SIghts and sounds from this year's Artscape, America's largest free arts festivals. (Michael Ares / Baltimore Sun)
At midday Saturday, it was 90 degrees and humid, typical for mid-July in Baltimore, but that did not discourage Nance Sturm from trying to sell her hand-crafted alpaca sweaters at Artscape.
Or alpaca blankets. Or alpaca winter hats.
She had socks for sale, too, men's and women's. And splendid scarves. All made from the soft fibers from the alpacas she raises on her farm in Snellville, Ga., about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta.
They might have been a tough sell on a steamy summer day. Many of Sturm's prospective customers were sweating and fanning themselves as they walked along North Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, many of them trying to stay cool with iced beverages. But she was happy to get a booth in the artists' market along Mount Royal and take her chances.
It was Sturm's first trip to Artscape, the annual festival of the arts in midtown Baltimore.
"It's one of the hardest festivals [for an artist] to get into," she said. "I'll tell you one thing, the people here have to be some of the nicest people I've met anywhere. They've all been so very helpful."
And some even bought a few of Sturm's alpaca products.
In the next vendor station, Sidney Carter sat in a director's chair and pecked at a cup of strawberry-flavored Italian ice as festival-goers examined his paintings of women picking flowers, guitarists plucking at strings, and ensembles of jazz musicians.
Carter, also from Georgia, was also pleased to get a post at Artscape. Getting selected for the artists' market is a big deal because it's competitive. Each year, entries are juried, and artists and artisans in a wide array of media — wood, metal, wearable art, photography, jewelry, glass, clay and fiber — selected for Artscape. The entries come from all over the United States, though the majority of the artists are from the East Coast.
"There's a lot of artists in this world, you know," Carter said. "This is one of the top shows in the nation. This is my second year back at Artscape after 10 years. Ten years ago, I won first prize [in painting], but I wasn't able to get back in until last year. And I did very well last year."
Carter is a 53-year-old self-taught artist who won his first competition when he was just 13 with a sketch of a tearful African girl. He's been a professional artist for a couple of decades, with a studio in Powder Springs, Ga., about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. His paintings have rich colors and sharp geometry, Carter's own brand of cubism.
As established as he is, Carter does not take entry in art shows for granted. If he wasn't selected for Artscape, he might have ended up at another fair, in Ann Arbor, Mich. He applied for an exhibition in both.
"I do about 30 of these shows a year," he said. "Next week, I'm going to one in Detroit. It pays the bills, you know. This my livelihood. I still have two sons in college."
Now in its 36th year, Artscape, which runs through Sunday, provides exhibition space for 140 artists like Sturm and Carter. More than twice that number apply to be in the artists' market each year, according to Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotions.
Between 2 p.m. and 3 pm,. the Baltimore Office of Emergency Management, concerned about possible lightning from a passing thunderstorm, issued a warning for Artscape exhibitors, vendors and patrons to take shelter. Baskerville said the order lasted about 45 minutes. Festival-goers ducked into buildings at the University of Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, Penn Station and Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.