Festival Draws National Artists

Festival Draws National Artists

In 1997 Philadelphia sculptor Peter Grimord first applied to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, held in the Reston Town Center. At that time he didn't know anything about Reston. But he came to the show, had a good experience, and has been coming back ever since.

"With some shows the people that come have a certain lethargy, it's sort of perfunctory," Grimord said. "But the people in Reston were very involved and enthusiastic. They wanted it to be their show."

When Grimord first came to the arts festival it was a small, mainly local affair. But in the years since the festival, organized by the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE), has grown.

"Around five or six years ago a conscious decision was made to bring a more national focus to the festival," said Mary Bronson, this year's festival chair.

GRACE started advertising the festival across the country, and it started attracting more attention. This year GRACE received 1,150 show applications, for just 170 artist booths. Sunshine artists magazine rated the festival number eight out of the 200 top outdoor artist festivals in the U.S.

"At the outset we had to beg the artists to come," Bronson said. "Now it is a show that artists all over the country want to be at."

ORGANIZERS EXPECT 60,000 people at this year's festival, which will be held on Saturday and Sunday this coming weekend, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days.

On the fine arts side, exhibitors will be selling oil paintings, acrylic paintings, watercolors, sculptures, original prints and photography. Crafters will be selling jewelry, glass and wood pieces, all hand made.

"Its all original work, we only have original pieces," Bronson said. "And the photographers and printmakers sell limited edition work, hand mounted and signed."

There will also be food vendors, live musicians and a children's area where younger festival-goers can make their own works of art. And even though they may attract long lines and bustling crowds, Grimord said the concession stands do not take away from the overall atmosphere of the festival.

"The entertainment is localized near the food," Grimord said. "That area is a little more chaotic, but that's appropriate. The rest of the show is quiet and it doesn't have that hectic, airport feel."

JOAN MICHLIN and Skip Ennis, a husband and wife team with a fine art jewelry gallery in the Soho section of New York City, will be coming the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival for the first time this year.

"We don't make jewelry store jewelry," Ennis said. "People come to us because it is not jewelry you are going to see at Bloomingdales or Saks."

Each year the couple travels to the top 12 juried craft art shows around the United States. They also visit several smaller local festivals.

"People say, 'I wish we had jewelry like this in Ann Arbor, or Columbus, Ohio,'" Ennis said.

Grimord visits 12 shows a year. He said it is a "weird" life.

"Either you have it in your bones or you don't," Grimord said. "It's not for every kind of artist. You have to desire to be one on one with the public instead of going through an art dealer."

Grimord used to work with art dealers, but eventually he decided to get rid of them.

"I prefer to do my own front work, to explain my art to people myself," Grimord said.

He said most of his sculptures display the same physical properties that are present in bridges: Weight, balance, tension and compression. In Grimord's structures, though, those physical properties are more visually obvious than in most bridges.

"You can touch them and they move," Grimord said. "But they're not about that kind of playfulness. They're modernist sculptures more than interactive sculptures."

Most of Grimord's work is commissioned by customers he meets at art festivals each year. Bronson said there will be many artists in the festival like Grimord.

"For these artists, a lot of them, this is what they do," Bronson said. "They come here, do the festival, then pack up and do another festival the next weekend. They really become nomadic during the summer months."