Whether they were there to buy, to sell, or simply to stroll the grounds of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua among quaint wooded cottages, everyone at the 47th annual Outdoor Art Show in Mount Gretna on Saturday seemed to agree on one thing.
They were just so happy to be there. To be outside, among people, enjoying art – simple things that many missed in 2020 because of COVID-19.
“This is awesome. I am so happy to be back, and it’s a beautiful day,” said Barbara Spraul, a painter from Livonia, Michigan, who was exhibiting her original oils at the show.
“The last year was very rough for me,” Spraul, who is battling cancer, explained. “That’s why I try to enjoy life even more. To be here is a treat.”
Spraul said patrons are “inspired by all the great art” at Gretna this year. “People are buying.”
She said she used her year of quarantine to expand her artistic horizons.
“I experimented a lot,” she said. “I worked with acrylics and different media, which was totally new for me. I was braver, trying new things, new colors.”
Saturday was hot but comfortable under Mount Gretna’s towering shade trees. Artists’ booths lined the streets and walkways of the rustic community, and throngs of people bustled among them, viewing and buying art, smiling and chatting cheerfully with the vendors, with each other, with old friends they hadn’t seen in months. Some wore masks as they worked their way through the crowds, but most people did not.
The smells of trees and incense, food and sweat, fresh leather crafts and scented soaps and candles blended with the sounds of birds and conversations, cicadas and smooth jazz from the food court.
“It’s hot,” said Teresa Hauck of Pottsville. “I haven’t been here in probably 25 years.”
She returned this year, Hauck explained, because she felt penned in after a year of COVID.
“After being stuck in the house, you realize life is short,” she said, while enjoying a rest on one of the many benches lining the Mount Gretna walkways. “It’s refreshing to be out. And the artisans here are amazing.”
She glanced around her, eyeing the sprawling layout of the show. “It wasn’t this big 20-some years ago,” she added.
Her friend, Mikaela Gavaletz, also of Pottsville, said Saturday was her first time at the Gretna show.
“Being an art lover, I appreciate every booth,” she said. “The grounds here are breathtaking. The cottages, too — they picked the perfect place to have this.
“I love being out among the crowds,” Gavaletz added. “I was really out of my element last year, being quarantined.”
Allen Tollen on Newtown Square said he and his wife are “happy to be here,” and noted that they took a room in Lititz on Friday “so we could get an early start.”
They had just made a purchase from an artist they met several years ago, he said.
His wife, Barbara Tollen, said the Art Show was “wonderful.”
“We’re seeing a lot of people we had connected with at the Art Show before,” she said. “We love to see what they’ve been doing. … We really missed it last year.”
Sarah Nickchen of Mount Joy, browsing through a selection of art prints, said the Art Show was “great.”
“It’s good to see people out,” she said, noting that she used to come to the Art Show a lot when she was younger but hadn’t been back for several years. “It’s neat to be back,” she said.
Natalie Fulton of Phoenixville said it was “refreshing” to be back at the Art Show.
Last year, she said, was “a little sad” without it.
“It’s so picturesque here,” she said. “It’s a nice way to spend the weekend … and I like buying art.”
Organizers and artists also were thrilled with the day.
“It’s been great. Great crowds!” show director Kerry Royer told LebTown early Saturday afternoon — the first day of the two-day event.
“Everybody seems so excited to be back at the Art Show,” she said. “Everything’s going according to plan.”
The Art Show last year was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This year, organizers made adjustments to make the event safer, such as reducing the number of exhibitors and spacing out their booths to reduce crowding.
“It’s an outdoor event, so people feel safer,” Royer added. “We spread everything out so people have some level of comfort.”
Several artists who spoke with a LebTown reporter shared a similar story of the hardships of the past year — when they still had expenses but all of their shows were cancelled by COVID.
“Here’s the bottom line: Can you go to work for a year without a steady paycheck and still show up with a smile on your face?” asked Frank Westfall of Syracuse, New York, proprietor of Middle Earth Leather Works.
The Gretna show, however, was “awesome,” he said enthusiastically.
“I am so happy they’re doing this. Grateful,” he said. “A lot of us have taken out loans just to stay open. People are fed up. They’re sick of it. And they’re so happy to be out.”
“We used to do like 20 shows a year,” agreed Roberta Manly, owner of Mystic Silver & Glass out of Northern Virginia. “Then we had none for a year. This year, we’ll do about 18.
“We’ve noticed a significant increase in patron support,” she added. “People are spending more. They’ve missed being out here.”
She, too, said she’s ecstatic that art shows have resumed.
“I’m so thrilled I can’t even stand it,” Manly said. “Our patrons are saying the same thing.”
“It’s wonderful,” agreed William Shearrow, a tile and pottery artist from Canton, Ohio.
“Everything last year was cancelled. I did a couple of shows in February, but sales were slow,” he said. “Starting in June, shows started up again and sales were furious.”
Darrell Eckert, owner of Breckert Illustrated Shirts in Annville, said he was doing brisk business Saturday with Art Show t-shirts. A lot of patrons were disappointed, he said, that he didn’t have shirts made up for the cancelled 2020 show.
“A lot of people who come here are regulars – they come year after year,” he said. “Last year they missed it. They’re glad to be back.”
Members of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua voted unanimously in April 2020 to cancel the show last year because of public health and safety concerns. In lieu of the outdoor event, the art show last year went virtual.
Royer noted in a previous interview that, rather than a juried show this year, organizers invited exhibitors from past shows so they had more time to put the event together safely. This year, she said, there were 160 artists participating in the show, including a small section of emerging artists who had not previously shown at the Gretna event.
Proceeds from the event support cultural programs of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua and help to maintain the Chautauqua’s historic buildings and grounds.
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