For one evening, Crawford is magically transformed into the center of the universe for West Elk scenic plein air art.
That thought forms in Barb Goffin’s mind every year as she and fellow members of the West Elk Arts Council get together to organize “Render the Rock,” now in its 10th year.
“Plein air” is a French expression for “in the open air,” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
In this case, all artists are focused on one of Crawford’s most distinctive landmarks — Needle Rock.
A creative challenge for artists of all ages, both amateur and professional, Render the Rock is a unique outdoor art event which will take place from dawn until dusk on Saturday, Sept. 6, on Piburn Flats near Crawford. From dawn until 3 p.m., artists render their interpretation of the local landscape in any media they choose. For art buyers and collectors, live and silent auctions follow that evening.
Artwork may include any landscape view from the gathering site, which varies but is always located within view of the impressive Needle Rock. In past years, artistry has varied from traditional oil, pastel and watercolor paintings to expressions in fiber, clay, wood, glass, or leather.
Artists seem to derive creative energy from fellow artists working nearby. Others prefer to grab a quiet spot away from the crowd and work in seclusion. Visitors are invited to walk among the works in progress, watching artists as they meet the challenge to complete a piece of art in just a few hours.
To get to the site of this year’s “Render the Rock,” take Hwy. 92 about a half mile south of Crawford. Opposite the convenience store you’ll spot a sign and balloons at the turn-off to D Road. Take D Road for about 1 1/4 mile to the intersection with Piburn Flats Road. Again, the turn-off will be clearly marked with signs and balloons, as will the entrance to the field where artists will have set up their easels.
Artists and visitors may purchase baked goods, coffee and a catered lunch on site. Girl Scout Junior Troop #64 will sell coffee and baked goods from 8 to 10 a.m. CAWS will provide lunch from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
That evening, the artwork that was created earlier in the day may be acquired during an auction. On average, over 50 artists participate in “Render the Rock,” and 70 percent sell their artwork at the evening reception. Artists set a minimum bid for their artwork and agree to donate from 30 to 100 percent of the sale back to the event. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the renovation of the historic Crawford Town Hall, where the reception will be held.
Participants are encouraged to bring a frame or mat, a sculpture stand, or whatever it takes to show off their work to its best advantage. Volunteers from the community serve fabulous desserts and snacks for the evening art reception. Visitors can nibble on the snacks as they admire the finished pieces of art and enter their bids in the silent auction. Admission to the reception and the auctions is free.
Auctioneer John Cunningham will bang his gavel for the opening bid of the live auction at 8 p.m.
This year’s judges, Joann Price and Marla Bishop, will award $1,000 in cash prizes, along with ribbons, to artists in adult and youth divisions in both fine arts and open expression categories.
Artists come from near and far, many returning year after year because of the camaraderie. Although the event is competitive in nature, Hendrika Cegielski says everybody is excited to be there because they’re focused on what they love to do — create art. “It’s a very open, very supportive atmosphere,” she says.
She has participated in the event as an artist, a judge and president of the West Elk Arts Council, the committee which organizes the annual event.
“It’s great fun,” she reports. “People painting, talking and enjoying the day
. . . it’s very pleasant, very social.”
It’s fun to see familiar faces, but it’s also great to meet artists from out of the area who have heard about the unique event. Then there was the visitor who was so enthused about the artistic process she borrowed paper and paints from accommodating artists and set to work.
Cegielski notes, “It’s wonderful to see everything done in just one day, even though it has taken an entire year to get to this point.”
The West Elk Arts Council begins planning the next year’s event soon after “Render the Rock” winds down, discussing future sites and possible improvements.
In addition to Cegielski, the committee is comprised of vice president Pennie Alexander, secretary Barb Goffin, treasurer Char Simkins and at-large members Kim Wasilkowich, Mary Martindale and Suzi Morton. As the fall event approaches, their monthly meetings evolve to weekly planning sessions. Volunteers generously donate their energy to pitch shade tents for artists, transport art to Crawford Town Hall for the reception, and prepare snacks for the evening.
Cegielski and Alexander are the two artists on the committee. Alexander is a sculptor who incorporates stone and bronze into her finished works. She is also fascinated by the texture and color of weaving.
Cegielski applies pen and ink to a variety of surfaces, including rawhide lampshades, pillows and, at this year’s “Render the Rock,” gourds.
“I appreciate someone who can come and do a two-dimensional piece of art,” Cegielski said. “There’s a lot of pressure on you to get it right in that short amount of time.”
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The members of the West Elk Arts Council invite spectators to enjoy the unique “quick draw” outdoor art festival that’s become one of Crawford’s most beloved traditions. For more information visit www.crawfordcountry.org.