BETHEL — Despite Tropical Storm Arthur’s winds knocking over displays and exhibit canopies, Saturday’s 25th annual Bethel Art Fair was attracting sizable crowds.

Many people were buying art being sold by 51 exhibitors of paintings, photography and artisanship. This is also the first year the event, held by the Mahoosuc Arts Council on the Bethel Common, will also be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“This is the 25th annual Bethel Art Fair, and we’re really excited that this year we’ve expanded to two days,” Aranka Matolcsy, executive director of the Mahoosuc Arts Council, said Saturday afternoon.

“So we have 51 exhibitors here today, and we’ll have 36 exhibitors here tomorrow and a full day of live entertainment and fireworks at dark,” she said. “There’s some really talented artists here.”

The fireworks were supposed to be held on Saturday night behind The Bethel Inn & Country Club, but they were rescheduled to Sunday evening at the same venue, she said.

Sunday’s live entertainment features a Punch & Judy Show, Brad Hooper, Mary the Ukelady, Doug Alford, Just Us Two, Rijah Newell and Terry Swett.

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“And we’re thrilled to see that the crowds are increased over last year, despite the weather, and we’re really excited and encourage everyone to come out,” she said. “The crowd has been great today — it really has.”

Arthur’s rain stopped shortly before the event began, much to the delight of Matolcsy and several exhibitors.

“It was raining really hard this morning when I got up, and I prayed to the universe that it would stop and it did,” she said.

Matolcsy said people were buying art on Saturday, which was a good sign that the economy is turning around.

“It seems as though there are more bags leaving the venue and artists are reporting that their sales are getting a little bit better,” she said. “That’s really encouraging. I think the other thing that’s analogous to the discretionary art income increasing is that we have new exhibitors entering the circuit that have the income to be able to invest in their exhibits and their materials.

“So I’m hoping that, overall, that is an indicator that the economy has picked up and that a higher portion of discretionary income is being dedicated to the arts,” she said.

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Exhibitors Nancy and Gary Swinton of Wood We? in Durham and Amanda Shean and her husband, Joshua, of Two Askew in Brunswick had two side-by-side canopies, selling their wood-turning and wood-scroll saw art. Gary Swinton also had another canopy, under which he was selling his photography.

Nancy Swinton said the crowd had been good but the wind, not so much. She and Amanda Shean and Anita Shean of Brunswick were busy holding onto their canopy framework, acting as anchors in between making sales.

“It’s been rough,” Swinton said. “This wind is something else. It blew one of my displays over. The crowd has not been bad, but it started out slow because of the weather. It wasn’t that great this morning. Hopefully, there’s no wind tomorrow.”

Swinton said she and her husband have been coming to the fair for about eight years.

“Some years, it’s been wicked hot and we’ve roasted here,” she said. “I’ll deal with the heat, I’ll deal with the wind — but I hate the rain. It’s not raining and I’m praising the Lord for that.”

Swinton and Amanda Shean said they work with lots of cherry wood and primarily hardwood. They find uses for cast-off wood, giving it another life, Shean said.

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“It’s a tough way to make a living,” Swinton said.

Natalie Reed of Mexico was in a booth without a canopy, some of her life’s work laying on a tarp behind her and hanging over wooden racks. She is a rug braider who taught many people in the River Valley area how to create the braided rugs.

“This is my third year coming over here,” Reed said. “But I’ve only sold one rug and one chair set, so it’s not very busy. Of course, everybody in Maine can make their own, you know.”

When a woman asked Reed how she kept the braids together, Reed stopped what she was doing and showed her how she stitches them.

“This is my 736th rug,” Reed said. “I’ve only been doing them since 1961, and I name and number every one. It’s hard work, but when you get done, you’ve got something to show for it.”

This year’s featured artist is Lauren Head, a member of the Mahoosuc Arts Council for more than 12 years. Her art is on display in Owen Gallery on High Street at Gould Academy from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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For 28 years, Head has taught art at Gould Academy, including blacksmithing, metal design, sculpture, freshman-sophomore art and design.

“She has made such an impact in this community,” Matolcsy said of Head.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

Winners of the Mahoosuc Arts Council’s Bethel Art Fair competition on Saturday were:

* Best of Show painting: Carol Kutz of ShadowPlay ArtWorks of Bangor.

* Second Place painting: Roland Simard of R. Simard Paper.

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* Third Place painting: Kathleen Perelka of Pinnacle Studio of Canaan.

* Honorable Mention painting: Lori Austill of Works On Plaster of Portland.

* Best of Show photography: Gary Swinton of Gary Swinton Photography of Durham.

* Second Place photography: Johnna Haskell of Johnna Haskell Photos of Carrabassett Valley.

* Third Place photography: Valerie Hill of Photo-Sensitivity of Whitefield, N.H.

* Honorable Mention photography: Scott Perry of Scott Perry Photography of Farmington.

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* Best of Show artisan: John Rosen of John’s Custom Rustics.

* Second Place artisan: Beth Bean of Sunday River Gems.

* Third Place artisan: Eileen Laperle of Eileen’s Handwoven Baskets of Farmington.

* Honorable Mention artisan: Nancy Shaul of Westport Island Pottery of Westport Island.


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