The irony of the pandemic is not lost on the Barrington area artisans who have been toiling away all year to prepare for the annual Barrington Art Festival. They, like all great masters through the centuries, once craved the luxury of solace to focus on their medium of choice.
What we just lived through isn’t what they had in mind.
“I don’t know if I can blame it on COVID, but I did branch out and now have some portraits of people with solemn, concerned, and worried expressions,” says Kim Ritschel, a North Barrington oil painter who will be showing at the annual juried festival for the first time this fall. “Maybe the solitude was good for that, but I’d happily give up any improvements due to solitude to get back to my weekly art class!”
She’s not alone.
Jackie Smith, President of Barrington Area Artists Association (BAAA)—the renamed Barrington Cultural Arts Center—and also a featured artist at the popular Amdur Productions fest on the weekend of September 12 to 13, says the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the arts community.
“For some artists, it’s made it more difficult to create art. We haven’t been able to meet as a group, which is so important for fostering creativity and providing feedback and critique,” explains Smith. “Our inability to display artwork in person has made sales very difficult. Our primary arts venue, Barrington’s White House, had to close its doors, but it also took the opportunity to open up virtually.”
The ability to engage and interact online has defined 2020 in ways that will go down in history. From Zoom happy hours to the virtual art festivals for other Chicago area organizations that Amdur is hosting this summer, internet access was critical to surviving the months-long shelter-in-place order.
Sharron Boxenbaum of North Hoffman Estates, a longtime member of BAAA, who will show her acrylics and oils at the Barrington Art Festival, says that even though artists are notorious for appreciating time alone, they are also social beings.
“Normally I attended a weekly gathering of artists to paint from live models. Since self-isolation, I’ve been trying new activities, such as joining a group from New York weekly and painting models on Zoom,” she continues, adding that it’s been enjoyable to try these new approaches, which also include Zoom critiques of plein air artists and even a Zoom gathering of artists painting a single-landscape reference photo.
Amy Amdur, Founder and President of Amdur Productions, a nationally acclaimed organization that has been producing arts festivals in the Chicago area for more than three decades, says virtual innovations have made it possible to connect artists with patrons in unprecedented ways.
“We have three virtual art festivals happening this summer where we’re recreating the festival experience online. You can enter the virtual booth, see the art, and even meet the artists,” explains Amdur. “If you think of the artists as micro-businesses, they depend on festivals to make money, so this has been a hardship. People are having problems paying bills, and that’s why we’re doing virtual festivals to give them the opportunity to get their work in front of customers.”
As for the Barrington Art Festival, which was rescheduled from May to September during the state shutdown, Amdur says the live show will go on, but some things will be different this year.
“The most important thing is the safety of the artists, the public, the people working at the festival, and the volunteers,” she explains, adding that Amdur has developed a list of “best practices” to ensure social distancing and wellness.
Masks will be required for artists and attendees. Pathways through the festival will be organized by direction, touch zones will be eliminated, and popular festival staples such as food vendors and the children’s art area will not happen this year. Participants will instead be encouraged to safely patronize local restaurants and Amdur says the kid’s activities will be “on vacation” until 2021.
“These are just some of the ways the festivals need to adapt for these times,” she adds. “What will stay the same is great art, the opportunity to meet and talk to artists from near and far, and a place to slowly and carefully get back to normal life. That’s what we’re hoping for. We feel that the arts have always been important and they’re more important now as move through the healing process.”
Amdur also notices a trend shared by some of the BAAA artists participating in this year’s festival—a new palette emerging in colors of loss and despair.
“My personal artwork has always reflected some loneliness and sadness. Also, isolation,” says Boxenbaum. “Artists are very sensitive and typically our work reflects our feelings and thoughts.”
Smith says she looks forward to seeing what artists bring to this year’s festival, an event that BAAA has participated in since its inception as the Barrington Cultural Arts Center.
For Ritschel, that will likely be a selection of her oil paintings, though she’s not quite sure just what yet. “I haven’t been painting that long, so I typically like my newer work better and so am more inclined to show it,” she says.
Jeani Allaway, a Barrington Hills artist who works in both watercolor and oil mediums, says she will likely also bring new pieces.
“I have been showing my work at the Barrington Art Festival every year that BAAA has asked to be involved. This show is a well-supported event in my hometown, so I look forward to the local residents and others who will see our paintings,” adds Allaway, who specializes in animal art. “There are so many types of art and many different artists show their work at this event. This is a hometown fair on Cook Street.”
She made the most of her time at home recently by focusing on the positive aspects of life and work being put on “pause.”
“Being in my studio can become a job if I am working on too many commissions, which I was doing before the shutdown,” she explains in an interview just before the shelter-in- place order was lifted. “Now I have the time to relax and explore new subjects to draw and paint.”
Those include dogs and cats, but she’s also begun a new series of “gun dogs” and “hunting dogs” and other commissions.
“This pandemic has made me aware of thankfulness, being grateful, and being in touch with God,” adds Allaway, who had an interior design business in Barrington and Oak Park for 25 years. “I have a beautiful studio overlooking a lake, so I am surrounded by nature. Creating is my passion.”
Janette Tepas, another Barrington artist who will be participating in September’s festival, expects to show a combination of photography and painting with watercolors and acrylics. Her unique medium combines original photography with digital paintings of her own photos.
“Having just moved to Barrington this past summer, I was interested in getting involved with the town in general and arts in particular. This will be my first time attending a festival as an artist, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do so as part of a group, rather than doing so alone my very first time,” says Tepas, who recently joined BAAA so she could meet other local artisans. “I hope to learn what it might be like to be a part of an art festival from the point of view as an artist rather than as just a shopper. It would be great to sell some art, but regardless of that, I love to learn about new things.”
Hoffman Estates artist Maarten Tonneyck also credits BAAA for allowing him the opportunity to participate in the festival.
“The medium I prefer is oil paint,” he says. “Nevertheless, sometimes I experiment with acrylics if I want to do something fast and simple.”
He plans to show works this fall from Holland, Europe, and several different types of landscapes.
Smith says that despite the challenges, BAAA’s representation at this year’s juried festival could be one of the best yet. The pandemic’s impact has also inspired the organization to increase its Facebook presence and enhance its website to better showcase local art classes and events.
Amdur applauds the efforts of BAAA and all its member artists. Beyond the company’s usual festival offerings, it has also unveiled a new e-commerce site, artzipper.com, for artists to showcase and sell their works.
“The arts need to be supported now more than ever before,” adds Amdur, encouraging Barrington art lovers to also check out several virtual art festivals being held later this month on amdurproductions.com. “If people need something new in their home, or a new piece of jewelry, buy it from a local artist.”
Featuring more than 130 juried artists, the Barrington Art Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. September 12 to 13 in downtown Barrington. For more information, call 847-926- 4300 or visit amdurproductions.com/event/barrington-art-festival-2020. For more information about Barrington Area Artists Association (formerly known as the Barrington Cultural Arts Center), visit barringtonculturalartscenter.org.