Floyd County Plein Air Festival

Artists at work during the first Floyd Plein Air Biennial in 2017.

Travelers in Floyd County through next week might happen across flocks of artists applying paint to canvas.

If the sight makes you curious, the organizers of the Floyd Plein Air Biennial festival say that it’s OK to stop and chat with the assembled painters about what they’re up to.

“People should feel free to stop and say hello,” said Martha Sullivan, the Floyd Center for the Arts board member who is overseeing the festival.

Founded in 2017 by artist Joli Ayn Wood, the biennial festival functions as a fundraising event for the art center. “The 2017 event was highly successful,” wrote Floyd Center Executive Director Jeff Liverman.

At the end of the first festival, the participating artists produced about 250 paintings for display and sale at the concluding gala. “The artists sold over $20,000 of paintings,” Liverman wrote.

At the upcoming gala Aug. 17 in the Floyd Center’s Hayloft Gallery, he expects the center to have more than 300 fresh works to offer.

“We’ve invited regional artists from Boston to Georgia,” said Sullivan, a Virginia Tech industrial design professor who serves as development committee chairwoman for the art center.

Plein air specifically refers to the act of painting outdoors. Working with a committee of artists, the staff of the Floyd Center for the Arts selected 31 artists who specialize in outdoor compositions to participate in the festival. “The first jurying process helps us pick a range of artists and styles,” Sullivan said.

As the festival proceeds, the platoon of artists will be setting up their easels at scenic places all over Floyd County and cranking out newly painted work. “Monday through Friday, we have special locations picked out for them,” Sullivan said. “On Monday they’ll all go to Apple Ridge Farm. On Tuesday they’ll all be up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Wednesday they’ll all be out at the Chateau Morrisette. Thursday they’re going to the EcoVillage, and on Friday they can paint anywhere in the town of Floyd.”

The artists have opportunities to win prize money in recognition of stellar work throughout the week. Also, the festival will hold a “quick draw” contest from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 16, roughly coinciding with the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store. “They have three hours to make a composition, and all the work from that one three hour period will be judged,” Sullivan said. “Someone will win a cash prize for that.”

The winners will be announced at a public gala that takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 17 in the Floyd Center for the Art’s Hayloft Gallery. The grand prize, sponsored by Clark Gas and Oil, is valued at $1,000.

Fincastle artist Brett LaGue, who has won many plein air awards, will act as judge for the festival, choosing the prize winners and curating the paintings that go in the post-festival exhibition. After the festival ends, “We’ll have a two-month long exhibition of the work that’s created during the week,” Sullivan said.

The center is selling tickets to specific events that will allow patrons to mingle with the artists.

Joining in the wine tasting to be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at Chateau Morrisette costs $20. LaGue will give a demo during the wine tasting on plein air painting techniques.

A $60 farm-to-table dinner, prepared by executive chef Robert Obst of The Farmhouse in Christiansburg, will be served from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Floyd EcoVillage. The dinner features a wet painting sale — meaning the work will be so new the paint won’t be dry — and a presentation by the Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program at Carilion Clinic.

A $100 patron ticket covers the wine tasting, the dinner, coffee from a travelling Red Rooster stand that will follow the artists Tuesday along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and admission to a private pre-gala reception from 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at the art center where early bird collectors can purchase paintings.

For more information, call (540) 745-2784, email info@floydartcenter.org or visit floydartcenter.org/plein-air.

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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