Umbrellas and parasols were as plentiful as sunglasses and sandals as the annual Westport Fine Arts Festival was enveloped in sweltering heat and humidity for its 40th year Saturday and Sunday.
Despite the oppressive weather, people turned out in large numbers to the riverside "gallery" on Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island that featured 145 juried artists. The event was organized by the Downtown Merchants Association.
The festival, despite a wide range of arts shown by professional artists, offered a host of other activities.
Lila Greifenberger, 5, of Westport and her mother Ally made colorful pipe cleaner and foam sheet art designs. Lauren Wolfe of Westport and her 11-month-old daughter Quinn drew with chalk on a cardboard building.
Nina Bentley and Terry Tannen, both of Westport, admired the talents of the artists as they peered from under the protection of parasols. Shelley Strohm of Bridgeport also had a parasol. "I don't like the sun,but I'm not a hat person. This gives me way more shade. I don't know why they went out of fashion," ahe said.
People also snacked on watermelon and Italian ices to help keep cool.
The artists devised creative ways to keep cool as they held forth for hours at the sweltering downtown venue.
Painter Julia Gilmore of Toronto, Canada, recited her mantra throughout the day, "Think winter." One artist placed an ice pack on her shoulders. Andreas Senie of Fairfield spent the morning trying to get a battery-operated fan for his mother Janine Schmidt's booth. Jeweler Debra Bet of New Jersey almost continuously waved a manual fan to create a breeze.
Watercolorist Linda Cromer of Manhattan wore shorts. "I don't normally wear shorts. You do what you have to," she said, adding that she was grateful for the light breeze from the Saugatuck River.
John DeAmicis, a print-maker from Milltown, N.J., found a "piece of shade and I'm staying put." His wife Lynn DeAmicis used a small hand-held fan that also sprayed a mist of water to cool off herself as well as customers who visited her husband's booth.
Others simply dealt with the heat. "Hot is hot. Heat is heat. There's no getting around it. You can't beat Mother Nature. She'll always win," said Tracy Hambley of Southbury, a mixed-media artist. "It's not as awful as I thought it would be. There is a breeze (off the river) and that makes all the difference in the world."
"We're reminding each other to drink and stay in the shade. We've learned to follow the basics: drink a lot, stay in the shade, slow down a bit and most of all be happy," said painter Tim Shanley of East Stroudsburg, Pa.
"It is warm but we get breaks and you just have to be mindful and drink a lot of water," said Justin Schuman, of New York City, a performance artist who channeled artist Vincent Van Gogh throughout the day.
Lee DeMonico, communications director for the Downtown Merchants Association, said most of the artists are used to dealing with hot summer temperatures. "This is their livelihood. They're used to this," she said.
The heat was not the only issue. Organizers stayed in touch with fire officials throughout the day as they monitored weather conditions. The festival operates rain or shine but severe thunderstorms were part of the forecast both days, and Cathy Colgan, the events producer for the DMA, said the festival would be interrupted in case lightning or heavy winds struck.
Painter Cheryl Davis of Canton came prepared for any contingency. She used zip ties to secure the walls of her booth in case of wind, and had clear shower curtains on hand to protect her paintings if it only rained so that patrons could still view her beach-themed and floral oil paintings.
For more information about the Downtown Merchants Association, visit www.westportdma.com