A local artist has been commissioned to create the official poster for the Art Affair on the Square for each of the past 13 years and choosing “Watercolors Around the World” as the 2017 theme was perhaps tempting fate. Mother Nature often does her best work using water.
But after a week of unpredictable weather, all heaven broke loose Saturday as the throngs that gathered at the 13th annual Art Affair of the Square were greeted by moderate temperatures, the occasional high cloud, low humidity and lots of smiling faces.
As noted, a unique creation is commissioned each year to be used as the official poster of the Art Affair on the Square. As this year’s theme was “Watercolors Around the World,” Sarah Thornton, the chairperson for this year’s Affair, said that it made sense to choose someone who specializes in watercolors to get the commission for the 2017 poster. Enter Rhonda Sloan of St. Paris. While Sloan dabbles in other media, she does most of her work in that most difficult of painting disciplines, that being watercolors.
“I love a challenge,” Sloan said, “and watercolors are very challenging. You really have no room for error. You can’t go back and correct mistakes. A lot of times you just have to start over.”
Sloan said that her mother had a big hand in steering her toward watercolors. As a budding artist growing up, Sloan used any number of media to express herself, but mom, after cleaning up following Rhonda’s use of oils and acrylics, suggested watercolors.
It’s been watercolors ever since, Sloan said with a smile. Even when it comes to art, it seems, mom knows best as Sloan’s watercolor interpretation of Monument Square for the official poster had as much depth and appeal as any of the 12 that preceded it.
This year’s Affair had a tinge of sadness tied to it as Mike Simpson, who was an Urbana High School grad, taught art to Hillclimbers for half-a-century, painted the official poster for the Art Affair on the Square in 2009 and was a fixture at the first 12 events, died this past year. Dozens of his works were displayed at various locations Saturday and his paintings were given a place of honor in the Champaign County Arts Council building for this year’s Affair.
The Monument Square District, which hosts the Art Affair on the Square every year, is quick to note art is not limited to applying brush-to-canvas. A place of honor in the northeast corner of Monument Square was reserved for those artists who use the written word as their palette and a blank page as their canvas and it was one of the most popular booths of the 50 that dotted the Square and the first two blocks of North Main Street on Saturday.
Of course, art does not stop there as there were artists on hand showing off and selling their creations from handmade scented soaps and lotions, to wonderful bowls turned, stained and polished from a single piece of wood, to jewelry for all tastes (who knew that earrings came in corked bottles?), to 7-foot-tall sunflowers that were once scrap steel.
A majority of the 50 vendors who snagged a booth in the first two blocks of North Main Street on Saturday were old-timers at the Art Affair on the Square. In a quick, unscientific survey of those who come back to Urbana year after year, three words came up in every conversation: Friendly, organized, clean.
“They really have it together,” Jimmy Whisenhunt said of those who organize the annual Art Affair on the Square. Whisenhunt, he of the scrap metal sunflowers, said this was his ninth visit to the event and that he is looking forward making it an even 10 next year.
“Everybody is friendly and helpful, they give us plenty of room,” he said shortly after selling one of his creations featuring a metal hand making a peace sign atop a five-foot rod. “We have no hassles at all when we come here. It’s one of our favorite stops.”
It can be argued that food, too, can be art. One certainly wouldn’t get an argument from any of Saturday’s attendees as the downtown bistros did brisk business all day long, as did the food trucks including the Buckeye Pig Rig, the Dine and Dash, the Flying Pepper and the ever-popular Farmer’s Daughter truck, which made the trip all the way from Miami Street to the Square for the Affair.
One of the most popular stops Saturday, as is the case every year, was the Kids’ Tent. As is the tradition, a community painting project was undertaken, and using input from any number of children of all ages, is completed in a manner that would have made Jackson Pollock proud. It will be back in the Kids’ Tent in 2018, when yet another community project will be undertaken.
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.