North Conway’s Art in the Park Celebrates 50 Years
This year’s 50th anniversary event will be on August 6 and 7, at Schouler Park, beginning at 10 a.m. on both days.
(The header photo above, provided by The Mountain Ear archives shows a scene from the 8th annual North Conway Art Festival, which moved back to Schouler Park after a two-year stay at Mt. Cranmore. Over 100 artists turned out for the 1980 event)
The history of artists coming from all over the country to paint the majestic mountains of Mt. Washington Valley is well known to many. In the 1850s, North Conway had become the first artist colony in the U.S. Names like Thomas Cole, Benjamin Shapleigh, Frank Champney, and many more traveled east to paint the mountains, lakes, rivers, and landscapes of the region before setting off to paint other locations in New England and then on to California.
Current board of directors and members of The Mt. Washington Valley Arts Association (MWVAA) have been scouring libraries, newspapers, and websites to find when Art in the Park truly began—and this year is considered the 50th year.
This article could go on and on about the White Mountain Artists of old, but we need to move ahead to the 1960s to get the answer to the question: when was the first Art in the Park? To be clear, it was 1972, but let’s have a look at how this non-profit organization came to celebrate its anniversary in 2022.
In the 1960s, a small group of artists took action to support their beliefs that a vibrant art community was integral to the well-being of the Mt. Washington Valley. They acknowledged the historical importance of the White Mountain School of Art that brought together artists to express the beauty of the Valley and its surrounding mountains. The first show under a tent was organized by Joan Sherman, with help from the North Conway Chamber of Commerce on the grounds of the Eastern Slope Inn Resort, and it was open to professional artists only. That collection included Marge Kendrick, Nan White, David Baker, and Sally Beal, among other names familiar to folks who lived in the Valley during those years.
The actual organization known as The Mt. Washington Arts Association was formed in 1972. That date marked the beginning of displaying artistic works under small tents in Schouler Park in North Conway Village.
Although the show has moved a few times to locations in Settlers Green and Cranmore Mountain, it always returned to Schouler Park.
MWVAA joined together with Arts Jubilee in 1982, adding an array of musical talent to the stage, and a sea of blankets and lawn chairs that filled Schouler Park with music lovers on summer evenings. In 1983, Cindy Russell, who organized the musical side of MWVAA, decided to separate the music from the fine arts, and concerts are still presented under the stars at Mt. Cranmore. MWVAA continued their one-day event every August on the first Saturday of the month. Artists were set up under small pop-up tents. Organized by artists Ernie Brown, Myke Morton, Nan White, and other well-known Valley artists, Art in the Park was a juried show and remained so until recent years.
Since its inception, MWVAA has grown throughout the years to keep that initial idea alive. The biggest obstacle has been finding affordable, visible real estate to showcase the many talented local, as well as regional, New England artists.
Currently, MWVAA is cooperatively run by volunteers, and the artists’ works are showcased in the Main Street Art Gallery, given that name, as there was at one time an Art Showcase organization located on Main Street.
The gallery moved often and most recently has settled in a space in Norcross Circle behind the Met Coffee House. Board members and volunteers just finished an affordable upgrade with new paint and some new material to decorate the space. The artwork is the key visual when visitors come into the space, and both professional and non-juried artists are encouraged to be members, and many members are not artists. Anyone is welcome to be a member of MWVAA.
The current board of directors organizes the Art in the Park, now a two-day event that is held the first weekend of August every year in Schouler Park. After much research, it seems Art in the Park switched from pop-up tents to big tents sometime in the early 1990s. The decision was made to do so after a few rainstorms ransacked artwork and pop-up tents alike.
Art in the Park 2022 marks the year 50, and expectations are that there will be many artists registered and many visitors to enjoy the 50th anniversary of Art in the Park on August 6 and 7, 2022. Food vendors, music, and a radio remote with WMWV will also be on the grounds to add to the festivities.
New this year will be a judge’s tent. Each year, artists view the piece to be judged for prizes. In the past, it has been a challenge for the judges to visit every artist’s booth and then sit down to try to choose from 60 pieces of art, also trying to remember which piece will win in the various categories.
One of the esteemed judges met with the board of directors and suggested the artist pick the piece of artwork they want to be judged and bring it to the tent Saturday morning. The judges will then be able to see all the art together, and this will make it much easier for them to make their decisions. And to think, it only took us 50 years to come up with such a brilliant idea.
Actually, it is an example of how much the event has grown over the years. In spite of a few hurdles like COVID and hurricanes, art will live on for many years to come in Schouler Park on the first Saturday and Sunday of August, as well as in the Main Street Art Gallery—thanks to the donors, grants, board members, and the many volunteers who work hard to keep the event and MWVAA going and growing.
132 White Mountain Highway, Chocorua, NH
Bill Fein Gallery
106 Fein Lane, Center Conway, NH
28 Main Street (Majestic Theatre Bldg)
Conway Village, NH
Cook Memorial Library
93 Main Street, Tamworth, NH
Edge of Maine Art & Framing
182 Main Street, Brownfield, ME
Erik Koeppel Fine Art
P.O. Box 325, Jackson, NH
Fryeburg Harbor Antiques
and Fine Art Gallery
506 Harbor Road, Fryeburg, ME
112 Main Street, Bridgton, ME
Gateway Gallery & Gifts
32 Exchange Street, Gorham, NH
Harvest Gold Gallery
1082 Main Street, Center Lovell, ME
Jackson Art Studio & Gallery
155 Ridge Road, Jackson, NH
Jesse Mixer Metalsmith
North Conway, NH
Karen Eisenberg Designs
North Conway, NH
League of NH Craftsmen North Conway
2526 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH (603) 356-2441
Louise Perry of Vintage Frameworks
28 Norcross Circle, North Conway, NH
Main Street Gallery/MWVArts
16 Norcross Circle, North Conway, NH
Nathan Macomber Glass Studio
480 Eaton Road, Conway, NH
Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery
69 Maple Street, Center Sandwich, NH
Robert Gordon Gallery
Kancamagus Hwy, Conway, NH
Roger C. Williams Fine Art
125 Main Street, Lovell, ME
407 White Mt. Hwy, Conway, NH
Surroundings Art Gallery
12 Main Street, Sandwich, NH
Stained Glass Shack Studio
63 West Main Street, Conway, NH
St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts
155 Emery Street, Berlin, NH
White Mountain Artisans Gallery
3358 White Mountain Highway,
North Conway, NH
White Mountain Photography
95 Main Street, located inside Snowflake Inn Jackson, NH
With These Hands Pottery
397 Tasker Hill Road Conway, NH