While scanning a handy guide provided by a far-too-perky volunteer, I took a grumpy swing through the tented camp of 100 artists next to the Deschutes across from the Old Mill. You could hear the cries of quiet desperation in the pleading eyes of the artists hunkered and hovering in their cave-like booths. "Please stop." "Please buy." "Is not my art good?" "Am I not worthy?" "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" OK, the sun or the morning shot of rum was getting to me. I decided to retreat across the bridge to the Lubbesmeyer Gallery. The twins, Lori and Lisa, are the only artists on the board of Art in the High Desert not in the show. With a gallery so close, they didn't have much need to be schlepping their collaborations into the late summer heat. Lori was one of the jurors, and I talked to her and Lisa in the cool of their gallery/studio.
"The screening process was tiring," said Lori. "Over 300 artists applied, and they were all excellent. Making considered choices was difficult."
I asked if it was also difficult getting the right proportional mix of painters, photographers, sculptors, etc. Lisa said they were lucky that it worked out just right without manipulation or hard decisions. When I pointed out one curious selection of hand-crafted garden tools, Lori defended this by reminding me that there has been a long tradition of individual tool craftsmanship that could be considered functional art. She looked at me as if I were there when the first tool was made on the African savannah. To be fair, the garden tools were from Montana, so that's probably as close to art as it gets there.
I wanted to find out the story behind these road warriors of the art world and concentrated on Greg Gawlowski (www.fourseasonspress.com) who has been a professional photographer for twenty years, the last nine traveling 25,000 miles a year from art show to street fair across the country. Greg let me sit in the shade of his umbrella as I tossed out leading questions between the ebb and flow of potential customers.
Greg began his story, "I did six art shows my first year and will end up doing 18 shows this year. The season basically runs from March into October. With Christmas holiday shows and winter festivals in Florida, a masochist could be on the road all year.
"In a typical year, you hope for some profit in six out of 10 shows with half of those big money-makers. Unfortunately, these last few years have been far from typical. As sales sink with the U.S. economy, artists are forced into more "B-grade" shows and street fairs where the odds of losing money are greater. And getting into the top shows is like a lottery. I apply to over 70 a year and get accepted into about 20.
"It's not unusual to lose a few hundred dollars worth of merchandise to damage in transit or to weather. Last year, a tornado in Austin took out my booth and $8000 worth of art and supplies. I had nothing to sell. The promoter even refused to refund a penny of the booth fees, almost $1000.
"Once a guy picked my brain for ten minutes about cameras, film used, printing technique-everything. His girlfriend showed him a photo and said, 'I love it. I think I'll get it.' He replied, 'Personally, I'd never hang any photographic art in MY house.' She didn't buy it. I wanted to stab him in the neck.
"It's tough. But as long as I can make the mortgage, I'll be out again next March and back here in Bend, if they'll have me. One constant on the road-no guarantees."