Adirondack Plein Air Festival celebrates 10 years

Adirondack Plein Air artists at the Saranac Lake Fish & Game Club. (Photo provided)

SARANAC LAKE — Sandra Hildreth climbed to the top of St. Regis with her two 12-year-old sons in 1997. She carried a set of watercolors with her. When they got to the top, the boys played on the rocks while Hildreth painted mountainscapes in front of her. Since then, she almost exclusively paints outside and on-site.

“When you paint from a photo, you frame your work on this image that has captured one-five-hundredth of a second. When you’re actually on scene with what you’re painting and doing it in real time, you’re capturing four or five hours — sometimes days. You might paint a cloud one way in the morning, and then change it in the afternoon. You capture the passage of time.”

Starting Monday, the Adirondack Plein Air Festival will celebrate its tenth anniversary. For five days, 50 artists from places near and far will come to the Adirondacks and paint outdoors in competitions. Throughout the week, there will be special events such as a nocturne contest where artists paint at night, an artists meet-and-greet at the Hotel Saranac, a silent auction and others.

“En Plein Air” is a French term describing the act of painting outdoors. While artists have done this for centuries, Hildreth said it became more prominent once the metal tubes for paint were invented.

“Before that, painters spent long hours grinding a mixing their paints,” she said. “A lot of chemistry and work went into it before you could actually start painting.”

In its first year, the Plein Air festival wasn’t an overwhelming success. In fact, it was far from it, Hildreth said.

“We had about 27, it was only the weekend, and I’m not even sure if we sold anything,” she said.

But since, then the festival has grown and become renowned in the art community.

“We have a lot of people looking to participate these days,” Hildreth said, “so we’ve brought on some jurors to asses the artist beforehand. Now we select 50 artists of a pool of sometimes 100, and we have painters coming from all over — California, Georgia, one is coming from Ireland — but we also leave room and make sure to have local artists participate, too.”

This year A special exhibit that focuses on the five original artists who have attended all ten of the Adirondack Plein Air Festivals will be on display in the Great Room gallery at Paul Smith’s College VIC for the month of August through Labor Day weekend. “10 Years of Plein Air” highlights the work of Hildreth, Jacqueline Altman of Lake Placid, Nancy Brossard of Lake Clear, Tarryl Gabel of Poughkeepsie and Diane Leifheit of Gabriels.

Hildreth started the festival 10 years ago and has been the key organizer all that time, but this year, she is stepping down from that position. ArtWorks will continue to operate the festival under the umbrella of BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.

In a press release, Hildreth said, “The intent was not only to share the beautiful Adirondacks landscape with other artists but to bring some economic development to our region. No infrastructure was required, no pollution produced, no harm to the environment. Hundreds of people have been attending the event and along with the artists, they are generating income for local businesses that struggle to stay alive year round.”