Leisure Features

Dorothy About Town: 5.16.18

I had so much fun a few Fridays ago, I did it again on Saturday. ‘It’ was visiting the Plein Air Arts Festival in Augusta, Missouri, only about 45 minutes from home—although it felt like a world away. The annual event offers 11 days of open-air painting opportunities for artists from all over the country, although most are from our area. Each day, the painting session (or sessions) is held at a different locale around Augusta and its environs, and the public is invited to come and watch the magic happen, eat and drink, socialize and just all-around enjoy the scenic Missouri countryside.

If you haven’t ventured west on Hwy. 94 in a while (or ever), you will be amazed at the natural beauty of this area: hilly panoramas, Missouri River vistas, thick forests and flowering trees as far as the eye can see—especially this time of year. Most of the ‘paint-outs’ are held on the grounds of wineries, which makes visiting that much more fun (don’t be surprised by the number of people walking around with glasses—and bottles—of wine at 11 a.m.). But the real draw is watching so many talented artists transfer the bounty before them onto a two-dimensional surface. And appreciating the myriad interpretations they come up with in a range of media.

You can walk up to artists and chat, or just wander the grounds trying to discover where each has chosen to set up paints and create something presentable in four hours or less. After each paintout, winners are named and honored. It’s remarkable to see how differently the artists depict the same worn barn or blossom-laden bank of trees—yet how beautiful the various results are. Best of all, after judging, the pieces are displayed and available for sale, so if you love something, you have the chance to take it home, often for an attractive price.

This is the festival’s 16th year, and I discovered that just about everyone in Augusta is ‘on the committee.’ The event is a way to promote their town and appreciate the arts, says chairman Kathy Kessler, who owns Halcyon Spa in downtown Augusta (which is about four blocks total). At first, I had trouble wrapping my mind around the plein air concept, but now it makes complete sense: the artists come for the fun of it—and the Augusta Chamber of Commerce makes it easy for them by housing out-of-towners in host homes, providing most of their meals and of course, making sure they get free wine during paint-outs.

Turns out, there are other local plein air happenings, too. Wildwood hosted one (its fourth) on May 5, and the Academy of Nature and Wildlife Arts has one planned May 18 to 20. There’s even a group of artists, Missouri Plein Air Painters Association, that gathers weekly to paint outdoors. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a sunny spring day than by taking a ride out to Augusta and seeing artists in action, but maybe doing it a little closer to home will fill the bill, too. Until next April, anyway.