Two of my favorite things are art and nature. When you combine the two you have an event that might rival the opening weekend of the Utah Shakespeare Festival for my favorite annual arts event in Southern Utah.
That’s what Cedar Breaks National Monument and the new Southern Utah Museum of Art have done with Arts Afire. Now in its second year and much larger than the introductory event in 2015, Arts Afire gathered 10 plein air artists at the monument and the museum for five days of painting that culminated in a silent auction at Brian Head on Friday and a wet paint sale Saturday at SUMA.
Oh, and it takes place during the monuments annual Wildflower Festival. That’s definitely a bonus.
Although they started painting Monday, I didn’t make it up to the monument until Thursday morning for a demonstration by Megumi Dold, one of only two watercolorists among the 10 plein air painters. The term “plein air” refers to the French term “en plein air,” which means “open air.” Plein air artists create their art on scene, painting what they see.
Megumi was painting at Point Supreme, the primary overlook for the red rock wonderland of the Cedar Breaks Amphitheater. A canopy was set up to provide shade for those watching her demonstration. As she painted, Megumi explained her process and also took questions from the observers.
Among the questions was how long it took her to complete a plein air painting. Typically, she said it took about two hours but on July 11, the first day of the event, it was so windy that her watercolors were drying too quickly, creating extra work. A major obstacle for plein air painting is working around the weather.
While watching Megumi paint I also spoke with Shannon Eberhard, the interpretive ranger for Cedar Breaks who helped organize the event. She said this year’s event was significantly bigger with 10 artists instead of just the three they had in 2015.
Although Megumi was doing the official demonstration, I also bumped into Parowan oil painter Valerie Orlemann and Cedar City pastelist Arlene Braithwaite. Arlene was painting right off the pathway to Point Supreme near the beginning of the Campground Trail. She said she likes to set up in a public area so she has the chance to interact with people as they pass by.
“It’s so beautiful,” Arlene said. “It’s hard to know what to paint.”
Valerie said the weather had been mostly cooperative aside from wind on the rim. Sometimes it was so windy it was difficult to paint a straight line. At least the rain had stayed away, but more than one artists mentioned that it would have been nice to have some clouds to add to their compositions.
Although the event is focused on Cedar Breaks for a sense of place, the artists were allowed to paint within three miles of the park’s boundary. That means some of them spent time painting at Brian Head and on Blowhard Mountain, the nearby peak that offers a commanding view of Zion National Park to the south, Cedar Breaks to the north and the Grand Staircase to the east.
Later that day I also caught a few minutes of another painting demonstration. This time, Rachel Pettit was painting on the plaza in front of SUMA for a small crowd. Inside the museum, the SUMA staff was preparing to host the Utah State Board of Regents. But the next day they would bringing in a few of the museum’s moveable walls to hang the paintings created by the Arts Afire artists that week.
On Friday morning I returned to Point Supreme for another demonstration. This time it was Mary Jabens, whose work has captivated me since I discovered her in January. Although Mary was giving the official demonstration, Valerie was back, painting alongside her.
Mary wasn’t feeling well and at times appeared barely able to stand. But she was determined to get through her demonstration. After she finished, I stuck around to chat with her and she showed me how she transports wet paintings with panel packs so the paint is not smeared.
Apparently she didn’t have a panel pack for one of the paintings so I had the opportunity to carry it back to her car. I’ve been wanting to purchase one of her pieces since January but at least I got to hold one for a few minutes.
I then spent the next few hours exploring some backroads on Cedar Mountain before heading over to Brian Head Resort for the final demonstration of the day. St. George watercolorist Roland Lee was painting inside the resort’s Giant Steps Lodge and offering a detailed presentation while he worked.
It’s always fascinating to listen to artists talk about their work because they think so creatively. My favorite quote from his presentation could probably even be used as some sort of metaphor for life.
“We live in a world of light and shadows,” he said. “A lot of times painters are afraid to mess with the shadows and just live in a world of light. But that’s not realistic.”
I guess I feel that life is the same way. Challenges, hardship and pain are the shadows of life. While most of us probably want to focus on the light of joy, love and success instead, it’s not realistic. We have to learn to deal with the shadows when we live in reality.
Not only did Arts Afire give me a chance to see some of my favorite local artists creating beautiful paintings in gorgeous surroundings, I also got a dose of philosophy from the wise Roland Lee. I’m already excited for next year.
The paintings from Arts Afire will be on display at SUMA, 13 S. 300 West, Cedar City, until Sept. 1. Visit suu.edu/suma or call 435-586-5432.
Tempting: A brief glimpse at the arts events tempting me this week
· “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, 300 W. Lion Boulevard, Springdale. $8-$15. Visit dsutix.com or call 435-652-7800.
· “Snapshot 1880s — The Way Our Pioneers Worked in Washington County” exhibit opens at 5 p.m. Saturday at Gallery 35, 35 N. Main St., St. George. Free. Call 435-218-6939.
· Marco and Elise’s Night of Dance fundraiser at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Dixie Arts Conservatory, 1028 Tabernacle Street, studios 104-106, St. George. $3 per class. Visit ProudToBeAMover.com or call 435-669-3087.