Guided by the Light (2)

Gearing Up for the 2nd Annual Great Lakes Bay En Plein Air Festival Set to Run June 13-18th

    icon May 19, 2016
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From June 13-18th artists from throughout Michigan and beyond will be converging upon Saginaw, Bay & Midland counties, all of them focused upon a seven-day mission to capture the diverse beauty of our region at the 2nd Annual Great Lakes Bay En Plein Air Festival, which will culminate in an expansive exhibition at the Saginaw Art Museum and other nearby venues.

En Plein Air is a French expression meaning ‘in the open air’: a term used to describe painting outdoors. Artists create an original painting expressing the mood of a scene which often includes a visual expression encompassing elements such as the atmosphere, changing light, sounds & temperature of their subject matter. Plein air painting includes any subject observed outdoors, including but not limited to architecture, people, and landscapes.  

“Last year we had 52 artists that came from all over the state, and didn’t realize it would be such a big success,” explains Saginaw Art Museum Director Stacey Gannon. “We were more than pleased with the number of artists participating and the feedback and excitement we received back from them about the beauty they saw in the region.”

“In fact, a couple who go all around the country participating in these types of festivals said this was the best and most organized one they’ve attended.  We’ve already got 52 artists signed up for this year, so anticipate it being even bigger than last year’s inaugural event.”

Anybody may participate in the festival, which features three categories of artist involvement: Invitational, Juried, and Open. Juried class entries must submit original examples of previous plein air work by May 18th; and Open class registration is open until June 1st. Both these divisions are open to all artists 18 years and older and complete registration information can be found at

While last year’s inaugural festival featured artists participating from all over the state of Michigan, Gannon says this year the scope has expanded and two artists will be coming from Florida to participate, along with one from Ohio.  Apart from having their work exhibited, all participating artists will also be competing for over $8,000 in cash prizes awarded across the artist categories.

“Artists are free to paint wherever they desire,” explains Stacey, “but we also have designated locations where artists can go to paint because we want the public to be engaged seeing these artists in action.”  Designated locations in Saginaw include Saginaw Valley State University, Ojibway Island, The Theodore Roethke House, and Celebration Square.  In Midland designated locations consist of the Downtown/Tridge area, Whiting Overlook Park and Dow Gardens; and in Bay City artists will be guided towards the Wenonah Park water front, along with the Midland Street and Center Avenue Historical Districts. Designated areas for artists in Frankenmuth consist of the Covered Bridge,  East Tuscola Street Rose Garden and the Weiss Centennial Farm.

Each of those areas will also be doing a Quick Paint Competition whereby artists have an opportunity to participate for prize money and two hours to complete a painting,” explains Gannon. “Studio 23 will be hosting the prize-winning ceremony & reception; and then we’ll also be doing one in Frankenmuth, one in Old Town Saginaw and the Grove area, and an interesting one in Midland at the Loons Stadium during a baseball game.”

According to Gannon, the Plein Air movement started in the 1800s at the time when paint could be contained in tubes and taken outdoors. “The idea was to paint something expressive from start to finish with emotion, so people could witness and see and feel the process.  As the festival transpired last year, it was really interesting to see the subjects people chose to paint. Somebody did the Zilwaukee Bridge with industrial sites behind it, we had many beautiful landscapes submitted, and a lot of beautiful renderings of Old Town Saginaw.”

Many of these works were purchased by individuals and businesses for display in their homes and offices; and Stacey notes while the Saginaw Art Museum cannot get involved with the actual sale of art insofar as it is a nationally accredited museum, they can connect artists with people interested in brightening up their professional offices and homes with outdoor artwork depicting the landscape of our region.

Organizing the exhibition displaying all this wonderful artwork is also quite an undertaking, insofar as each artist may submit three pieces of work.  “Basically, the artist will register with us when they get to town and typically will paint early in the morning and at dusk when the lighting is good,” she explains. “Once submitted their work needs to be measured, labeled, and hung in a museum exhibition format. People often ask how we know the work wasn’t painted somewhere else, but when the artist comes to register, we put a permanent identification stamp on their blank canvas so that we can monitor it.”

Gannon also notes that several new collaborations continue to expand the festival; and that many new cultural organizations have been brought into the fold this year, including the Mid Michigan Children’s Museum, along with a Tuesday Teen Night at The Temple Theatre on June 14th that will feature performances by live teen bands, with Mike McMath from Empty Canvas involving young people with painting. “This will be a nice night for teens to have the opportunity of hearing some of the peers perform,” notes Stacey.

“For our Kids Day on Monday, June 13th from 10 am to 4 PM Tom Trombley from The Castle Museum will be taking people on a walking tour; and one thing we are hoping to have in place are carriage rides to take people around the various areas where Plein Air activities are going on. And then in addition to the receptions, we are going to have networking every evening for all the participating artists, to give them an opportunity to all get together and socialize.”

Any artist that might have won at last year’s inaugural festival becomes part of the Invitational Class competition, so are open to win again this year; and between that and the Juried and Open class competitions, Gannon says she is always amazed by the high caliber of everyone’s work.

“I’m always amazed at the psychology behind the artwork,” she reflects, “what inspired them to paint a particular front door, for example.  I’m also excited that we’ll be working with poetry this year at the Roethke House and have different activities going on to bring people in and possibly write a poem about what they’ve seen, or interpret the festival through the use of poetry.”

Additional festival happenings besides the Roethke Poetry event include a Film Night on Monday, June 13th at 7:30 PM with the Saginaw Riverside Film Festival showing The Highwaymen: Florida’s Outsider Artists; and the annual Arty Soil Garden Luncheon Fundraiser on Wednesday, June 15th.

“Next year, I would really like to close out the Festival with an outdoor symphonic concert featuring the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra conducting a concert interpreting the various artwork,” concludes Stacey.  “There are so many possibilities generated by the nature of this event that I don’t wish to leave any of them unturned.”

“It’s very gratifying to have so much artistic activity generated for one week in June during this event because apart from bringing art closer to people in the area, it definitely creates an economic impact throughout the region, with so many artists staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and shopping in businesses throughout the area.”

For more detailed information about the 2nd Annual Great Lakes En Plein Air Festival, along with a complete schedule of events, please go to




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