If you haven’t seen the fine art exhibit at the Pensacola Interstate Fair, you might not have been there. Each year, local artists are openly invited to this exhibition which could be the most watched art exhibition in the region.
âMy father wanted the fair to have an educational and cultural environment,â explained Don Frenkel, referring to John E. Frenkel Sr., who founded the fair in 1935.
âWe have visited other fairs equal to our size,â he continued, comparing similar art exhibitions. “There is nothing as beautiful as ours.”
Frenkel Sr., who was a clerk for the town of Pensacola, was invited to start the fair by Royal American Shows, a carnival that traveled the country by rail. The original land was at the corner of Cervantes Street and Pace Boulevard and moved to its current permanent location on the Mobile Highway in 1969.
By definition, the fair was established as a picture of the community, showcasing its civic organizations, various clubs, agriculture and entrepreneurship, using rides and shows to draw crowds.
But Frenkel Sr. found something that was missing.
His mantra, âProgress through education,â suggested that more had to be done. He started an art exhibition about 50 years ago, dedicating a building to it on the east side of the exhibition grounds. Three more art exhibitions followed, including a county-wide survey of the art of local school children. During its salad days, the Quayside Gallery, a downtown co-op venue founded in 1973, took over the fine art exhibit and formalized it into an exhibit reflecting its own professional standards. The gallery is now calling on its members and other local artists – over 80 people – to set up and manage the 10 days of the exhibition.
“It’s kind of like ‘Everyone on the bridge,'” said Nancy Schrock, coordinator of the show. “You need an outfit like Quayside to do that.”
The exhibit also offers over $ 2,500 in prizes. At the opening reception, Freddy Ukiah Myers took home the Best of Show, a prize of $ 300, and also won the Viewer’s Choice Award last year. This ribbon is decided by a popular vote, the result of which for this year will be announced on Saturday, October 27, the day before the end of the show.
For the most part, the fine art exhibit is a magnet for figurative paintings. It is teeming with student artists in the Visual Arts program at Pensacola Christian College, specializing in striking realism. Many established artists are also attracted to it. Kathy Sheppard joined the Quayside Gallery in 1978 after exhibiting her paintings at outdoor festivals.
âIt’s a good show,â she said. “I am sometimes surprised when people tell me they saw my work at the fair.”
This unique visibility is echoed by Ruth Gordon who exhibited at the fine arts exhibition for ten years. She has two paintings in the exhibition, one of which is a waterfall rendered in acrylic on yupo paper, a smooth surface that makes her subject appear wet. Like many local residents, the fair was the âhighlight of the yearâ as it grew.
âI think the fair reaches a wider range of people,â Gordon said. âWhen they visit the fair, they stumble upon it. It (the show) reaches people you wouldn’t reach in a gallery. “
Pat Page, known for her photo transfers of ancient landmarks in the area, has a pair of works in the exhibit from her signature nostalgic series. One of them reveals the Pensacola Beach Pier from the 1960s with its addition of the marbled waters of the Gulf. For locals, the scene offers a warm reminiscence with a contemporary twist, much like the fair itself.
âI love showing my art to everyone in Pensacola, and I especially love the reactions to my series Old Pensacola Lost (and Found),â Page said. âIt’s really open to the public.
Mike Roberts is a freelance writer for the News Journal.
Want to go?
What: Fine Art Exhibition at the Pensacola Interstate Fair
When: Every day until Sunday October 28. The exhibition closes at noon on October 28
Or: Pensacola Exhibition Center, 6655 Mobile Highway, Building 7