Published: August 16, 2022
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
SOUTH NORWALK, CONN. – August, they say, is the best month for tomatoes in New England. The same might be said for outdoor arts festivals. Sure, it’s hot and sticky, prone to sudden thunderstorms and many potential buyers may have decamped to the beaches. For the Sono Arts Festival, however, a nearly 50-year-old tradition, the urban pavement in the environs of historic South Norwalk’s Washington Street, is an invitation to a quirky and fun outing for families and art hounds. This year’s edition of the nonprofit celebration took place on August 6 and 7, wrangled by the capable duo of Sue Brown Gordon and David Gordon, owners of Gordon Fine Arts Gallery.
The festival, which went on a short hiatus a few years ago, has been retooled by Brown Gordon and again enjoys a reputation as one of the best regional juried events, with more than 100 artists set up in sidewalk booths in the streets fanning out from the South Norwalk Railroad Bridge, an 1895 metal structure that carries the four sets of Metro-North railroad tracks across the usually busy intersection of Main Street and Washington Street. Best of all, the festival is free, with food and beverage courts as well as a stage featuring a nonstop lineup of live music.
Art, of course, is the main attraction with local artists showcasing a variety of media from painted wood, bespoke fashions, metal sculpture and leather to paper arts, glass, ceramics, jewelry, photography and more. And, offering a refreshing break from scrolling online through a website, artists here are happy to engage with shoppers and talk about how they create their art, which of course is affordably available for sale.
That was clearly the case at one booth where graffiti artist “Equip” was consummating the sale of “Biggie,” a dry wall, stencil and spray paint image of the late rap star, to fellow artist “ASEC,” who was networking at the show. “Equip” said he loves graffiti art and has been drawn to it for two decades, focusing for the most part on subjects involving portraits of musical or pop culture legends. For his part, “ASEC” said he was hoping to get into the show next year and found it valuable to talk with exhibiting artists. Eschewing business cards, “Equip” instead hung a large QR code image at the entrance to his booth, which when scanned by one’s smartphone camera takes you to his website.
Want to connect with humanists? There was an impromptu meeting of Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County at one booth where member George Unser described the group as a non-religious but a “warm, welcoming and supportive community of thoughtful people.” They meet in person or via Zoom, offering programs, events and activities of interest to like-minded people. A brochure that they handed out said that they seek to, among other things, “promote critical thinking, the separation of government and religion and standing up for humanist values.”
In 2019, the Garavel Auto Group became a presenting sponsor, allowing the festival to remain a free admission event. Supervising an interactive feature at the show this year was the company’s Steve Goom, a salesman at Subaru. A Ram cargo van parked on the street became a canvas for showgoers to express themselves by applying a washable paint to the formerly white car. Goom explained that this particular car had been painted many times before and once cleaned serves as a parts delivery vehicle.
Jewelry is a mainstay of street markets, and one such enterprise was managed by Weston, Conn., dealer Mikhail Zakhalov, co-owner of Ornatem, specializing in handmade jewelry featuring semiprecious stones. He said this was the first year he has participated at the arts festival and he mainly sells wholesale to upscale jewelry retailers and department stores throughout the United States. He has won many prestigious awards for jewelry design from the jewelry trade magazines and from the industry itself.
Photography is another festival draw, and among several lens artists represented here was David Mangels of Four Crows Photography, Acton, Mass., a full-time landscape photographer. On his website Mangels writes, “My work celebrates the edges of the natural world and the beauty of impermanence. Craft and vision are honed to capture moments of simple splendor through light, color, lines, texture.” When he’s not hiking around New England, Mangels finds inspiration among America’s favorite natural landmarks, such as Zion National Park in Utah, where he captured “Chokestone,” a stunning canyoneering route, using a long shutter speed to give the river a dynamic, flowing effect.
Also displaying large-scale photographs was Jo Briggs of New Canaan, Conn., whose fascination with light and water became a basis for a new series called “The Flow,” fully blossoming flowers become the main subject.
Born in Taiwan, John Cheng, a mixed media artist from Coram, N.Y., said he’s been painting his whole life. He received his first award from Taiwan’s Provincial Children’s Exhibition at the age of 10, and is equally versed in Western and Oriental techniques. Subjects range from sylphlike mermaids to children with exotic animals, street strollers and more in a style that blends realism and abstraction.
An interesting booth not to be missed was that of Clare and Corey Panno, South Salem, N.Y., artists whose Raven Tree Works offers unique boxes of exotic woods for gift-giving or keeping as well as wall art doors that tell stories. Clare Panno uses patinated copper pieces, inlaid into stained birch to create front doors that open to reveal inner doors wherein one might find a secret panel, documents, treasured photos, special memories or a protection charm.
There were many additional crafts on offer from ceramics to turned wooden bowls and vases, fashion, textile art and more. And, it goes without saying that a street festival would not be complete without a live music stage, with numerous bands throughout the weekend keeping the street beat lively.
There were children’s activities and a children’s art playground, as well as the event’s culminating highlight – the giant puppet parade on Sunday at 2 pm featuring more than 100 puppets of various sizes and masked or body-painted marchers.
For more information, visit www.sonoartsfest.org or call 518-852-6478.
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