Cape Ann attracted many of America’s noted impressionist painters over many generations. That trend continues in the 21st century as the Cape Ann Plein Air Painting Competition and Festival returns for the fourth year.

The festival runs from Sunday, Oct. 6, through Monday, Oct. 14, with free outdoor art demonstrations daily in addition to numerous other events, all open to the public.

The term “plein air” refers to the practice of painting outdoors, capturing the light and shadows of the given moment.

Each year, 40 artists representing all regions of the U.S. are juried into the show through a blind selection process.

Among the artists with local connections this year are Tom Amend, of Gloucester; John Caggiano and Ken Knowles, both of Rockport; Paul George, of Ipswich; Mark Shasha, of Swampscott; Janet Sutherland, of Ipswich; and Marny Williams, of Rockport.

Award-winning artist Mark Boedges served as the selection juror, selecting the 40 artists from the nearly 200 applicants. They will compete for $20,000 in prizes. Kenn Erroll Backhaus, a nationally recognized plein air artist, will serve as competition judge.

Susan Coviello, the event’s project manager, said that Cape Ann Plein Air has grown in popularity every year and is now recognized nationally as a leading destination for the growing community of plein air artists and art enthusiasts.

“In 2019, we continue this tradition, again welcoming artists, art collectors and supporters of the arts to the birthplace of plein air painting,” she said.

Among the artists traveling the farthest are Ned Mueller and Mike Kowalski, who hail from Washington.

Kowalski, who divides his time between Washington and Australia, received the Silver Medal of Honor at the American Watercolor Society 148th Annual International Exhibition in New York in 2015. Like many of the artists, he is in demand for workshops throughout the country and abroad.

Mueller, who was raised in Montana, has been drawing and painting since a child. He is among the few artists to be designated as a master artist by both the American Impressionist Society and the Oil Painters of America. He is a signature member of the Plein Air Painters of America, Portrait Society of America, California Art Club, Northwest Watercolor Society, Northwest Pastel Society, Northwest Rendezvous Group and American Society of Marine Artists, among others. Recently, Mueller’s work “Balbriggan Harbor-Ireland” received the Best of Show award in the Pacific Rim Institute of Marine Artists’ Juried Maritime Exhibition in Seattle.

Mueller knows well the work of Aldro T. Hibbard, a founder of the Rockport Art Association, and considers him an artistic hero.

Many of the artists are part of the circuit who travel widely to participate in plein air paint competitions. For Gloucester’s Tom Amend, this will be his first experience among the juried artists of a national plein air painting event.

“I wanted to see what it’s like,” Amend said. “I’m looking forward to painting a lot and getting to some places on Cape Ann where I haven’t painted yet.”

A kickoff party opens the festival this Sunday at the North Shore Arts Association in Gloucester. The award winners will be announced at a gala event on Saturday, Oct. 12, also at the arts association, where all competition paintings will be on view and available for sale.

The Quick Draw competition, which is open to the public, closes out the festival on Monday, Oct. 14, at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. The event is followed by an exhibit and sale of the just-completed paintings.

Among the other offerings, which include dinners with the artists, will be a new evening program called “Nocturne on the Neck” in Rockport on Thursday, Oct. 10, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Mike Storella, board president of Cape Ann Plein Air, said that the festival is among the milestone events on New England’s cultural calendar.

“It is another example of the vibrant arts scene here in our region,” he said. “This year, we’re excited not only about the impressive group joining regional artists, but also by the support from Cape Ann’s cultural community, businesses and residents.”

Tony Sapienza, one of the organizers, said there is even more community involvement this year. The organizers worked with restaurants, museums, galleries, attractions, retailers and others to create new programming.

“The first year, it took a lot of people by surprise as we had never done it before and people didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was surprised particularly from the reaction from the plein air artists who had waited years for an event like this to happen. They had been going to plein air competitions throughout the United States, and they were anxious to get to work here.”

Sapienza said that the community has grown more aware of the event after its first three successful years.

“It’s gone from being just for the artists to programs for the entire community,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to see the artists at work, even if they are not here as part of the jury. Other artists are here to see them at work and do their own work.

“It’s a week where you are going to see a lot of activity, whether they are part of the competition or not,” he said. “Many enjoy talking about their craft. Many of them know one another and generally have a fun time here when they are together.”

Sapienza said that as the event has evolved, it has grown to benefit so many people.

“The artists love it. Our enthusiasts see some fantastic work and the community benefits because they see an uptick in activity and they get to experience all this, too,” he said. “This is a win-win-win.”

If you go 

What: Cape Ann Plein Air Painting Competition and Festival

When: Oct. 6-14 

Where: Headquartered at North Shore Arts Association, 11 Pirates Lane, Gloucester

How much: Most events are free; gala tickets are $75

More information:


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