Tucked upstairs just above the beautifully renovated John and Nancy Hughes Theater is the light-filled, high-ceilinged, colorfully appointed Deer Path Art Gallery. And crouched over a modest desk in the corner just off the gallery’s entrance are Pamela Payton and Jillian Chapman, the co-chairs for the 61st annual Art Fair on the Square, a juried fine arts show. After co-chairing this event for the last three years, this dynamic duo is unwilling to call their planning “old hat.”
“At least it’s not a different hat,” adds Chapman with quiet confidence, something she’s gained in her tenure as the Deer Path Art Gallery director and in all her years attending the fair. “I figured out that I’ve been coming to the fair since before I was born. My mom [a former vice president at Lake Forest College] went when she was pregnant with me.”
Chapman’s even demeanor is complimented by Payton’s enthusiasm. “We have a really great template we use, one that we’ve used and know that works,” offers the bubbly Payton, the Art League coordinator, who compares planning the fair to arranging a really large wedding. “I always tell people that Jillian and I literally lay out the show at my kitchen table. It takes about six hours. There are big event planners out there who might have more sophisticated systems, but we get it done,” she adds, mentioning how she and Chapman work painstakingly to keep artists showing in the same medium from being right next to each other.
The Art Fair on the Square, a two-day event held over Labor Day Weekend—rain or shine—is the Deer Path Art League’s signature event. This year’s event will be held Sunday, September 6 and Monday, September 7. The funds raised from booth fees and sponsorships helps to fulfill the Art League’s mission to “spark, nurture, and enhance creativity, as well as raise community awareness and appreciation of the arts.”
The Art League begins accepting applications to participate almost as soon as the previous fair ends, from every corner of the United States and from as far as Israel. Last year nearly 500 national and international artists applied to participate in this event. In the spring, a curated panel of local artists votes on the artists who will be allowed to participate. The selected exhibitors work in a variety of disciplines including: ceramics, digital art, drawing/pastels, fiber, glass, graphics/printmaking, jewelry, metal, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture, and wood. Silhouetted against Lake Forest’s classical architecture and mature trees, the artists set up their outdoor galleries around the city’s Market Square.
This year’s featured specialty booths will include Creation Station, an interactive children’s art tent, the entrepreneurial Young Artists area with artisanal crafts, and the Information Tent, which highlights opportunities the Deer Path Art League has to offer.
“Artists showing in the fair can check in Sunday morning at 4 a.m.,” Payton says, recalling the early mornings she’s shown up with a Coleman lantern to guide artists to their booths in the pitch black.
On the Sundays of the fair, a panel of judges evaluates each booth—some years as many as 120. Chapman provides the judges with cards for them to leave behind with the artists so they know they’ve been judged, even if they’re too busy with customers to notice they’ve being evaluated.
At a breakfast on Monday morning, after a judging deliberation session the night before, nearly 20 awards are given to the presenting artists. “Those are some long days,” says Chapman. “But when you see the surprise on some of their faces when they receive one of our prizes, it makes it all worth it.”
Peyton jokes that there are really only ever two unknowns—the weather and oddly parked cars. “But somehow the show always goes on. We’re pretty proud of that.”
For more information about the Deer Path Art League, visit deerpathartleague.org.
– By Ann Marie Scheidler // Photography by Kirsten Ulve