Fairmount: Art in the Open Event Allows Artists to Draw Inspiration From Nature

Artist Carole Loeffler took a step back and observed the progress of her Wish Tree.
Artist Carole Loeffler took a step back and observed the progress of her Wish Tree.

In its second year, Art in the Open offered local artists the chance to showcase their work along the banks of the Schuylkill River, as well as provided visitors the chance to partake in the creation of some of the art pieces.

Deenah Loeb, co-founder of AiO, said that the four-day event, which ended Sunday, was inspired by the plein air festivals of France. Plein air was a 19th century style of art in which paintings were done in the outdoors to best represent the natural air and atmosphere that would otherwise not be observed inside of a studio.

“Art in the Open is a way for us to see the act of creation differently,” Loeb said. “We take so much for granted, like the water and the trees around us.”

Originally, AiO was envisioned by one of the artists as an event that would allow painters the opportunity to draw inspiration from nature and reflect their experiences on canvas. Loeb said that eventually, after further planning, the event came to incorporate all genres of fine art.

Visitors witnessed an array of paintings, photographs, sculptures and interactive art pieces. One of the most attention-grabbing interactive pieces was the Wish Tree.

The Wish Tree was a piece by local Philadelphia artist Carole Loeffler. Before spending her day along the river bank, Loeffler cut 99 long strings of red ribbon with a tag attached to one end. On the top of the tag were the words “I wish” and a blank space for visitors to write a wish.

“I think it’s really interesting that even though people get to tie their wishes wherever they want on the tree, so many of the ones grouped together are similar to each other,” Loeffler said.

Loeffler said that her inspiration for this piece was a song from the 1980s called 99 Red Balloons.

“The song is about dreaming and letting things go,” Loeffler said.

A participant added a strip of burlap to the cover up some of the exposed steel in the structure of the bench.

Upon walking a little farther north, one sculpture that stood out in the grass was a collaborative piece by artists Ana B. Hernandez and Russell Mahoney. Mahoney said that while he has been trained in architecture, Hernandez specialized in textiles.

The sculpture incorporates steel, burlap and wood to create not only a stand-alone work of art, but also a small bench. Mahoney said that while he has always liked the look of ivy on buildings, it is very bad for the exterior. He said that as an architect, he began to think of ways that would allow ivy to adorn the outside of a building without ruining it.

Mahoney said that he realized steel would be a good method of allowing ivy to grow on the outside of a building. However, he said that he also realized people would not want to have bare steel covering the outside of their houses. Mahoney said he thought of incorporating textile to the steel to create a mural that would eventually allow ivy to grow and also be incorporated into the mural.

“We encourage nature to take its course so we like to think of it as if we’re taking the first step by installing the first piece and then we’ll just let nature take care of the rest,” Mahoney said.

Sculptures and interactive works weren’t the only highlights of this year’s event. One artist, Leslie Kaufman, showcased her piece called Memory Blocks. Reminiscent to a maze, Kaufman separated her piece into two sections. She said that the first section was representative of ancient ruins and the inaccessible past, while the second section was representative of personal inaccessible memories.

The section that represented personal inaccessible memories in Leslie Kaufman's Memory Blocks.

“Someone came by earlier and said that this is like an ‘archeological dig into the subconscious,’ and I liked it so I told them that I’m going to use that,” Kaufman said with a smile.

Memory Blocks consists of handmade constructed and painted plywood blocks, each with a different scene. Kaufman said that she encourages people to look around and if they see a block that triggers a memory of theirs. They can give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down depending on whether the memory was a good or bad one.

Kaufman said she will analyze the pictures to come up with comparisons and similarities among the memories, as well as email them to her participants so that they can have the photograph as a keepsake.

The artists will come together at The Painted Bride, located at 230 Vine St., on July 1 to showcase their final pieces, which will incorporate anything that they may have discovered about their pieces after the four days of letting nature take its toll on their art.

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