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Tuesday, April 24 News

Open-air studios: Fine Arts Festival is downtown showcase

The dog days of summer usually bring blazing hot temperatures and high humidity as it did for last year's Westport Fine Arts Festival, sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. But Saturday's weather proved picture perfect for the 41st annual festival, with a mix of sun and clouds and comfortable temperatures for the 135 new and returning artists whose worked was showcased at the event, drawing a crowd estimated at 2,500.

The event continues today, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island.

Dogs -- both on canvas and leashed -- were also well represented. Festival organizers and a couple of artists accommodated pooches by putting out bowls of water and one artist's booth featured a bowl of kibble for the too-many-to-count dogs that accompanied human art lovers.

Laurajean Conklin of Norwalk, who came to the event with her toy poodle Bailey, said she attends the Fine Arts Festival every year because, "I love the originality of it." She especially enjoys seascapes and there were several artists whose work included beach and water views, among them Canton artist Cheryl Davis, who identified herself as "a color junkie," and Randi Jane Davis of Ridgefield, no known relation. A third person of the same name -- Josi Davis and the Hot Damn -- will perform Sunday beginning at 10:15 a.m.

The juried art show features photographers, painters, jewelers, sculptors, digital artists, a glass-blower and fiber artist; 39 of whom were first-time participants.

First-timer William F. Colburn Jr., an iron artist from Alabama, said he was as impressed with Westport as he is with the festival. "It's a real pretty town."

Kathy Mac of Watertown, Mass., said she appreciated the work of jeweler Anni Maliki of Housatonic, Mass., because it is unique, lovely and each piece tells a story.

The festival also featured musical performances, costumed performance artists wandering through the crowds next to the Saugatuck River and the Children's Art Zone, manned by staff and volunteers from the Westport Arts Center, which had stations giving kids a chance to make 3-D jellyfish, sunglasses, mosaic fish, string art and chalk drawings on a makeshift blackboard.

New York City actor Max McGuire portrayed 17th-century painter Rembrandt doing on-the-spot sketches of participating artists and the public using a pre-printed template.

Steve Desloge, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said this year's festival may feature 135 artists, but there are 150 booths because some artists have ordered two side-by-side booths to increase their display space.

"The recurring theme with the artists is that the customers are sophisticated, they know what they're talking about and they know what they want. It's an educated discussion. You have people here who are serious about buying art," Desloge said. "They're knowledgeable and interested, not just in the art, but in the artists, too."