The morning started off with a bang. Square, an on-the-go payment system we use at art festivals, wasn’t working. The folks had just an hour before customers would show up at the 43rd Annual Ruidoso Art Festival in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Stress. Major stress.
After rushing out to buy a new Square part at a local store, the folks were in for a nice surprise when they returned to their booth. Dad had won first place in the photography category with his picture “The Great Horse Chase”.
We’re new to the art festival scene. In fact the Ruidoso festival was just our third show. So the blue ribbon was a wonderful affirmation of Dad’s photography in this new venue.
“It was quite a surprise,” he said. “You know you’ve got good stuff, but will the jury recognize it? There were eight other really great photographers at the festival. You never know what a jury will think. It was very nice to be recognized.”
Prior to the festivals, Dad and his brother Gordon ran a corporate advertising photography studio for 35 years in Dallas, Texas. It was during the later years of the corporate business that Dad first began taking Western photos.
The timing was perfect. Western pictures were in high demand. As Dad’s unique photos got more exposure, he began to get clients looking for a bit of the Old West. The work was pouring in as fast as Dad could shoot.
Dad built up a sizable collection of Western and wildlife photos because he loved what he was doing. In 2012 Dad and Uncle Gordon closed the corporate side of the business. We reorganized Beebower Productions, Inc. to showcase Dad’s Western and wildlife photography through our website and at juried art festivals around the country.
“Retirement” has been anything but sedate for Dad. In addition to traveling to shows, Dad continues to shoot new Western and wildlife photos around the country.
So what is a juried art festival and how did Dad get interested in them? As the name suggests, a juried art festival requires each applicant to submit a portfolio, images of his booth, a resume of his work and a fee to a jury of art critics or peers connected to that fair. The jury evaluates the artist for originality, creativity, technical expertise and also the appearance of the booth. Then selected individuals are offered a spot at the festival for a set booth fee. Going the jury route ensures that the highest quality of artistic items are offered at a festival. To be selected as an exhibitor is an honor in itself.
In addition to the entry judging, each show usually awards ribbons for the best artists in categories such as photography, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, etc. Again, the artist must submit 2-3 three pieces of his best work for the jury to review. The prize may be a ribbon or sometimes a cash award. Dad submitted The Great Horse Chase and Horse Stampede at the Ruidoso festival.
Many festivals also award “Best in Show”. The top artists in each category advance to the “Best in Show” competition. This person must not only have outstanding pieces of art, they also must have a snappy booth to showcase their work.
Dad first considered the art festival route after visiting me in southeastern Arizona. I took him to Sierra Vista’s Art in the Park festival. We saw several photographers selling their prints successfully and I knew Dad’s work would sell too.
After taking some time to reorganize the company, Dad jumped into the art festival circuit and hasn’t looked back. His first festival, of course, was the infamous Art in the Park.
Dad’s really enjoyed meeting folks and talking photography during the multi-day events. It’s been a steep learning curve, though. Dad knew the advertising industry inside out, but trying to figure out what will sell at art festivals has been a challenge.
“The trick is discovering what people like and how much they’re willing to pay for it,” he said. “Obviously advertising folks deal in big bucks, so you have to adjust your expectations. That and figure out how to get all the stuff you need (like booth walls and photo inventory) from point A to point B smoothly. You don’t know what’s going to work, so each time you just try to get better and better.”
In that spirit, Mom and Dad will be heading out to their next festival in Oklahoma City over Labor Day weekend, armed with a new lighting system for the booth and a new product line—notecards of Dad’s most popular images. Oh, and the confidence drummed up by winning the blue ribbon at the last festival.