By ALLISON MATYUS
One of Hyde Park’s longstanding traditions returns this year to bring the community together through art. The 69th Annual 57th Street Art Fair will take place June 4-5, and will feature artists from across the country.
The 57th Street Art Fair began in 1948 and was first held over a weekend in October. Mary Louise Womer organized the very first fair that had only 51 artists and sold $500 worth of art. The early years of the fairs were documented in the Herald and had some oddities such as an artist who came dressed in a bathrobe, another who brought along a chaise lounge as he displayed his work. White tents have dotted the tree-lined streets between 56th and 57th streets ever since, and it has the notable title of the oldest street fair in the Midwest.
The 57th Street Art Fair gave an opportunity for artists who previously did not have one, and made a way for folks interested in purchasing unique art the ability to do so.
“In those days, there was no Chicago outlet for local artists…And the few of us in the arts were and had to be dedicated, committed people,” said Egon Weiner, who was an Art Institute sculpture professor, in a 1973 Herald article. “The best art work was in the streets, that’s why the fairs caught on so fast.”
Notable artists such as Cosmo Campoli, Virginio Ferrari and Gertrude Abercrombie all had a booth selling their art at the 57th Street Art Fair at some point.
Sixty-nine years later and the art fair is as big as ever with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people in attendance each year and over 200 artists in 13 different categories hailing from as close as Chicago and as far away as New Mexico, Florida and California.
Some of the artists have scheduled talks and demonstrations during the fair for attendees to see the artistic process that goes into the items they are purchasing.
“Artists can talk about their medium and what they do and how they develop their technique, as well as give people tips in terms of what they should look for when purchasing throughout the fair,” said Alexia Trzyna, the director of the 57th Street Art Fair.
A committee of 15 people and countless volunteers put on the fair successfully each year. Volunteer Mariana Coyne Blucher is the coordinator for the fair’s new Blacktop Arts Collective, which is an area set up for local arts organizations to get involved with the art fair by promoting their programs and running art-making workshops throughout the weekend.
“We really wanted to showcase how people could get involved by either going and seeing a show or picking up a paint brush or sitting down with some clay,” Blucher said.
The Blacktop Arts Collective will take over the blacktop of Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., and a variety of local organizations and institutions will be involved such as the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave; the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.; Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave.; the Music Teachers of Hyde Park and the Hyde Park School of Dance, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave. Art project offerings will include bookmaking from the Hyde Park Art Center and cross mosaic work from the Chicago Public Arts Group.
“We want to let people try their hands at things and participate. Since we have all sorts of wonderful art to look at, they can try their hand at it too and maybe take it up in a class,” Blucher said.
This year’s fair will provide an overall experience for attendees with the art workshops, a music stage and a food court provided by Ray School. As always, shoppers can purchase one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork like leather, handmade jewelry, ceramics, glass, paintings and more.
The 57th Street Art Fair is Saturday, June 4, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 5, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.57thstreetartfair.org/.