MYSTIC — The 56th annual Mystic Outdoor Art Festival is one of those special events of the summer, one that embodies the long and rich artistic tradition of the village by the sea. The festival is particularly meaningful for Richard Stalter, a 79-year-old impressionistic artist from Gaylordville, Conn., a small town on the New York border. That’s because when he arrives for this year’s gala it will be for the 50th consecutive year.
Stalter began his career as an artist at the age of 29 and in his first year as a professional attended the Mystic festival. Fifty years later it’s still one of his routine shows. “It’s considered by many, including me, as a very good art show. I think that with artists it has a very good reputation,” he said in a telephone interview.
Although he paints some still lifes and some figures, Stalter prefers painting on location, or “en plein air.” He favors working on landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes, and usually uses his off-time in Mystic to do some seaside painting, he said.
“For the artists, Mystic is a show where the sales are good,” he said. “People that come but don’t buy anything still leave well satisfied. It’s also juried very well so you know it is a quality show.”
Over the years, Stalter has won his fair share of awards, winning first prize in oils five times — including last year.
“It’s a nice place and a nice show. I must like it because I haven’t missed a single one since 1964,” he said.
Photographer Cindi Ressler participates in the festival despite the almost 6-hour trek from Stetson, Maine, outside of Bangor. “I’m originally from the New London area so for me it’s a sort of homecoming,” she said. “I used to do a lot of shows every year but it became difficult. Mystic is one of the few that I do regularly.”
That’s because of the Internet, she said. Her two new website stores are starting to pick up and improve in sales, making some shows simply not worth the time. Ressler specializes in shooting floral arrangements and seashells, as well as photo pendants, where the curvature of the convex glass adds depth to the image.
“For a few years I didn’t apply for the festival because I wanted to make sure my work was good enough to make it,” she said. “When I felt I was ready I applied and I was in. I’ve been coming for the last three years and it’s good that I know the area.”
Like Stalter, she plans to spend her free time looking at the sights. “I’ll probably go near the seaport and take a look around and look for the Charles Morgan,” she said of the village’s prized wooden whale ship. “I’ve heard it’s been launched and it will be nice to see it.”
The festival is organized and put on by the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and has been the focus of Cherie’lin Toporowski. “This year there will be about 270 artists,” she said, “and the length of all the exhibits will be about two miles.” The festival will begin at the Civil War statue at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Stonington. Exhibits will line East Main Street, cross the drawbridge, and then turn south on Water Street, ending near New London Road. Additional exhibits will also be located on Pearl, Cottrell, Holmes and Willow streets.
Toporowski said a new addition this year will be a mobile craft center in the form of an 18-wheeler from Michaels Arts and Crafts, which will be located in the Chelsea Groton Bank parking lot. The center is designed to entertain both children and adults, and will provide many different crafting opportunities throughout the weekend.
Another extra feature this year is the Mystic Art Center’s centennial year exhibition, “Mystic As Muse,” which will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The gallery is located at 9 Water St. and admission is free, although a donation is always appreciated.
On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the MAC will hold its first “Street Painting Parade” in the south side of its parking lot. The public is invited to arrive early to watch artists working or drop in later to see finished pieces and vote on a favorite. Those interested in registering to paint a square should call 860-536-7601, ext. 209. There will also be participatory children’s chalk art, available to all and free of charge.
If that’s not enough, try the Children’s Art Park to make some art of your own. Furthermore, the Mystic River Park on the Stonington side of the river will be home to a variety of activities including face painting, fish prints, bubbles, hula hoops, bean bag toss, funny photo boards and nautical knot tying as well as activities led by area museums and cultural centers. Saturday will feature activities from MAC, Little Learners, Riverfront Children’s Center, Noank Baptist Church and Alliance For Living. Staff members from the Lyman Allyn Museum and the Mystic Aquarium will take part in events on Sunday.
“It’s been very busy,” Toporowski said, “but it’s also been a lot of fun.”
The 56th Annual Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 10, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.