Jewelry designer Aileen Lampman, a graduate of the metal-smithing program Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, was awarded the coveted top prize in the 16th annual Fine Arts Festival of Manatee County, which concluded Sunday in its new location at the old city hall site Manatee Avenue and 15th Street West.
"Her work is beautiful," ArtCenter Manatee's Christina Sutor said of Lampman's sterling silver necklaces, bracelets and earrings. "She was tickled and honored to get Best in Show."
ArtCenter Manatee hosted the event, which dotted the landscape near the historic Ware's Creek with white tents, and received lots of positive feedback, Sutor said. Sutor estimited the festival drew more than 1,000 people for the two days.
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"Everyone is happy we brought this back to downtown Bradenton," said Sutor of the Festival, which was held in Lakewood Ranch in mid-March for the last 15 years. "People are also thrilled to see this property being used for something other than a vacant lot."
Lampman, a visitor from Pittsburgh who has been inspired by nature's curving shapes, including plants, which she tries to replicate in precious metals like sterling silver, beat out a strong lineup of fellow artists in six mediums, including photography, fine craft, jewelry, painting, drawing and sculpture, Sutor said.
This weekend was Lampman's first ever visit to Bradenton, and, like the other artists, she did well in sales and came away impressed with the venue.
"Great town, wonderful show, good setting," Lampman said. "I was very honored and surprised to get Best in Show."
Lampman would probably be an inspiration for any artist who dreams of being able to travel around the nation going to shows and making a living doing and selling work they love to produce.
She has a metal studio at home in Pittsburgh and two assistants who help her with all her hammering of metal. She goes to about 12 large shows a year and also sells through galleries and boutiques. In April, she will be at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. For those who missed the festival, her work can be seen at aijewelry.net.
Her pieces are kinetic, like leaves moving in the wind, which she achieves by drilling in certain sections of the pieces and making minute connections between metal parts.
One of her most popular pieces at the festival and everywhere she goes is called Trillium. It's a necklace based on a three-petaled member of the lily family. It has a texture like a plant and shines like a plant in the sun. A small version costs $210 with the larger $290.
"I like the pieces to have a little give and movement," Lampman said as she showed how a metal bracelet she made moves almost as if it were made of leather. "A lot of customers notice that the jewelry moves with them."
Ken Gfroerer, Lampman's boyfriend from Wellsboro, Pa., travels with her. He doesn't wear jewelry, but likes his girlfriend's work.
"It's really beautiful," Gfroerfer said. "I like that it's not really showy. It's simple and elegant and pretty. And I like silver."
Some customers just find Lampman's jewelry calls out to them and Gfroefer says he can see it in their eyes at the festivals they attend.
"If it speaks to them, they gush," Gfroerer said. "We've had women say they can't decide between three pieces so they buy them all. We don't argue with that."
Art can record history
While Lampman's work can be seen as a metaphor for nature, Steve Nesius from Terra Ceia, who won the blue ribbon for photography at the festival, can be called a natural historian as well as an artist. His photographs capture a real moment in time.
Such a moment was when Superstorm Sandy hit Seaside Heights, N.J., in late October 2012, collapsing the Casino Pier and sending the Jet Star Roller Coaster into the Atlantic Ocean with it. One of Nesius' photos at the festival captures the roller coaster on the third day after the storm.
For some at the festival on Sunday, like Fred Sobr, from New York, Nesius' picture brought back memories of Superstorm Sandy and his childhood.
"My grandma took us to Seaside Heights," said Sobr, who owns Manatee Furniture.
"I've never seen the roller coaster any other way than that," Nesius told Sobr. "So, to talk to people like you who have been on it, actually makes that image more special to me."