces at a time."
"There's a lot of freedom; it's really nice, you get to pick out your own work," adds Renni Ridgeway-Korsmeyer of Old Lyme. "People love it. They come back all the time. It's wonderful interaction with the community."
"It's so simple to put up our work on fences," says Elizabeth Van Wazer of Essex. "People look forward to it and come back looking for us each year."
Artists work in a variety of mediums-oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, pen & ink, collage and photography.
"It's an interesting group," says Pam Carlson of Essex. "People paint flowers, landscapes, animals, en plein air."
Carlson says the work is predominantly representational, although abstract artists have shown their work over the years.
Although art may not be a vocation for most Fence Show Artists, they say that it's a passion for all of them and note that many have taken classes privately, at Lyme Art Association, Lyme Academy College of Fine Art and Mystic Art Center, while some have traveled abroad with painting groups.
The Fence Show Artists created quite a following over the years, but it seemed like their good fortune had come to an end when the Old Lyme Inn was sold and the artists weren't invited back. Homeless, they began searching out new digs.
Peggy Traskos points out that it's never rained in the eight years she's been exhibiting, and this year torrential rains hampered the Midsummer Festival. In fact, long-time members concur that it's never rained in all 16 years they've been exhibiting.
The Essex Art Association (EAA) agreed to rent the artists space for a show in its gallery next month-"so our patrons know that we're still here," Carlson says.
It will be a smaller show, hung on the walls, but artist Claudia Van Ness says the artists plan to put up a piece of their iconic fence, so synonymous with the group, in front of the EAA.
Meanwhile, the artists received some welcome news. The owner of a piece of private property across from the Bee & Thistle Inn has agreed to let the Fence Show Artists exhibit there at next year's Midsummer Festival.
It's a pretty good bet the weather will cooperate.