North Florida is an epicenter for artists who paint on site.
By Annie Pais
Artists who paint “plein air” have been around since the 1800s, when the French Impressionists moved their easels out “into the fresh air” and reintroduced landscape painting in a dynamic new way. Plein air art events have been all the rage in western states for decades. In 2002, the newly formed nonprofit Florida’s Eden decided to introduce them in Gainesville/Alachua County.
That first year, we called every artist we knew who painted outdoors and asked for help to find Florida plein air painters. We had no idea how many were out there, but we kept finding and inviting them. Thirty painters came to paint for six days at the first Kanapaha Paintout held at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens; it was amazing.
Each day more artists arrived from all over the state to meet us and hang out together. We provided meals for the artists so we could all get to know each other. At the end, we held a gala sale and sold a lot of paintings. The town was buzzing with the new art energy and the press loved it. We knew we were on to something.
In the years that followed, Florida’s Eden coordinated eight more paintouts in different locations throughout our area to give our small rural towns the opportunity to host the public and the press and to share what was most important to them. Micanopy, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Vision Farms, Evinston, Cross Creek, McIntosh, Dudley Farm Historic State Park all took turns. We met nearly every Florida plein air landscape painter and our reputation grew.
We set up wet rooms on location so people could spontaneously purchase the art when it was wet off the easel. Spectators began to fly in to follow their favorite artists. We began to attract national painters. We wrote a piece comparing paintouts to golf tournaments that got a grin. We were turning art patron spectators into fans.
Pretty soon people who were interested in coordinating paintout events started showing up. We knew this would happen, so we wrote a manual, How to Coordinate a Successful Paintout, which we sell online at FloridasEden.org to organizations and communities across the United States and Canada.
Alachua County is now considered the southeastern epicenter for plein air events and the new home of contemporary Florida landscape painting. Florida’s top painters make regular pilgrimages here to explore and portray our breathtaking Florida’s Eden region. In many ways, these painters are both ambassadors for our region and documenters of Florida’s now vanishing landscape. We honor them and their efforts to help us raise awareness about the economic importance of preserving the natural resources that distinguish our unique and magical place.
Make plans now for spring 2014, when the town of Melrose on Lake Santa Fe in eastern Alachua County will hold its 8th Annual Open Air Arts event!