Metro-East News

Risk of rain can’t keep crowds away from Art on the Square

Crowds enjoy Art on The Square in Belleville on Saturday

A chance of rain couldn't keep crowds away from Art on The Square in Belleville on Saturday.
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A chance of rain couldn't keep crowds away from Art on The Square in Belleville on Saturday.

A soggy start did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm for Belleville’s Art on the Square Saturday.

“Art lovers come out rain or shine,” declared chairwoman Patti Gregory, as families and couples walked past under cloudy skies to view the artists on display.

Nearly 600 volunteers shuttled food to the artists during the lunch hour Saturday, as Dixieland jazz played from one of the stages and children tried their hands at their own artistic endeavors.

“It’s fantastic as usual,” said Erin Kern, shopping with her daughter Laura. Erin is fond of sculpture and three-dimensional art, while Laura is on the lookout for florals and paintings - but both are fond of the original jewelry. “I’ve got my wallet out,” Erin said.

That’s good news for artists like Michael Brown of Antoich, Ill. Brown said he was a traditional photographer, “watching the patrons go by,” until he was vacationing in Florida and saw an example of “lenticular art.” It’s a composite image of as many as 75 photographs layered in angles, so the image changes as the viewer moves from side to side. In one image a train approaches or recedes; in another a woman appears or disappears. In nature photos, the leaves might turn to green or to autumn red.

It’s a 100-year-old tradition, Brown said, with new tricks. “You can’t go to a library and get a book on how to make it,” he said. So instead he spent a couple of years experimenting with various techniques. He’s been gone from Art on the Square for the past five years, but now he’s back and his booth was crowded with shoppers.

Dan Hamilton is fond of the show, and not only because he appreciates the art. He and Jason Buss own Keil’s Antiques in downtown Belleville, and whatever disruption the fair causes to traffic, it makes up for it with increased attention to his business.

“Every year it increases our personal business, they come back and say, ‘I wish all Main Streets were like this,’” Hamilton said. “It’s a 100 percent positive event... It’s a great event to showcase downtown, the buildings, merchants, the restaurants.”

And Hamilton enjoys the fair on a personal level as well. “There are new vendors I see that have interesting stuff,” he said. “The crowds are good, the weather is beautiful, it’s awesome.”

Downtown Belleville plays host to the annual art show and sale.

Gregory, the event chairwoman, said the first night, on Friday, was “fabulous” for the artists, helped along by $120,000 in pre-sold “Art Cash” certificates.

“Some of our first-timers couldn’t believe it,” Gregory said. “They told me, ‘We have sold more in the first night than the whole weekend at other shows.’”

Last year was rainy as well, Gregory said, but the artists still sold $1.5 million in three days, keeping Art on the Square at the top of the nation’s art shows.

Gregory said crowds did drop a little bit later Friday evening because the temperature dropped very quickly. When the show opened on Friday, everyone was dressed for the high temperatures in shorts and T-shirts, and when it got cooler, some of them had to leave. “I know, I was one of the ones without a sweater,” she said.

Art on the Square requires 40 committee members, $300,000 in donations and fundraising and another $300,000 in in-kind sponsorships, plus the marching legions of volunteers to make it happen, Gregory said. “It’s quite an undertaking,” she said.

Art on the Square continues Saturday until 8 p.m., and will reopen for its final day 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. “Sunday is always our biggest day for sales,” Gregory said.

And the weather? It’s supposed to be 75 degrees and sunny, she said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald