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Art Fair Through the Years

By Nancy Albright

The South Haven Art Fair officially became part of South Haven’s landscape in 1957 under the auspices of the South Haven Art League, which was formed in 1951 under the American Association of University Women. The league’s mission was for “individuals to go into the field and create an interest in, and foster growth of art in the community.” Learn more about the evolution of the South Haven Art League to the South Haven Center for the Arts in a future post.

Art Fair began in 1957 with local artists pinning their paintings and drawings to clotheslines strung throughout Oakland Park—later renamed Stanley Johnston Park. The “Clothesline Art Show” often coincided with Blueberry Festival. Art Fair and Blueberry Festival now take place on different weekends—the fair claiming the Fourth of July.

South Haven Art League President Mrs. Charles Long and her daughter Nancy hang pictures by pin and clothesline for the Annual Clothesline Art Show, Sunday, July 6, 1969 in Oakland Park. —Photo: Alice Flood

Thirty-four artists exhibited in the 1968 fair, eighty-nine in 1971, and well over one hundred in 1974. In 1974, artists from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and even Florida treated visitors to acrylics, oils, pastels, watercolors, photography, textiles, jewelry, leather, and pottery. The ’74 fair also boasted batik, tole painting (decorative folk art painted on metal objects like utensils and coffee pots, and wooden objects like chairs, hope chests, toy boxes, and jewelry boxes); candle pyrography (the decoration of candles with burn marks applied using a heated object); and tropical butterfly arrangements encased in plastic cubes.

July 7, 1974: The caption reads, “ART SHOW—Hundreds of people toured the annual South Haven Art Fair in Stanley Johnston Park yesterday both to view the many artist exhibits and to try and beat the sweltering heat in the cool, shaded park. Here, one of the artists paints miniature artwork on small pieces of wood while some people watch her work.”

Photo: Tom Renner

Those of you who wandered through the 2018 art fair may recall the sweltering heat of that weekend as well. Thank goodness the Big Lake is only a block away.

In 1976, 115 artists exhibited their work to a crowd of over 10,000 people who attended “Celebration ’76”, which also featured Blueberry Festival. Music teacher Michael Listiak conducted the South Haven Community Orchestra in recognition of the Centennial, artist Dana Ziebarth sketched portraits of visitors, and artists sat under umbrellas to stay out of the sun.

Art Fair in 1976, drawing thousands of visitors.

Taking a break from marking the park for 130 artist booths. Sharon Bailey (right) chaired the art fair in 1982. Bailey is pictured with Ann French (left) and South Haven painter Steve French,.

Steve French chaired the fair in 1981. There were over 200 artists at the fair that year.

South Haven Art Fair was in the top 100 best art fairs in the country in 2016 and 2017 as rated by Sunshine Artist Magazine, and deservedly so. What was once a one-day affair turned into two, and has evolved into a juried fair of more than 100 fine artists each year, some coming from as far away as California. The fair brings thousands of local residents and summer visitors to the event to see painting, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, wearable art, functional art, repurposed art; incorporating everything from copper to glass to gold-leaf to bamboo brought from Asia by the artist.

Art Fair artist applications will be available on the SHCA website in November 2020.

Past Art Fair registration card for broom maker Jeff Mohr of Lawton, Mich. Date unknown.

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