May 23, 2024


Super Art is Almost

Arts festival comes back this weekend after two-year COVID absence

NORTHAMPTON — Two years ago, the Paradise City Arts Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary: a quarter-century of some 250 artists gathering twice a year to display their work at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton.

From painting to sculpture to photography, and from ceramics to furniture to clothing and jewelry, the festival since 1994 had been a popular and well-known forum for displaying a huge range of work by artists from the Northeast and other parts of the country.

Then COVID-19 arrived and threw a wrench in the works, and Paradise City had to retreat to a virtual format for its last three sessions, in spring and fall of 2020 and again this past spring.

Now the arts festival is returning for another in-person showing, Oct. 9-11, Saturday to Monday, at the county fairgrounds, with safety protocols in place — including some adjustments for spacing — but essentially in the same format.

Linda Post, the co-founder of the festival with her husband, Geoffrey Post, says she’s thrilled to be back, and she hopes people will feel confident about coming to the event.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Post, a Northampton painter herself. “Putting this together is always a case of keeping a lot of rings in the air, and [COVID] made planning even more of a challenge. But in the end, we had a great response from artists. They’re really happy to be back.”

About 220 artists will showcase their work this weekend, a slightly smaller number than in past events. Post said some artists, including two from West Virginia who have been past participants at the festival, decided traveling during the pandemic would be too problematic.

“There are fewer people coming from other parts of the country this time, but that’s opened up space for a lot of new artists, especially from the Northeast,’’ she said. “We have a lot of new people this year, plus others who have been here before but not for some time. So that’s kind of a silver lining.”

Abstract art exhibit

As in past festivals, there will be a special, central exhibit, this time dedicated to abstract art — a style that would seem fitting for this unsettled era that COVID has brought about.

The work in “Abstract Art” is also a means, as festival program notes put it, for artists to respond to an age of “fast-paced inventions, global upheavals, and constant change,” which challenges them “to view the world in a way that is outside of time and place.”

To deal with the complexities of the pandemic, Post says she and other festival organizers have repositioned artists’ booths to create more space in the main walkways of the three exhibition buildings. The buildings themselves have extensive rooftop ventilation, she noted, and the main doors of the buildings will be kept open to help circulate fresh air.

Meanwhile, all visitors will need to show proof of COVID vaccination, or a negative test result for the virus taken within the past 72 hours. All artists and on-site staff face the same requirements, Post said, and everyone will be required to wear a face mask except when eating or drinking.

“We want everyone to be safe and to feel safe,” Post said.

Among the new faces this year at the festival is Heather Tauck, a Sunderland woodworker and furniture maker with an eclectic background: She took up her career after studying science, social justice, drawing, painting, bookbinding, animation and printmaking as a college student.

According to her website, after earning a degree in printmaking, Tauck became interested in woodworking and studied “Preservation Carpentry” at a Boston school.

Today she says she’s committed to sourcing her wood and other materials locally, as well as supporting “women and marginalized makers because they are transforming and enhancing the building trades.” Along with making furniture, her business, HT Wood Shop, also restores wood objects.

Another new artist with local connections is Sue Fontaine of Lake Pleasant, who combines painting with graphite and other mixed media to create weathered-looking portraits of water towers, old houses, animals, woodlands and other natural settings. Her work has a layered, almost tactile appearance, one that’s meant “to create a pathway to explore in a new way,” as she says on her website.

Fontaine, a graduate of Holyoke Community College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has also exhibited her work in a number of other places in the Valley, including the Burnett Gallery at Amherst’s Jones Library and the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass.

There will be much more on display at Paradise City, including the outdoor metal/mixed-media sculptures of Northampton artist Piper Foreso and an enormous work by James Kitchen of Chesterfield, who works on a grand scale with found metal objects. This year, Kitchen is unveiling a sculpture called “Colossus,” which includes, among other things, a cannonball from the U.S. Civil War and the housing of an exhaust fan from the Hoosac Tunnel.

In addition to a number of food options and music from groups such as the O-Tones and Roger Salloom — music and food is offered underneath a large tent on the grounds — the festival will feature a silent art auction to benefit the Northampton Chamber of Commerce.

Post says she’s been struck by the difficulty so many small businesses, in Northampton and elsewhere, have faced in the past year and a half, and thought the festival could help a bit.

“When you do downtown [in Northampton], it still feels kind of buzzy, but you know places have closed and you see some vacant storefronts,” she said. “We want to raise some money to help in whatever way we can.

“It could be for holiday lighting or just to help with beautifying downtown in some way,” she said. “And we always encourage our visitors to eat and shop downtown, too.”

To find out more about the Paradise City Arts Festival, visit Hours are 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Oct. 9; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 10; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 11. Tickets are $14 for adults and $8 for students; children 12 and under attend for free. A three-day pass is $16.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected].