Hippo Manchester
August 18, 2005

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An event for artists, by artists

However, art fans are also welcome at the Greeley Park Art Show

By Abid Shah

By all accounts, the Greeley Park Art Show in Nashua is the It event for area fine artists.

The festival marks 52 years with this weekend’s festival, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 20 and 21, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Greeley Park. Entrance to the event is free and nearly 100 artists have registered to show their works.

The artists have found a good home in Greeley Park, and recently the Nashua Area Artists Association, which organizes the festival, has been working to make it a top summer event.

I learned all this from Sarah Roche, the president of the Nashua Area Artists Association.

The fee to participate is $20 for members of the association. It costs $25 to become a member of the organization. Nonmembers can exhibit for $45, said Mark Vatalaro, the owner of Bilancia Gallery on West Pearl St.

Vatalaro is the contact person for people interested in participating at the show.

I asked whether, as a gallery owner, Vatalaro saw the show as a way to make contacts.

“I always hope to make contacts,” Vatalaro said. “However, my reason is to make Nashua a destination for the arts.”

Ambition and concern for the Nashua art scene drives the show, which in recent years has been given a boost by a revitalized downtown — several new galleries have opened in the area in the past three years.

With it, the quality of the art has increased.

“It’s very good with a lot of people not recognizing that it is good,” Roche said of the Nashua area art scene.

On the ground, several veterans acknowledge that the times are changing.

“The people have changed, some artists have retired, some have left,” said Marilene Sawaf, an oil painter who has been attending the show for 20 years. “There are many new people ... and the artists are more talented.”

With new people coming in — the show hit 100 participants for the first time two years ago — organizers face an old dilemma.

What is art?

Specifically, what is fine art?

At the art show, there is a conscious attempt to make sure that the very gray line between art and craft is not crossed.

“I thought it was a two-dimensional show,” said Leslie Malouf, a potter who did not even apply to be included in the show. “I only do functional pottery.”

That is a misconception. The art show is looking for three-dimensional work; for example, jewelers display their work at the show.

When it comes to the most visible display of three-dimensional art, the show is lacking.

“There are no sculptors, unfortunately,” Vatalaro said. “I would love to add some into the show.”

Apparently, few, if any, sculptors, have their studios in Nashua. Vatalaro said he hopes sculptors will move to the area and give the Nashua art scene further dimension and fill the vacuum.

But in a show that is then dominated by two dimensional art work, paintings and photographs, and one that is trying to become a center for art, there is a difficulty in evaluating other media.

“They have to be fine arts crafts,” said Vatalaro. “It’s blown glass versus dolls ... we are trying to come up with some guidelines and the crafts have to be juried to enter the show.”

And, to make it a fairer system, the organizers are further thinking of having a jury examine all the art entering the show, Vatalaro said.

The show organizers will award prizes in several different categories: oil, watercolor, acrylic, photography, pastels, printmaking, and mixed media. The jury members are not from the area, and so are unlikely to be friends with any of the competing artists.

The whole weekend costs $3000 to $5000 — programs are normally paid for by sponsors, although when I talked to him about a week before the show, Vatalaro was still searching for a sponsor to pay for the programs. There is an additional expense — the show offers $1000 scholarships to two high school students each year.

There is also one significant change this year. Each year the art show also gives children aged 3 to 18 the opportunity to display alongside adults.  However, logistical difficulties forced a rethink.

“It was a big problem for parents; they had to come both days, bring the children, set up, take down everything, and then return the following day,” said Roche.

This year, the youngsters will be limited to only the second day of the exhibition. The show will give awards on the second day for two groups of children:    three to six year olds, and 18 and under.

The exhibitors

Most afternoons Monique Sakellarios sits in Maison de L`Art, her studio on East Pearl St. Many times, I have found her, paintbrush in hand, dabbing away at the canvas.

“I paint in the impressionist style,” Sakellarios said, as I sat in her narrow gallery. 

I asked  Sakellarios what it takes to be an artist.

“It’s a full time job,” Sakellarios said. “I don’t think you ever stop working.” 

Oh, so she made art all the time — how wonderful, I thought.

“To succeed you have to be established, driven and disciplined,” Sakellarios said. “You have to take criticism rigorously and you have to be tough.”

Sakellarios then described a trip she took to an art fair with her son.

“My son said he could not do that,” Sakellarios said.

Do what?

“Sell the paintings.”

Sell the paintings?

“Between the painting and the marketing and the shipping, it takes 12 hours a day,” Sakellarios said. “A lot of galleries are seasonal ...gallery on the green in Vermont is best in the fall, because of the foliage; Cape Cod is busy in the summer.”

Suddenly, I was seeing the supposedly relaxed life as an artist through another lens.

Over the phone, Marilene Sawaf trashed my fantasy even further.

“The life of an artist is very bad,” said Sawaf, who studied interior design at college. Sawaf, who grew up in Lebanon, started painting when she immigrated to the United States.  

“You have to work, [then you] sell, don’t sell,” Sawaf said. “It is very unpredictable.”