Steve Desloge, owner of Rockwell Art & Framing and this year's Westport Fine Arts Festival chairman, recently reminisced about his first visit to the festival, now in its 37th year.

"It was five years ago. I wandered down Main Street, thoroughly enjoying the diversity of art and marveling at the fact that so many artists travelled such long distances to be part of the event. As someone in the gallery business, I was impressed that this was all original art, no reproductions or any crafts. And it was really good," he said.

Desloge remains excited about this event produced by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association in conjunction with the Westport Arts Center. He commented on the goal of maintaining tradition while keeping the event fresh.

"Our group of dedicated organizers and professional jury work hard to maintain the caliber of the show; we know what people expect, but we can't rest on past laurels, so we look for new ways to keep the event vibrant."

One of the changes was relocating the show to the riverfront. "What a great move," Desloge exclaimed. "The show is now more spread out, has a beautiful setting and visitors can stroll the riverfront, all the way through Gorham Island and leisurely enjoy 140 or so booths, chat with the artists and purchase fine art at a reasonable price."

In keeping with tradition and excellence, the jury of respected art professionals has invited back last year's first place winner in the painting category, Ning Lee. Lee is a contemporary realist who paints still-life as well as landscapes. Concentrating on light and shadow, she crafts each painting with careful attention to detail while keeping focus on more intangible elements such as harmony and serenity.

The simple objects that are often seen in daily life inspire his artwork. To create a unique composition, he concentrates on the set-up and explores various combinations of objects and light and shade. He has received numerous awards and grants and his public collections can be seen in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan and China.

Photographer David Rowell is coming to the Fine Arts Festival for the first time from Saint Petersburg, Fla. For Rowell, photography is a representation of an experience -- not a record of it. His camera lens provides a window of selective vision that captures light and time as seen through his own subjective interpretation. Through the use of various blur techniques: time exposure, camera movement, selective focus, etc.,

Rowell's current series presents minimalistic, somewhat abstract images of the seacoast that have been described as "serene" and infinite." His award-winning fine art photography has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the United States.

But art is not just for adults, so educators from the Westport Arts Center will be back again, with something new. The little ones will be taken on a trip to "The Emerald City," inspired by L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Children will be able to create tie-dye rainbows, tin-men made out of "found" objects, good (or evil!) witch hats, three-dimensional collage lollipops, and "characters of a different color," inspired by the works of Andy Warhol. Children of all ages are welcome to come and create... to find the Westport Arts Center at the festival, follow the yellow brick road!

There is more than art at this show; visitors can enjoy unique entertainment placed throughout the show this year -- rather than on a single stage -- and the food offerings will be expanded with items from several local restaurants.

Visitors wanting to spend even more time experiencing some of the best that downtown Westport has to offer can take a little walk from the festival to Jesup Green, where the Westport Library will be holding its annual book sale. There will be approximately 80,000 items for sale and festival patrons can especially appreciate the wide selection of art and photography books. Children, inspired by their time in the "Emerald City" can visit the children's book tent where they might discover a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to take home.

This year's Westport Fine Arts Festival will take place Saturday, July 17, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, July 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. For more information, visit www.westportfineartsfestival.com.