“Turquoise Treasure,” a photo by Cheyenne L. Rouse,  of Scottsdale, is among the many works of art for sale this weekend at the 21st annual Autumn Arts Festival. Ninety artists from 11 states will be on hand.

Coming of age

21st annual Autumn Arts Festival bigger, better than ever

by  Stew Mosberg

As Durango’s Autumn Arts Festival turns 21 this weekend, it appears to be making its mark, not just on the local art scene, but on a national level. This year’s event will include 90 artists from 11 states, including Ohio, Oregon, California and Washington, as well as dozens from across Colorado.


What: 21st Durango Autumn Arts Festival
When: Sept. 11 - 12, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Where: 2nd Avenue from College Drive to 9th St.

“The Durango Autumn Arts Festival is a chance for locals and visitors to see the work of many different artists and crafts people from nearby and far away; to meet these creators and talk with them about what they do in an environment that is open and fun,” local artist and DAAF juror Crystal Hartman said.

Several area artists will also be represented, including: Carol Martin, jewelry artist and founder of the Durango Public Art Commission; her daughter, Laurel Hatch, a painter living in Bozeman, Mont.; painter Allison Leigh Smith; sculptors Bryce Pettit and Jack Bourriague; glass artist Deb Anderson; fiber artists Julie Vance and Corinne Van Der Ploeg; mixed-media artist Briana Paxton; and woodworker Kevin Des Plaques.

This year’s festival garnered more than 200 applications, a 24 percent increase over last year, making the selection process a challenge for jurors Hartman, Krista Harris and Lisa Pedolski. Criteria used for selection included originality, design and concept, and the quality of workmanship. All work had to be original; with no mass-produced or imported goods permitted.

Although the arts festival is now beginning its third decade, organizers continue to improve the experience for artists and attendees. The success of such outdoor endeavors, of which there are hundreds around the country each year, depends largely upon the attention to detail. Harris, who was a juror several years ago, has witnessed the transition firsthand. “Compared to the entries from four or five years ago, there’s a much better selection,” she acknowledged. “The artists seem to have broader experiences and are more sophisticated and professional. I think the history and reputation of the (festival) is gaining ground.”

She added that often, it takes time for news about festivals to spread among artists, with many of them booking their schedules a year in advance.

Pedolski, a much-lauded local ceramicist admitted judging others’ art is an interesting process. “Viewing art is subjective by nature, but a juror must put that aside and proceed with an objective eye, looking at the quality and presentation of the work while

also keeping in mind the established parameters of the event,” she said.

Although it is her first time as a DAFF juror, Pedolski has experienced the Autumn Art Festival from both sides of the booth. From 2003-05, she participated as an exhibitor and began to see a change in the quality of the work exhibited, the booth design and displays. She attributes this metamorphosis to a number of factors. “Exhibitors depend upon (festival) organizers for everything from advertising and promotion to good staging and support,” she said. “Through attention to these details, an annual festival will develop a positive reputation; word spreads, the application base grows, and artists with greater experience apply.”

The vast array of art and mediums in this year’s festival include: ceramics, digital art; wearable and non-wearable fiber art; pastel; glass; painting; photography; sculpture; metal; wood; and a preponderance of jewelry.

“Horse Chewing,” acrylic on canvas by Laurel Hatch, of Bozeman, Mont.

Juror Hartman, an accomplished artist and jeweler, agrees about the superb range of art this year. “There is a wide variety of work,” she said. “It was exciting to see so much talent and variation within mediums. It is a nice size fair, lots of events and vendors, but small enough (for attendees) to really take the time to enjoy it all.”

More than 150 volunteers will help pull the two-day festival together and make it a success. Festival Director Jules Masterjohn has added a number of entertaining “side shows” to engage audiences of all ages and preferences. A total of eight musical performances will begin at 10am and run through 5pm each day. Activities spread throughout the fair include making a pinwheel flower for a pinwheel garden, face painting, artist demonstrations, and a local favorite: dumpster decorating.

Specific to this year’s environmental upheaval, organizers developed a timely community art project they call “Love Letters to the Animas,” where members of the public are invited to express their affection for the Animas River, particularly in light of the Gold King mine spill last month. Community members are asked to either draw pictures or write within the shape of a 50-foot rainbow trout, “expressing that the river not only runs through our town, but through our hearts,” said Masterjohn. 

The two-day festival is one of the premier fundraisers for the Durango Arts Center and helps to support adult and youth programming, exhibits and building maintenance. In addition to nearly 100 artists, there will also be food, beverages and live music. The entire experience is sponsored by 1st Southwest Bank with marketing support from the Durango Business Improvement District. For a complete entertainment schedule or more information, go to: durangoarts.org/events/daaf.

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