Plein Air Cambridge painting the town

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Dorchester Banner/Ted Mueller
Nancy Snyder from Wednesday Morning Artists and artist Palden Hamilton, who won the competition this year at Plein Air Cambridge with his painting, A Cambridge Alley.

CAMBRIDGE — Thirty-three artists descended on Cambridge the morning of July 10, all bustling to locations they picked to paint en plein air. The term describes exactly what it sounds like — a French term that means “in the open air.” While painting en plein air has always attracted artists, it has grown in popularity recently, and Cambridge, with its varied water views and architectural mix, is a perfect place for a paint-out in the open air.

The Cambridge painters are among the 58 artists who were selected to compete in this week’s Plein Air Easton competition that is produced by the Avalon Foundation. Now in its 11th year, Plein Air Easton is the largest juried plein air competition in the United States. In the past, side events were held in St. Michaels and Tilghman, and last year Cambridge was included. This was the second year for Cambridge Plein Air, and the artists seem to enjoy the town tremendously.

Kirk Larsen of Hicksville, N.Y., was busy painting the façade on the west side of High Street when we talked to him. “I love Cambridge,” he told us. “I was here last year, and there certainly is a ton of stuff to paint. One of the neat things about Plein Air is when somebody paints in your town, or event at the local supermarket, whatever it is, they often point out something everyone has overlooked — people say ‘What can they possibly be painting?’ And then you see it, and you see it through someone else’s eyes, perhaps with an artistic flair, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I have to pay more attention to this.’”

Kirk was busy making his second painting of the view, having earlier finished on and with an hour left to go to turn in their paintings, he decided to do another. “I appreciate the Wednesday Morning Artists as well as the town for welcoming us,” he said, as the paint flew, “and I look forward to a fantastic turnout today.”

Plein Air artists are selected from all over the country, from California to Rhode Island, Florida to Washington. A number of the artists were visiting Cambridge for the first time, but many were returning for their second year.
“This was the first year I applied, and the first year I was accepted. I was thrilled to be accepted in Plein Air, and couldn’t wait to get here.” Michelle Held, an artist from Sarasota, Fla., told us. Michelle was busily painting Bob’s Barber Shop, and Bob, being an artist himself, periodically came out to check on her progress. “He’s making sure I’m doing a good job,” she said.

We found Nancie King Mertz, from Chicago, with her easel tucked into the door front of Bistro Poplar. “I’ve been to Easton before, and I do love it. I’ve never been to Cambridge before, but it’s very interesting. I’ve stayed right here though, I saw this and wanted to paint it (front windows of Bistro Poplar), so I haven’t explored much. But it looks like a nice community.”

Nancy Snyder of Wednesday Morning Artists in Cambridge, was thrilled with the turnout. “Kirk Larsen came to our Wednesday Morning Artists meeting and painted the whole group while he was standing on one foot! He was a pleasant surprise early Wednesday morning, and he captured the meeting perfectly.”

She told us about how the Cambridge Plein Air event is structured and supported.
“This event is a collaboration between Cambridge Main Street, Wednesday Morning Artists, and the Dorchester Center for the Arts. Katie Mae’s has provided the lunches for the artists, and we have a $500 people’s choice award we’re going to give out. The people’s choice award money was donated by W.T. Hunt Insurance on Race Street, Sunnyside Shop, RAR Brewing, Downtown Frame of Mine, and the Wednesday Morning Artists.”

Starting at noon, the paintings started to trickle in, as the artists set up their easels and displayed their morning’s efforts. All of the paintings were vying for the $500 prize, and they were a mix of harbor scenes, town buildings, boatyards, and the streets of Cambridge. Anyone interested could pick up a ballot and vote for their favorite, and a fair-sized crowd gathered in front of the Arts Center.

A Cambridge Alley, an oil painting by Palden Hamilton of Baltimore, was the winner for the day. Palden found an alley off of one of downtown’s side streets, and captured a scene of a small collection of homes that would have been instantly recognizable as Cambridge to anyone who has spent any time walking through town. His artful depiction caught the eye of many at the wet paint sale that was held on High Street, where each of the paintings were offered for sale.

Palden attended the Gilman School in Baltimore and later earned his BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A portrait and landscape artist, he has won many awards for his work. You can learn more at

Brandon Hesson of Cambridge Main Street, Janette Jones of the Dorchester Center for the Arts, and Nancy Snyder of the Wednesday Morning Artists worked to organize this fun event. “We had a great turnout,” Ms. Snyder told us. “It’s been a great time!”

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