Paint the town

Paint the town

Every year, thousands gather in downtown North Scituate over Columbus Day weekend for the Scituate Art Festival. (Breeze file photo by Charles Lawrence)
In its 51st year, the Scituate Art Festival is set to impress Columbus Day weekend

SCITUATE – Each year, once the trees have turned into autumnal bouquets, North Scituate transforms into a bustling hub for art under the auspices of the Scituate Art Festival.

This annual event began in 1967 as a means of raising funds to restore the 1830s era former Congregational Church, which is located at the center of the festival grounds.

Starting with just 12 local exhibitors that first year, this year's event will attract more than 200 exhibitors from across the United States and Canada, as well as approximately 100,000 visitors over the three-day weekend.

The festival will be up and running Oct. 7-8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. as well as Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sheila Durfee, vice president of the Scituate Art Festival, can recall growing up in the town as a child and visiting the festival in its infancy.

"I can remember walking around the festival as a child when it had no fencing, none of these big tents or signage," Durfee said.

The key to nurturing the festival, Durfee says, is a dedicated group of volunteers, some of which work throughout the year preparing for this fall extravaganza.

"We'll start handing out 2018 applications at this show," Durfee explains. "It's a 12-month cycle, it never stops."

The Scituate Art Festival Committee has approximately 55 members, but that's hardly the final volunteer tally.

The food booths are staffed by volunteers, Navigant Credit Union is offering 20 volunteers this year, and community members help run information booths, too.

"We all have people in our families that get drawn in; friends and neighbors, too," Durfee said.

With the help of devoted leadership and willing volunteers, Durfee says the festival manages to draw a crowd each year.

"It gets better each year and we all improve it to the degree that our time and talent allows."

This year, the Scituate Art Festival has 16 new art exhibitors (11 painters/illustrators, five photographers and one sculptor), 15 new craft exhibitors (including four jewelers and three glass artists) and one new antique vendor.

Liza Abelson, a Pawtucket based glass artist, is among the group of new art exhibitors.

Patrons can expect "lots of color, originality, and designs to uplift spirits" from her booth at the festival. Abelson crafts everything from jewelery to home decor

"I don't think there's been a time when I wasn't 'making.'"

Her creativity is often stoked by the artistic community thriving in the Blackstone Valley. The affordable studio space in Rhode Island's historic mills and the "urban and beachy inspiration at your fingertips" have kept Abelson rooted in New England.

And better yet, Abelson said, "as others migrate here for these same reasons, the art community grows and improves."

Abelson said she's honored to become a part of the Scituate Art Festival community.

"It's a show I've been applying to for years and finally got accepted this year in the craft category," Abelson said. "I know it's a great show and draws people from all over who attend annually to support their favorite artists."

Of course, patrons can still find long-time festival favorites like Gerald Robillard, who has held a booth for approximately 50 years.

"It's actually my first professional show," Robillard said. "It was kind of like, that year was the first year I thought, 'I'm a professional painter.'"

Robillard has been composing acrylic paintings for half a century, depicting a wide variety of landscapes but best known for his nautical work.

"I have customers that have been buying from me for 30 years or more," Robillard said.

Through his conversations with other artists, Robillard has heard that younger generations are more inclined to purchase digital artwork, but he said there's always exceptions.

"I'll have an 8-year-old come in the booth and call to their parents, 'Come here and look at this'" Robillard said.

It's that sense of wonder that he loves to see on patrons' faces.

"They'll just say, 'I've never felt this way about a painting'" he said. "I think that's the ultimate gratification."

In addition to artwork, the festival also includes plenty of food, raffle opportunities, and entertainment.

The food court is comprised of 11 nonprofit groups from Scituate and it is staffed entirely throughout the weekend by volunteers from those groups.

The Rotary Club, for example, will be serving up doughboys and the Potterville Fire Department has got your sweet tooth covered with caramel apple dumplings.

Each booth gives the Scituate Art Festival Committee a 10 percent cut of the net operating profit and keeps the rest.

The festival also holds a raffle of more than 100 art, craft and antique items donated by exhibitors. The raffle is held in the Congregational Church building in the center of the craft section. Tickets can be purchased from 11 a.m. Saturday until 2 p.m. on Monday when the drawing will be held.

The proceeds of the festival will support the continued maintenance of the Congregational Church building and provide grants to a variety of nonprofit organizations within the town.

That is, after organizers pay for permanent electrical fixtures located on the show site, for picnic tables, police vehicles, and other items relating to the festival.

The Scituate Art Festival also funds half the cost of an annual concert, free to the public. This year's concert, featuring The American Band, will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10, at Scituate High School.

In addition to the funds provided to the town itself, Durfee estimates it is upwards of $10,000 most years, Scituate Art Festival Inc. awards grants to a variety of other nonprofit organizations based in town, with this year's total being just under $30,000.

With so much going on, Durfee admits the event can be a bit overwhelming. Her suggestion?

"I always tell people to save their pennies for this and make your list now," she says. "And then you've got something handmade as a gift that's really beautiful."

For more information, visit or facebook/ScituateArtFestival.