ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For the first time since its inception, the 2016 Ann Arbor Art Fair shifted its schedule from a Wednesday through Saturday run to a Thursday through Sunday schedule. Both artists and fair goers give the shift a big thumbs up.
The four separate, juried art fairs on the University of Michigan campus make up one of the largest outdoor art fairs in the United States. Temperatures were in the upper 90’s throughout the four days with rain destroying some art work on Thursday evening.
“All of my friends peeted out on me because it was too hot,” said attendee Marilyn Sossoman from Kalamazoo, Mich. “So here I am all by myself suffering in this heat. I bought two hummingbird feeders and some jewelry. I’ve been coming over to the art show for years. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I’d come again.”
I began my journey at The Original Street Art Fair, which celebrated its 57th year.
“I do large-scale, wall-mounted, kiln-fired glass,” said Lisa Mote, a glass artist from Newborn, Ga. “I do both the glass and the metal working portions of my art. First, I sketch out a design and cut the glass to fit the design. Then, I stack and lay it all together inside the kiln, fire it and melt it all together. Once it goes through the entire process and cools back down again, then I add more to it. Then, I go to my metal shop and weld together the frames. I think everybody comes regardless of what day it’s going to be.”
The Street Art Fair also featured live entertainment on its Fountain Stage near Ingalls Mall. Performances were made by a variety of artists including Cayenne & Ginger (pop), Alex Mendenhall (folk), Rob Norum (rock/pop/country), Shane (bluesy rock), Amy Saari (soul), Bus Stop Poets (rock), Rela (world percussion) and Tracy Kash (jazz/pop), among many others.
“What I got here is a lot of recycled creatures,” said John Schwarz, a mixed media artist from Chelsea, Mich. “Ninety percent of this is recycled materials except for the rivets and nuts and bolts. I find my things at garage sales and recycle centers or people give me things. I put them together depending on what the shape is. It’s a coffee pot and it looks like a rooster, then I’ll steer down that route. I eventually find uses for things. I did make some sales. I can do without the heat. It’s all fun. Sunday will be the folks who couldn’t make it because of their jobs. I think it’s going to be great having that extra day.”
Next, I stopped by The State Street Art Fair, which celebrated its 49th anniversary.
“I paint entirely with house paint, which is new for some people,” said Jennifer Gabriele, the State Street Art Fair’s featured artist from Lawrence, Kansas. “My style is sort of pop art meets street art. Those are two things I’m very influenced by. All of my paintings are hand painted and not silk screen. I’m kind of reversing it a little bit. In our generation, we’re very into emoji’s and visual things instead of a thought bubble. This is the sunflower that they used for the t-shirt design. They wanted a non-traditional placement. Sales are OK. A lot of people are interested. I’ve sold some prints and a couple of wood pieces. It gives more people a chance to get here on Sunday.”
The Sprint Mobile Tour was located within the State Street Art Fair footprint. Attendees were able to charge their cell phones and relax on comfy chairs. In addition, fair goers had the chance to win a pair of Sprint sunglasses.
“I sell handmade jewelry that is very Indian-Cowboy-Bohemian styled,” said artist Valerie Kuzma from Carlsbad, Calif. “You could wear them to the beach. I have a guy here in Michigan that I get a lot of my stones from. I go to estate sales and vintage markets. I like to incorporate vintage items within my pieces. It kind of gives it a nice texture to it. I am priced at $20 to $535. We’re on one of the main streets and we got lots of foot traffic. It’s pretty toasty. I think that helps people who work so they can come during the weekend days.”
Another mixed media artist, Nick Ruhlman from Deland, Florida, added: “I’ve got some sculptures made out of stainless steel. I’ve got some made out of aluminum and all-blown glass. These guys are old-school roller skaters. This one probably took about three days. It’s priced at $2,500. I do about 15 art shows per year. I like the addition of Sunday. I think it’s going to be a good change. A lot more people will show up because they are out of work for the weekend.”
Then, I visited The Summer Art Fair, which celebrated its 47th year.
“This is blown glass work, I have a furnace with glass in it,” said artist Chris Belleau from East Providence, R.I. “I’ve been doing the glass for about 35 years. I get it up to about 1,000 degrees and then roll the molten clear glass over it and melt it in. To get the yellow color, I start with a chunk of color on the blow pipe and clear glass over it. This is my 20th year here. It just keeps better and better for me. Sales are excellent.”
The Summer Art Fair Stage was located in the Palio parking lot at Main and William streets. It featured performances by the Saline Fiddlers, Sam Corbin and Jen Sygit, PigPen Theatre Co., Anne Heaton, Haskin and the Stooges Brass Band. The music was sponsored by The Ark.
“We collaborate together,” said sculpture artist Dan Ferguson from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “My wife is the painter and I am the sculptor. She does all of the drawings and the paintings in the bowls. Then, I do all of the sculpting underneath. These are all limited editions of 44. My wife will do a different drawing in each of the 44 pieces. These are the city bowls that my wife customizes. She can do your city. We have Memphis, San Francisco and Los Angeles. We sold the Ann Arbor bowl already.”
Finally, I wrapped up my visit at The South University Art Fair, which celebrated its 17th anniversary.
“We make really unique signs and furniture and pillows,” said fiber artist Max Kolenda from Grand Rapids. “Everything for your living room, home and porch. We have a lot of pride in our home state of Michigan. We also make similar signs for other states on request. We’re here in Ann Arbor, our hometown, and we’re Michiganders. It’s phenomenal. We’ve had blow out sales and we really appreciate the tremendous support.”
The South University Art Fair hosted the Art Fair Main Stage at the corner of Willard and Church streets. Pop/rock singer-songwriter Keri Lynn Roche was the headliner on Saturday evening. However, the stage also hosted performances by Rhythm Machines, Drivin’ Sideways, Shoot the Messenger, Vibratrons, the EMU Jazz Combo and Corndaddy.
“We’ve got all sorts of classic vehicles,” said photographer Paul McWain from Macomb County. “These are just the front ends of vehicles from different places in Michigan. All of the cars are photographed outside. I use the natural elements to accent the sculptural part of the car. I go to a lot of car shows. I’ve got commissioned work. I’ll get into somebody’s garage. Most of these cars are shot right before an auction. It’s a good crowd.”
An estimated 500,000 people packed the University of Michigan campus over the weekend. The art fair hours were 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and Noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s pretty good, I’ve been doing a lot of shopping at the local stores, they have some great sales,” said attendees Mike and Ciara Lesko from Chelsea, Mich. “I love coming to the art fair because of the Michigan art. There’s a lot of local artists that really portray the beauty of the state. I like seeing those booths for sure. We’re looking at purchasing some wood crafts and portraits or prints. Yeah, I like the pottery, too. Anything with ceramics is really interesting to me.”
Another fair goer, Michael Gatien of Ann Arbor, added: “I’m certainly enjoying myself. I just got done with my volunteer shift from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. I’m just enjoying the fair. Just looking at the beautiful artwork and hearing Mr. B over there. There’s nothing better than that. I enjoy jewelry, metallic sculptures, hats and stuff like that.”
We’ll see you at the 2017 Ann Arbor Art Fair…