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Cape Ann Plein Air — A new Chapter in a Storied arts legacy
Cape Ann boasts what many believe is the nation’s oldest art colony, Rocky Neck in Gloucester. Artists are still there today – and they are creating amazing work in galleries and studios in Rockport, downtown Gloucester and throughout Essex and Manchester-by-the-Sea. Some of the most famous artists of the past two centuries have come to this region, many to experience what is known as the unique “Cape Ann light.”
Another First for Cape Ann
Despite this extraordinary cultural legacy, we saw a first for our community — Cape Ann Plein Air (CAPA), a weeklong celebration of outdoor painting that brought artists from across the U.S. for a national competition. In October 2016, the Cape Ann community came together to add another chapter to the region’s arts and cultural legacy – and that’s no small feat considering Cape Ann’s long, proud arts history.
Derived from the French term meaning “open air,” plein air was adopted by the early impressionist painters who brought their equipment and materials out into the field to paint directly from the landscape in a single sitting. Long before photography was developed, this allowed artists to capture a scene in the most immediate way. The technique was quickly and enthusiastically adopted by American painters and some of the earliest practitioners of American plein air – including the artists of Cape Ann.
For many years, there have been plein air competitions throughout the U.S., but never had there been an event like this on Cape Ann, widely considered the birthplace of plein air painting in our nation.
That inaugural plein air competition drew artists from as far away as Hawaii – many of the 40 artists who were chosen to participate had never before been to Cape Ann.
CAPA 2017: Bigger and Better
The reaction was astounding. So, in early 2017, the organizers – all of Cape Ann’s arts organizations and the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce – began planning a second national competition that promised an even greater for plein air painters, for the region’s cultural community, for businesses that support the arts and for art-lovers everywhere.
The second annual Cape Ann Plein Air outdoor painting competition took place across nine days in early October 2017. The CAPA 2017 artists came from 20 states – from Florida to Oregon — and the Canadian province of Quebec.
Cape Ann visitors and residents alike joined with the CAPA artists at events and activities that took place across all four Cape Ann communities throughout the week. CAPA 2017 began with a “meet the artists” reception at the North Shore Art Association on October 8 and culminated with a Cape Ann Quick-Draw Competition – open to artists of all ages and skill levels — at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on October 15.
A highlight of the week was the Grand Awards Exhibit and Sale on October 14 at the Rockport Art Association and Museum, where the competition’s winners were announced. Mitch Baird of Arizona took top honors, while Neal Hughes of New Jersey and Lisa Egeli of Maryland were awarded second and third place prizes. Rockport’s own John Caggiano received the Artists Spirit Award. In all, 19 prizes totaling more than $20,000 were awarded.
In every measure, CAPA 2017 exceeded the previous year’s program, beginning with the number of artists vying for the 40 spots in the competition. We also saw more sponsors and volunteers, more prize money, and more events across the community.The competition resulted in over $100,000, in sales for these artists — far surpassing totals in 2016 – and inspired dozens of paintings that captured the unique beauty of Cape Ann.
Maybe most impressive was the response from the artists themselves:
– Perhaps one of the strongest plein air events I have ever participated in
– Absolutely the high-water mark of the year
– Beautiful and iconic settings, awesome artists and top-notch organizers
– I have been on Cape Ann my whole life and have painted here for 34 years – I can’t express enough my appreciation and gratitude that there is finally a plein air event here
Making a Mark on a Local and National Level
For Cape Ann, this competition stands out as one of the highlights of the year for our community’s cultural community. Both the 2017 and 2016 competitions succeeded as a community-wide celebration, involving local artists, businesses and residents, many who volunteered, sponsored events, or hosted visiting CAPA painters.
On a national scale, in just two years CAPA has solidified its place among the country’s top plein air competitions.
It’s no surprise that plans were soon put in place for a 2018 CAPA competition, again set for this October. Highlights include the Opening Reception at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on October 7, the Gala Awards Ceremony at the North Shore Arts Association on October 13, CAPA Art Exhibition on October 14 & 15, and a Quick Draw Painting Competition in downtown Rockport on October 14.
In fact, those who visit Cape Ann, and those who call this region home, can expect Cape Ann Plein Air to be part of the fabric of our community for years to come.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating the work of these artists and experience this important facet of the jewel we call Cape Ann.
For more information on Cape Ann Plein Air, visit www.capeannpleinair.com or email
About the Organizers
Cape Ann Chamber – The largest business organization on Cape Ann, the chamber is made up of members from all four Cape Ann communities – Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester-by-the-Sea. The chamber works to promote a strong local economy, by supporting community programs, assisting area businesses and promoting the region. For more information on the Cape Ann Chamber, visit www.capeannchamber.com.
seARTS — seARTS (Society for the Encouragement of the Arts), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is a coalition focused on cultivating Cape Ann’s position as a world-class center for working artists. Established in 2000, seARTS is working to help to transform the region’s economy by bridging its maritime heritage and a future powered by the arts. For more information on seARTS, visit www.searts.org.