Showing Art in a Garden

For the past five years I?ve hosted summer art shows in my two-thirds acre flower garden in Portland, Oregon. Painters, sculptors, potters and metal workers have displayed and sold their work successfully in an inviting outdoor setting.

Art in a Garden Setting: Floral paintings are a natural subject matter for a garden-art show. Artist Diane Robillard Kruger set this piece on an easel in a show at Barbara Blossom Ashmun?s garden.

Planning the Show
The process starts with an initial meeting a few months before the event so we can have time for promoting it. Then, a week or two before the show, the artist brings some sample works to my garden, and together we tour the site, looking for likely places where the work will best be displayed. The goal is to make sure that the plants and art fit together in a partnership that enhances both.

This process depends on the art form. Painters study the light to choose shady places along the grape arbor, under trees and on benches. Not only will strong sunlight bleach out the colors, but sometimes the heat will make paintings “sweat” inside the glass. Paintings can also be hung in pleasing arrangements on posts, tree trunks and even sheds. Prices are usually written on the artist?s business card, which is then stuck into the post or tree trunk with pushpins. Potters and sculptors look for spots at the front of flower borders where their work will be enhanced by the coordinating colors and textures of the background plants. Prices are usually written on self-adhesive tags affixed to the work; sometimes price tags are hung with string or raffia from the sculpture itself.

On the day of the event, artists bring work several hours in advance, allowing plenty of time to unload vehicles, unpack and place pieces in the most flattering places. Some artists even allow enough time to arrive in work clothes, and return home to dress up before the open garden show.

Keys to Success
To make the event successful and well attended, fun and relaxed, advance promotion is crucial. As an established garden designer with a mailing list of more than 3,000 names, I?m able to publicize art shows by mailing out a once-yearly flier announcing events for the season, and I back that up with e-mail notices closer to the event. Artists often create their own invitations to mail to their clients, friends and family. I also send out timely press releases by e-mail, fax and mail to all local newspapers. This includes any publication that has a calendar of events?the daily paper, weekly freebies and monthly community papers.

It?s really important for the artist to attend the show. Occasionally an artist has a personal conflict and brings work but doesn?t stay for the event, and the difference is very telling. Visitors want to chat with the artist and find out more about the art, and often in conversation they?ll commission an artist for a new piece. An outgoing, friendly, informative artist can enhance sales tremendously. I?ve noticed a decline in sales when the artist is absent.

Another element that boosts sales is to offer pieces in a range of prices. Most visitors will buy an item priced less than $100 without much thought, but more expensive works will often require consultation with a spouse, or simply more consideration. The most successful artists bring many reasonably priced items such as notecards and reproductions, or, in the case of metal workers or sculptors, smaller trellises and pots. Clients who start out buying an affordable piece may eventually work their way up to a more costly one.

To maximize the chances of good weather, I schedule open gardens with art for late July, August and September?the peak of our dry season here in Portland, Oregon. But events are held rain or shine, as passionate gardeners are pretty impervious to weather. Once an artist did line up several large umbrellas in anticipation of rain, but fortunately we?ve always had sunny or overcast days.

Artists benefit from this collaboration, as at most I only ask for a commission of 20 percent of the sale price, compared to the 50 percent galleries typically charge. Often I ask nothing from beginning artists and benefit from exposure to a new audience. The open garden is made more enriching and enjoyable by the added attraction of art, and the art displayed in a spacious garden setting is given more importance than it would be crowded into an indoor gallery.

Loraine Crouch is assistant editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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