Forty-three amazing artists from 14 states and three Canadian provinces will arrive in Canandaigua in June to participate in the third annual Finger Lakes Plein Air Competition & Festival. The event begins on Thursday, June 5, when the juried artists set up their easels en plein air (“in the open air”) and paint for two full days outside, rain or shine. Each artist submits three or four paintings to be judged for ribbons and cash prizes, which will be awarded Saturday night at a reception for artists and patrons. The works will be exhibited for sale on Sunday inside the handsome Sonnenberg Gardens Carriage House, from noon to 4 p.m.
Plein air, the practice of choice for 19th century Impressionists, is experiencing a resurgence. And while Canandaigua Lake’s natural beauty has been inspiring plein air artists for generations, it wasn’t until 2012 that an event for them in the Finger Lakes became a reality.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” admits Pat Rini Rohrer, the festival’s founder and chairperson. The trained artist, who opened the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery on Canandaigua’s Main Street 10 years ago, personally loves painting outdoors. She explains that festivals celebrating plein air have become common in the past 25 years – in sunnier locales like California and New Mexico. But when she attended one in Connecticut 15 years ago, she found the experience life-changing.
“The cataracts were removed,” she says, raising her hands to her eyes. “Plein air paintings are unique. They have verve and personality.”
So, with help from a dedicated steering committee, many volunteers, and individual and business sponsors, Rini Rohrer launched the Finger Lakes festival two years ago. Canandaigua’s downtown merchants, including Aimee Ward, the former owner of Finger Lakes Gallery & Frame (read about this company on page 16), embraced Rini Rohrer’s vision.
The area’s natural beauty has beckoned to artists who come to paint scenes of Canandaigua Lake, as well as a colorful assortment of lakeside homes, gardens, gambrel-roofed barns, twisted vineyards and sunny fields. More than 70 artists applied to participate this June, challenging the committee charged with selecting only 43.
“House Tour,” an oil painting by George Van Hook, was last year’s first prize winner. It depicts the stately 19th-century mansion at Sonnenberg Gardens during a rain shower. Van Hook recalls positioning himself under a large fir tree on the Sonnenberg grounds. His painting captures tiny figures, umbrellas held aloft, hurrying up the lawn to the sheltering mansion.
“The bits of color gave it a little bit of narrative,” says Van Hook, who traveled to Canandaigua from the Upper Hudson River Valley.
With plein air, “there’s freshness,” affirms Judi Cermak, president of the Ontario County Arts Council, the organization that presents the festival. “You can see the brushstrokes. The artists only have just so much time to complete their works, and must move around to different locations.”
“I thrive on it,” says Van Hook, of plein air painting. He will return to Canandaigua for the festival this summer. At the two-hour “Quick Draw” competition Saturday morning, June 7, the public is invited to downtown Canandaigua to observe Van Hook and other festival artists “up close and in action.”
In the afternoon, during the “Community Paint Out,” anyone interested in tapping into their own inner artist can take part. Artists “young and old, beginner and experienced” can compete for cash prizes. (Registration is required.)
Following the festival, nationally known plein air artist Lori Putnam, the judge for this year’s festival, will present a workshop at the Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery. One of several galleries on Main Street, it offers changing exhibits of work by local artists, and a wide array of painting classes, many taught by Rini Rohrer herself.
“Pat has been the beacon,” emphasizes Van Hook. And despite the inclement weather last June, he describes the experience as “a blast.”
For a full schedule and more information about the Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival and Competition, visit fingerlakespleinair.com; facebook.com/FingerLakesPleinAir; or e-mail
Celebrate the Arts in Canandaigua this Summer
From May 30 to June 1, the First Congregational Church at 58 North Main St. will host the exhibit, “Women Artists in the Finger Lakes IV: a Contemporary Show and Sale” in conjunction with the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.
From July 18 to 20, the Art and Music Festival comes back to downtown after a year’s hiatus.
On July 26 and 27, The Waterfront Arts Festival will line Canandaigua’s northern lakeshore, showcasing an abundance of regional artwork.
On August 16 and 17, the grounds of the historic Sonnenberg Mansion become the backdrop for original fine arts and crafts during the Arts at the Gardens show.
“Brush with Nature: Plein Air Tradition in American Landscape Painting”
May 25, the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester
Presented by Valerie A. Balint, Associate Curator of Olana, home of landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church
This illustrated lecture traces the evolution of open air sketching and painting in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 19th century. For details, visit mag.rochester.edu.
Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery
71 S. Main Street
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Landscapes for the ages
Downtown Canandaigua’s art and business community is preparing to welcome plein air artists and the public to the competition and festival. Among them is Brett Utter of Finger Lakes Gallery & Frame, who loves art and has a lifelong passion for antiques.
Shortly after opening his business last May, Utter became involved in the festival. He admired participating artist George Van Hook’s paintings and arranged to show the award-winning painter’s work at the gallery. “I see a passion,” says Utter of the canvases. “There’s a confidence in the bold brushstrokes and use of impasto.”
Finger Lakes Gallery & Frame is a family affair shared with Utter’s wife, Sarah, and daughter, Bristol. They took a preexisting respected frame business and expanded its fine art inventory and services to include a large array of 19th- and early-to-mid-20th century regional paintings, plus quality antique furniture and accessories. Contemporary art and jewelry is also offered. Temporary exhibitions are a regular feature. While custom framing remains a major focus, painting restoration, conservation, frame restoration, and professional appraisal of fine art and antiques are also available.
Utter’s appreciation of landscape painting spans the 19th to 21st centuries. He first became inspired by marine and harbor views during a visit to the Gloucester, Massachusetts, area, and he continues to feature art of that region for sale.
Over the past 25 years, he has had extensive experience selling the paintings of Canandaigua artists Charles Dickens Wader (1849-1918) and Fred D. Crandall (1859-1921). Wader, who is known to have taught Crandall, often painted outdoors. Their paintings of lake scenery, referred to as “Waders and Crandalls,” are “historic documents,” Utter says. They emphasize a calm, rather than turbulent, nature, and are avidly collected in the city where both men lived.
Their lakeside views display a soft, hazy light, and the occasional landmark or rustic building. “Bare Hill, Canandaigua, NY,” a painting by Crandall that’s on view at the Utter’s downtown gallery, is typical. The scene shows the sun setting behind Bare Hill, a natural feature linked to Native American legends. The landscape shows the influence of the Hudson River School, says Utter, and the American Luminist art movement. As with other artworks he sells, the gallery owner is knowledgeable about the artist’s style.
The works of regional artists of the pre-1940s era – Milton Holm, Emile Gruppé and Carl Peters – are among those featured at the gallery.
Finger Lakes Gallery & Frame
175 South Main St.
Canandaigua, NY 14424
by Laurel C. Wemett