Looking back over his 32 years of participation in the annual Krasl Art Fair, held on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in St. Joseph, Randy Higdon marvels not only in the changes of the fair but also in his own work.
“I’ve seen this with the Krasl Art Fair and other juried shows as well,” says Higdon who lives in Coloma just a few miles northeast of St. Joseph. “There’s more of a look of sophistication in both the art and the booth displays.”
Higdon, a signature member of the American Watercolor Society in New York and also a member of the National Society of Marine Artists and National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, sees this as a natural evolution both of full-time artists and the fairs where they display their works.
“The sophistication comes from artists who main means of income come from marketing and selling their works,” he says. “These street artists are very in tune with their both their crafts and their booth displays. I reflect this as a store that is very nicely put together and makes people want to go in. Booths have become very creative and so have that same feeling.”
The Krasl, which this year will host its 53rd art fair, describes itself as having started off as a “small regional clothesline art fair” into a juried show featuring fine arts and crafts, attracting an estimated 70,000 visitors who come to peruse the works on more than 200 artists from 32 states and three countries. In doing so, the fair has earned Sunshine Artist Magazine’s rating of 12 out of the top 200 fine art and design shows in the country, #32 in Art Fair Source Book and #7 in Art Fair Calendar.
“We have an extensive wait list for artists waiting to get in,” says Sara Shambarger, Director of Art Fairs for the Krasl, noting that the selection process begins in February. “This year 978 people applied for 164 openings.”
Some of the artists who’ve exhibited in previous years such as Higdon are asked back without having to reapply based on an on-site jury scoring measuring how the artist’s booth looks, their presentation and their works.
According to Shambarger, the artists in the show work in 19 different mediums including Sculpture, Watercolors, Wood, Clay-Functional, Clay-No-Functional , Digital Art, Drawing/Pastels, Fibers-Wearable, Fibers-Decorative, Glass, Jewelry-Non-Precious, Jewelry-Precious, Metals, Mixed Media 2D, Mixed Media 3D, Oils, Photography, Acrylics and Printmaking/Graphics.
“When I first started, 90% of my income was coming from street fairs,” says Higdon, noting that he’d see other artists attending the same shows and develop a working relationship with them. “As time goes on, your work gets better. I did the street fairs because I wasn’t ready for the galleries. The art fair marketplace is more established now and more competitive.”
Indeed for those of us who went to early art fairs and overstocked on candles or whatever, now many high ranked art shows are much more focused on quality crafts and arts and sloppily woven macramé plant holders just don’t make it anymore. Ad not only are the artists, their works and their “retail” space more sophisticated, so are other fair offerings.
Over the years, popular additions to the Krasl Art Fair include their Friday Night Kick-off (FNKO) on the Krasl Art Center grounds featuring wine, food, live entertainment and the chance to meet the artists and see their works on display. For the last 12 years, the Krasl has been hosting their annual Smooth Jazz at Sunset concert presented by Krasl Art Center cultural partner 98.3 The Coast at Shadowland Pavilion below the bluff. Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant is also presenting the event. This year, Jessy J, an award-winning saxophonist, pianist, singer and songwriter, is performing. Opening for Jessy J, who is often billed as the Saxophone Siren, is Bryan Lubeck whose 2013 release Tuscan Sky spent 15 weeks on the Smooth Jazz radio charts top 40. During both days, parents can get a break with the Krasl Kids’ Zone which offers a variety of fun activities. There’s also an outdoor food court area called Food cART.
“We’re up-grading food selection with more food trucks,” says Shambarger. “We also have an Artist in Residence Program called HOST where we pair artists with residents who would like to house artists for the weekend. Right now we need more people who have a guest bedroom, guest house etcetera to be willing to house artists.”
New this year, Krasl Bucks are prepaid certificates ($25 each at a minimum of four) to purchase art work and come with such perks as exclusive, convenient parking or private shuttle, a free hot breakfast for two on Saturday morning at Schu’s Grill & Bar, free refreshments. Boulevard Inn library throughout the weekend and a free commemorative Art Fair poster along with a gift bag filled with Krasl items.
Having sat in to observe jurying—the Krasl has an open selection process where any artist and members of the public who wants to watch the process where the work to be judged for selection is displayed on screen—Higdon says that it’s very impressive.
“You can just see what you as an artist are up against,” he says. “It really stands out when all these works on shown on the screen.”
Higdon is much more established as well. A graduate of Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, he first worked in graphic design before getting into fine art. Because he liked to sail and his father-in-law had a sailboat moored in Holland, he and his wife moved here from the Lansing area about 34 years ago.
“I saw street fairs as a way to hone my craft,” says Higdon who describes his paintings as representational. “By that I mean you can identify what I’m painting. I don’t necessarily spell it out but you can recognize it.”
The Krasl was just one of about 13 to 15 shows he did a year in the beginning. Now, he works with interior designers, print publishers, art consultants and art galleries and does only two to three shows a year. But the Krasl remains one of those.
Higdon believes that a major reason the Krasl Art Fair has been such a success is the community support.
“It’s like being embraced by everyone and for that I give kudos to the committees, the community and the volunteers,” he says. “The Krasl couldn’t do the fair without the volunteers and the city supports it with the shuttles and the space. And then you also have all the individual and corporate sponsors which make it a success. Besides that, it’s a very great geographical area right on the bluff overlooking the lake at the peak of summer weather. What’s also important is that compared to other shows, the Krasl is very artist friendly.”