Wandering the Isthmus on Saturday was much like navigating a warm jar of honey — slow, sticky, and, thanks to many vendors peddling fresh-squeezed lemonade and other sugary goods, sweet.
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the 65th annual Art Fair on the Square, saw densely packed crowds strolling at leisurely speeds down State Street, pausing to pick up a painting or a sculpture at some of the more than 400 artists ‘ booths lining the sidewalks.
Under the shade of a well-trafficked booth sits Greta Sandquist and her many paintings. This is Sandquist’s third Art Fair on the Square, her favorite yet, she says, due to her status as this year’s featured artist, a title given to her by a committee at the museum. Her featured piece, an oil and copper leaf painting of a fox titled “Edge of the Forest,” made the rounds on T-shirts and programs for this year’s art fair, as well as being available to bidders at a silent auction tent.
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Sandquist is one of many artists for whom events like the Art Fair on the Square are a primary source of income. While she’s enjoyed setting up shop at similar events, she says this particular art fair is special.
“I’ve loved every year that I’ve been (at the Art Fair on the Square), it’s one of my favorite shows that I do,” said Sandquist. “What I love is being able to interact with people who buy my art.”
So, every year she loads up her pieces and travels to Downtown Madison from her home in St. Paul, Minnesota, guided by her love of art, which she says began in childhood. She started selling acrylic paintings in 2011, but she’s since grown fond of oil paints in her work, which she uses to add a “thicker texture” and “more movement” in capturing her primary inspirations: nature, women and animals.
“It’s hard to describe why someone makes art, it’s that creative drive in me that makes me want to paint,” she said. “I love using a lot of color and texture in my paintings.”
Further off from Sandquist’s booth, the dreams, nightmares and encounters of Tomas Savrda take physical form. His assemblies and kinetic objects, as he calls them, feature doll parts, clowns and sculpture work. Many involve multiple layers, moving parts. His inspirations were varied, he said, but many came from his subconscious, with an emphasis on dreams, the environment, childhood and, most of all, the human condition.
“Sometimes I see the dark side of things, and I mean, you know, you have to take these things in stride,” said Savrda.
An Art Fair newcomer, Savrda drove from Connecticut for the weekend and set up shop at 5 am Saturday. While this is his first Art Fair on the Square, it’s far from his first endeavor into art. He doesn’t recall exactly how many years it’s been since he quit his career in advertising for art, a decision he made so that he could “do whatever he wants, instead of being told” but it’s been at least three decades, and he doesn’t plan on putting his materials down anytime soon.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” he said.
Behind much of the color, sound and flavor of the day was Marni McEntee, communications director for MMOCA. For McEntee, this weekend meant a “huge undertaking,” hours of preparation, committee meetings, and other types of organizing on the museum’s end to go into the fair each year.
“It’s been a great turnout, that’s really important,” said McEntee. “A lot of the artists make their living on the art fair circuit.”
For the museum, the fair is a large fundraising opportunity, powering things like free educational programming. For hotels and restaurants around the city, it’s an influx of customers, an economic boost. For the 425 artists working booths, the fair is a chance to interact with the people buying their art, showing pieces to new crowds. For the community, it’s a slow walk around Capitol Square, perhaps with family and friends, set to a soundtrack of the Bee Gees from a speaker, Billy Joel covers and a cappella opera music.
Photos: Art Fair on the Square