RED WING – Imagine painters situated along the Seine in Paris and transport them to the banks and bluffs of the beautiful Mississippi and you’ll get Red Wing Arts Plein Air, one of the only public arts events happening this summer.

The Red Wing Arts Plein Air features 43 artists who have had two and a half weeks (June 5-23) to complete three paintings, which will be judged for cash prizes totaling over $2,700. The paintings will be exhibited at the Red Wing Arts Depot Gallery beginning Saturday, June 27.

Red Wing Arts Plein Air activities offer a rare opportunity to view visual artists “in action” and to purchase original scenic artwork of the area.

Red Wing offers numerous beautiful sites to paint. Unlike some plein air events, artists choose their locations rather than being assigned. They are provided a map with suggestions but are free to find their scenes or sites. Red Wing Arts asks artists to stay in Red Wing or on the shores of the Mississippi/Lake Pepin (either the Minnesota or Wisconsin side).

Joshua Cunningham, a nationally awarded plein air artist, said of the Red Wing event:

“The Red Wing Plein Air event is about this place. Since this event started, over a thousand paintings have been created of Red Wing and the surrounding area. That’s not common, but neither is Red Wing. For landscape painters this place is special. Whether we are painting down by the Mississippi River, back in a valley around Hay Creek, on the sidewalk in the beautiful downtown or from the top of Barn Bluff, this place challenges and inspires us. Rarely has a day of painting passed that hasn’t included encouragement and support from those who come across us while painting. This year’s event was saved from being canceled by COVID-19 through the creativity, gumption and good humor of Red Wings Arts Executive Director Emily Guida Foos, daughter of Dan Guida, who got the event going.”

The plein air event has been a core program of Red Wing Arts for 14 years, ever since a volunteer brought the idea back from Hawaii to then Guida. Many of the artists who participated in the first year still participate today.

“This year, more so than ever, we need to see beauty and creativity in our world. Plein air art brings joy, inspiration, a sense of pride in our place and a shared neutral dialogue," Foos said.

“The event is special,” Foos continued. “The artists are part of the Red Wing Arts family. plein air was my dad’s pride and joy. All it takes is a few minutes watching an artist paint the scene in front of them to appreciate the skill. It looks so easy, like it just happens. The plein air artists endure rain, heat, wind and wildlife. The Red Wing community has embraced this event. Plein air takes art out of a gallery and onto sidewalks, parks, bluffs and riverbanks for passersby to admire. It means a lot to the entire area.”

Rene Ellis, Red Wing Arts Plein Air painter and vice president of the Lake Country Pastel Society said, “It also means a lot to the artists. The arts and artists have been one of the hardest hit industries by COVID-19. This event for many was the first time artists have been inspired to paint since the pandemic. Although painting is a fairly solo activity, plein air artists are a close-knit group. Red Wing Arts has allowed us (to) connect with other artists friends and be motivated to create again.”

Due to COVID-19, this year’s event is structured to allow for physical distancing while still making connections to others and to the community. Red Wing Arts has pivoted the event in many ways. Typically, the event runs for five days, artists are hosted by our community and a large awards gala and opening reception are held. Instead of five days, artists have had two and a half weeks to create their three pieces. Virtual meetings have taken the place of in-person introductions. And awards will be presented via Zoom on Friday, June 26.

The art will be for sale in the gallery and on the Red Wing Arts website. Additionally, there will be a virtual gallery exhibit. The Depot Gallery will be open with limited hours and restrictions. Art appreciators will have the option to purchase a first glimpse ticket to see the exhibit prior to the public opening on June 27.

This year’s plein air event features Red Wing Arts largest group of artists. Artists have been able to spend multiple days on a single piece resulting in a higher quality end products, the association said. Positioning the event virtually and on social media expands the audience base and potentially introduces more individuals to the event and to the art form.

This year’s plein air judge and local artist Dan Wiemer said, "Plein air painting builds a visual awareness. It opens your senses and teaches you how to truly see. You begin to see the play of light and shadows, versus just things. It will be an exciting challenge to judge so many quality paintings."

Artists participating in Red Wing Arts Plein Air have come from around the region, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, St. Paul and northern Minnesota. Many have won awards locally and nationally including Wiemer, Derek Davis, Joshua Cunningham, Philip Carlton, Ivan Zassavitski, Hanna Heyer, Susan McLean-Keeney, Christopher Copeland and Lisa Stauffer.

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