by John Dowd
For nearly two centuries, the techniques of en plein air (the practice of painting in the outdoors attempting to depict light as it changes) has created astounding pieces. Members of the Ravalli County Fairgrounds and the Ravalli County Fairgrounds Foundation have come up with the idea of using this traditional painting style to depict the fair itself, and to help keep both traditions alive.
The practice of plein air was pioneered in the 1830s in France. Soon after, paint that was premixed and portable started to become more popular and so, too, did traveling to outdoor places, away from the studio. As a result, in the late 19th century, the technique blossomed. The tradition holds strong into the 21st century, as does the long tradition of the county fair.
To combine these two traditions, several fair officials and volunteers have created a friendly competition called Plein Air at the Fair. Leisa Lewis, office manager of the fairgrounds, and Joy McClure and Mary Gehl with the Ravalli Fairgrounds Foundation, are spearheading their brainchild event. This year will be the program’s maiden flight and Lewis said they hope the program will become a regular event.
There are five participants this year, several of whom are well known artists from the valley and Missoula. Each artist needed a $100 sponsorship to participate. This year, all of the participants are adults. However, Lewis hopes that, as the word gets out, in future years they will draw artists of all ages. “I would really like to see kids doing it!” said Lewis.
Participants can pick whatever they want to capture at the fair, and will be scattered about the grounds on Wednesday, August 30. Painters will need to find their subject, set up shop and start painting by noon on Wednesday, and will have until the end of the day to capture their vista. However, time will be of the essence, as light is an important aspect of the subject.
The pieces will then be displayed with the other fair-entry still exhibits. A public vote will be held for best in show. Winners will receive cash prizes and afterwards their paintings will be put up for sale. Both the artists and the foundation will receive a portion of the earnings. Lewis and others encourage fair-goers to keep their eyes out for the painters and their art, and to help support the fair. Voting, participating in the event and purchasing the art are all “great opportunities to support the fairgrounds,” explained Lewis.
The funds raised by the sale, along with the entry sponsorships, are going toward a new addition to the grounds, or rather a revamping of an old space. The program hopes to raise funds for a new tipi-burner style gazebo, and is set to reside where the historic tipi burner used to be. The structure will be open topped, with lights and electricity. It is hoped that the new addition to the fairgrounds will add one more thing fairgoers can do, and even a space to use year-round.
“Something else to make it a great place to hang out with the community,” Lewis said about the gazebo.
Persons interested in the event can call Lewis at 406-210-7415 or Gehl at 406-361-1284. They can also inquire at the fairgrounds premium office. According to Lewis, “It’s going to be an exciting new event!”