May 13 2009 12:00 AM

Two perspectives on exhibiting at the East Lansing Art Festival


For longtime visitor, first-time exhibitor Phil Booth, meeting the masses and unloading some paintings at the East Lansing Art Festival sounds like an OK way to spend the weekend, but getting there is less exciting. Talking with the retired coach and teacher from East Lansing about the run-up to the show brings to mind the image of a novelty T-shirt that reads, “I’d rather be painting.”

“I enjoy these shows, meeting the people,” Booth said. “What I don’t enjoy is the set-up time. I’ve got two paintings that have sat in my studio for about three weeks that I’ve hardly touched at all.”

The oil painter said he and his wife have spent the last several weeks framing and pricing his landscapes, still-lifes and portraits in preparation for the annual juried show, which features the work of more than 200 artists and typically draws about 80,000 visitors to downtown East Lansing.

Booth already had a tent for Spartan tailgating, but borrowed some hanging gear from a neighbor to keep costs down, and they’ve already done a practice run, so they know how to hang the show and how many piece will fit.

Although he likes checking out what other people are up to and has participated in exhibits in the Jackson area, Booth said it was the prodding of his wife, Mary, and some friends that made him take the leap. “I decided to go ahead and do it, so I applied and got accepted,” he said. “I’m very humbled and very flattered.”

One the biggest challenges for Booth has been pricing his work, especially finding one he and his wife, who typically thinks he’s selling himself short, can agree on and figuring out what can go and what stays. So are there any pieces he won’t part with for any price?

“Oh yes, definitely,” Booth said. “I was telling someone the other day — I was just trying to show them I could be snobbish — that’s for my ‘private collection’ if you don’t mind.”

If anyone could give Booth a lesson in Art Fair 101, it would be Mary Lou Hess. The 82-year-old printmaker has been making the six-hour trip from New Albany, Ind., to exhibit at the East Lansing Art Festival for the last 15 years. Like Booth, she said getting set up is the biggest obstacle, that and facing the elements. But the show is a good fit for her, because of its proximity to home, and she’s made some good friends visiting the area over the years.

Also, being a printmaker, Hess’ work is a lot less common at these type of events than say water color paintings or jewelry, so it helps being around people with an appreciation for different media. “When you have the college environment, you get more people who are knowledgeable about prints,” she said. “Because of the kind of work I do, I get people who look at it different than others.”

Hess started printing 40 years ago. Most of her pieces are what she calls an “interpretation of landscapes.” In her artist statement, she writes, “To see a commonplace thing and make it my own by building or designing an image is my goal.”

Hess will share her work and techniques and answer questions at the second annual Cool U program. A collaborative project between the Art Festival and Michigan State University’s College of Arts & Letters, Cool U is a daylong series of lectures and demonstrations set to take place on Friday, May 15.

Hess said her talk is pretty open, and she mostly plans to share her work and answer questions.

“A lot of people have no idea the difference between an oil painting and an etching,” Hess said. “They have no idea how it’s done.”

46th Annual East Lansing Art Festival

May 16 & 17 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday Downtown East Lansing FREE (517) 319-6804