Sunday, March 9, 2014

The bright side and the dark side of doing out-door art shows in Arizona

 I feel so lucky that I was able to make my two passions into working carriers. I studied biology and pursued that education through masters and Ph.D. Research and teaching positions took me to many different countries in Europe, New Zealand and the US. Right now Mexico and Central America are my great love. Parallel to being a biologist, I built my business as a watercolor painter. I could not imagine to live without this outlet for my creativity, and nowadays the income from my art allows me the freedom to follow my own interests in the scientific field. So I was able to shift from the rigors of  research in physiology and teaching medical school to the pleasure of doing mostly field work in entomology.
Arizona proved to be the ideal place to sell my kind of art and happens to be in the heart of one of the riches areas of biodiversity on the globe. Luckily, my husband who grew up in California shares my love for the desert and was happy to move here. We bought enough land to have our own little nature preserve, allowing us a very intimate association with the Sonoran Desert and a house with ample studio space (at least we thought so at the time). Today my continued interest in insect macro photography is at the basis of most of my studies and even some of my art, and I am hoping that one day the result will be an illustrated field guide to Arizona's beetles and bugs. 

I was surprised how much I enjoy selling my work at open-air shows. I love the contact with people who are drawn to my paintings. I actually managed to change from a shy introvert into a rather out-going person. Nothing is a good for your ego as a constant stream of happy art show visitors! And of course it doesn't hurt when their appreciation results in sales. We are a materialistic society, and  when people spend their hard earned money on my work it is a validation of my art that I appreciate far beyond the monetary income. I know. I could also try to compete in national shows for ribbons and prizes awarded by educated jurors. But I like the popular vote for now.

The art shows take me to very pleasant parts of southern and central Arizona and even though they can be physically exhausting, there are worse ways to spend a weekend. Another reason that my two careers work out well together is that the show season in southern and central Arizona lasts from October to April. Insect activity slows down even in Arizona during this period, except for a few winter active sand dune specialists in the Yuma area. I usually find some time to spend with them, too. Shows are just weekend affairs. While my small business can be very time consuming, it allows me to freely manage most of it.
A few select summer shows provide me with a good reason to get out of the heat and into the higher elevation breeding grounds of some very interesting insect species on the Colorado Plateau, so that works just fine, too. I have also found that is great to combine these shows with presentations and field tours for naturalists. So nature festivals have become another fun venue.

A big factor in all out-door shows is the weather. I began participating in tent shows in the mid nineties. Back then the winter rains were a reliable problem that forced me to upgrade my tent to industrial strength and weather-proof every aspect of my set up. We tried space heaters, spot lights, clear front walls to be closed when the rain blew in ... Even big shows in Tempe were apt to close down when Sky Harbor airport reported snowfall.
 But over the last years, the climate has changed markedly. Excessive heat can be a problem even in February. Winter rains have become so rare that they usually don't hit the shows. If they do, everyone is so happy to get rain that we aren't even sorry to see fewer customers. Professionally organized shows with seasoned participants hardly ever close down anymore.

But one problem is becoming more prevalent: strong winds. Arizona does not get hurricanes or tornadoes (although there are reports of touch downs of funnel clouds ever now and then) but there are some shows that are gaining a reputation for too much dust, blown-over tents, and lost inventory. Although my tent is stronger and heavier than most, I tend to avoid those locations. But sometimes strong sales reports can make even those shows tempting. I don't gamble. I get my thrills testing my luck at those shows. So I booked the SAACA art festivl in March 2014.  On Saturday I enjoyed the busy location and the gorgeous  view of Push Ridge in the Catalina Mountains. A couple of tents of blew over in wind gusts, but they were unsecured and lightly built.
In the evening I tightened up especially well and drove home had dinner and went to sleep.(March 8, 2014)

 The US National Weather Service published this on March 9, 2014

"Very localized but strong east winds of about 45 to 50 MPH caused damage to numerous tents setup for the Oro Valley Spring Festival of the Arts at the Oro Valley Marketplace late Saturday night into early Sunday morning. Expect gusty east ...winds to continue today, especially this morning. What is very interesting about this event is that some areas usually sheltered from strong east winds by the Catalina Mountains such as Oro Valley did see the strong winds this time. The meteorological mechanism for the east winds was different than usual as low pressure moved from north to south helping to enhance the easterly winds."
The picture of damage at the Oro Valley Marketplace was taken by an off duty NWS meteorologist at about 12:30 AM Sunday morning. I feel this is fair use it because I provided part of the subject....
 Randy and I drove out to Oro Valley at 2:30 am because the wind was howling terribly at our house (about 40 mi west of the show). When we got there, more than half the tents were down, some in the road... my own tent, a 'Trimline' was just fine when we arrived, but while we were still wondering what to do, a gust picked up another tent three spaces away, a very heavy 'Crafthut' including wall panels with glassed paintings and weights attached and rolled the whole package on top of my neighbor's tent and mine. Framed paintings went flying and hit my van (I ducked behind it) and my front tent wall was sliced open. We got the upside down booth off my tent which stood still upright. In a break between gusts we were able to pack all my artwork ranging from big framed paintings to greeting cards as carefully as always. To gain time to do this, I let the tent roof fly lose rather than letting the wind rip it off. With this decrease in wind resistance we could break down and load the tent also without further damage. So I'm fine, my inventory is too, my van has some new battle scars, one tent wall needs fixing or replacing. I am just glad that it happened at a show close to home so Randy could help. 
Now it's 2 weeks until the next show at 4th Avenue in Tucson. 

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