Artists display goods at annual Polson festival
For 50 years, the shady green lawn of the Lake County Courthouse in Polson has filled with white tents in mid-August for a summer tradition – the annual Sandpiper Art Festival.
Held Saturday, this year’s juried festival had more than 40 artist booths, offering everything from paintings, ceramics and jewelry, to books, photographs, woodwork and quilts. Children lined up for face painting and local musicians strummed and sang tunes throughout the daylong event, which coincides with a popular car show on Main Street.
Justine Watkins of Lavender with Love in Hamilton was doing a brisk business in a wide array of handcrafted goods made with organic lavender oil. “Great crowd,” she said between customers.
While her booth was new, many exhibitors are more familiar, including well-known Ronan artist Guy Rowbury, who has sold his western and nature-themed paintings at the Polson festival for more than four decades.
Noted watercolor artist Joanne Simpson first participated in the Sandpiper Art Festival in 1999, and has been showing her work there ever since. She’s also a member of the nonprofit cooperative gallery located on Main Street in Polson.
“The Sandpiper is pretty important to the community because we encourage local artists,” she says. The annual festival raises funds for the gallery’s scholarship program, which helps area students pursue a degree in fine art. The Sandpiper also hosts a July art show in Sacajawea Park, The Flathead Lake Fine Arts Festival, and member artists offer regular workshops that enable locals to learn or refine techniques.
Year-around, the gallery provides local artists – “and by local I mean from Missoula to Whitefish” – a venue to show their work, with exhibits that change every six weeks.
“It gives those of us who want to keep working a way to sell our work,” she says, adding with a chuckle, “and keep on buying more art materials.”
Business at the gallery has steadily increased since spring and “it’s been better than ever” this summer according to Simpson, who, like all Sandpiper members, takes a regular turn minding the shop.
“The pandemic had something to do with it,” she speculates. “I don’t know if it’s because people are tired of being pent in and want to spend some money or if it’s because they appreciate art more, knowing they can’t always get it.”
“When I’ve worked at the Sandpiper all day most of the sales have been to out-of-towners, out-of-staters,” she adds.
On Saturday, many festival-goers left with bags full of goodies and artwork in hand.
“I always complain about the traffic in the summer,” says Simpson, whose booth was a popular stop. “But I’m not complaining about the sales.”