Promoting art in Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE – The Adirondack Artists Guild was packed with artists and art lovers last Friday during the opening reception of the 16th annual juried art show.

This year 85 artists submitted a total of 203 pieces for the show, a number guild members Sandra Hildreth and Barry Lobdell said was on par with past years. From those submissions, juror Laura Von Rosk of the Lake George Arts Project selected 95 works, representing 69 artists, to compete for prizes. Von Rosk, who is not a member of the guild, was also tasked with choosing the winners.

As the crowd swirled and churned past the artwork, it became clear that the only thing consistent at the exhibition was that no two pieces were alike. There were colorful, true-to-life recreations of Adirondack landscapes and darker, earth-toned paintings that portray abstract visions of nature. People, animals, nature and buildings were all represented within the gallery’s walls in a variety of media that included pen and ink, wood engraving, photography, jewelry making and various forms of sculpture.

The first-place prize, $200 donated by the Artists Guild, went to Valerie Patterson for her watercolor, “Summer Afternoon.” Every year the first-prize winner is given the opportunity to present a solo show at the gallery in November.

Patterson’s winning watercolor painting depicts a woman floating in an inner tube, her head tilted back to admire the mountainous horizon behind her from a different perspective. The mere sight of the painting invokes feelings of warmth and security that evade winter’s deepest grays in favor of memories which hearken back to the most idyllic of Adirondack summer days.

Patterson said the Adirondacks provided her with the inspiration for the piece, but that isn’t always the case with her work.

“Usually I have social or political subject matter, but this obviously isn’t,” Patterson said. “This is definitely more of an Adirondack kind of thing.”

Catherine Hartung’s watercolor, “Patterned Poppies,” won the second-place prize of $150, donated by Gear-To-Go Tandems. The $100 third-place prize from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters was given to Ed Williams for his photograph, “Flushed.”

Five artists were also picked for honorable mention and each awarded $25 gift certificates. They were Jim Abendroth for his mixed-media piece, “Cathedral Visions,” George Dirolf for his wood engraving, “Homage to C.B.,” Cheryl McFadden for her ceramic tile, “Breaking Ground,” Arnie Sauther for “Teasel,” and Cris Winters for “October Bog II.”

The gift certificates were donated by the Blue Moon Cafe, the Downhill Grill, the Lake View Deli, the Left Bank Cafe and Saranac Lake Discount Liquors.

A $50 People’s Choice Award will be awarded on April 13, the final day of the exhibition. Ballots are available at the gallery at 52 Main St. for the duration of the show.

The Adirondack Artists Guild began in 1997. Membership is by invitation only. Hildreth joined in 2005, and Lobdell joined in 1998.

“A lot of people think they can come in and join, that all they have to do is pay a membership, but that’s not how it works,” Hildreth explained. “Our membership number depends on how much wall space we have available for the artists.”

There is no hierarchy amongt the guild’s 14 members, meaning everyone has an equal say and decisions are made as a group.

Lobdell said the guild has gained more attention and become more organized throughout the years. As new members have joined, they have brought new skills like bookkeeping and graphic design with them. Membership dues and commission on art sales covers the bills and keeps the lights on in the gallery, but since everything at the guild is done by volunteers, members’ talents are not only helpful – they are essential.

“I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve survived over the years,” Hildreth said. “There’s not one member who’s trying to make a living off of running an art gallery. That’s pretty hard to do up here.”

Making a living off art might be difficult, but the prominence of art in Saranac Lake has increasingly become a draw to the area.

“It’s unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that, whether they’re a visitor or a resident of this area, they can walk away with a piece of it,” Hildreth said. “The fact that we offer something unique, things that people aren’t going to find in gift shops or other tourist destinations, it’s part of the draw for visitors. I also think that knowing that this is an arts community and the artists live here, and there’s art in restaurants and other locations, and all of these events that go on, I think that, in itself, is a draw.”

The Adirondack Artists Guild is an active member of Saranac Lake ArtWorks, a consortium of independent artists, art galleries, theater, writers and arts-related businesses that began six years ago.

Hildreth is the membership chairperson for ArtWorks and said some people don’t realize that the organization and the guild are different entities.

“With ArtWorks, we have no physical space; there is no office or gallery or anything like that,” Hildreth said. “The best way to describe it is to say we’re like a chamber of commerce for artists.”

Fulfilling that chamber-style role, ArtWorks offers support in the form of workshops and group advertising, and also organizes summertime events like the Aritst at Work Studio Tour and the Plein Air Festival. While the guild gives its member artists space and a means to sell their work, ArtWorks helps meet a larger goal of defining Saranac Lake as an art community, and also works toward promoting that to visitors.

ArtWorks is also currently in the process of applying nonprofit status, which means it would be able to apply for grants. Hildreth said she hopes that translates into hiring someone to make the group more efficient.

“I just think it would be phenomenal to have someone here promoting the arts on a regular basis,” Hildreth said. “To be able to say that this is an arts community with ‘X’ amount of galleries and events, and lumping it all together, that becomes something that can attract people. The greater goal is really to get people to come here.”

For more information on the Adirondack Artists Guild, visit www.adirondackartistsguild.com or call 891-2615. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information on Saranac Lake Art Works, visit www.saranaclakeartworks.com or email info@saranaclakeartworks.com.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.