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Arts and Entertainment

Peninsula celebrates the Cuyahoga River with a challenge to capture its beauty and recall its worst disaster
Fifth Annual Plein Air Competition for artwork created outdoors will commemorate the Great Flood of 1913

Vivian Goodman
Kathy Harrington says she looks for scenes to paint where there's a lot of contrast between light and dark and some movement.
Courtesy of Edward Duvall
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Fine art will play a prominent part in the annual celebration of our crooked river.  River Day will bring the traditional clean-ups, cookouts and concerts.  But that’s just the start of a steady flow of riverside events, including a painting contest along the banks of the Cuyahoga.

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Peninsula’s Plein Air Competition: Along the Crooked River: 100 years later 

In 1913, a massive flood engulfed the Cuyahoga Valley, destroying the Ohio and Erie Canal. This year’s plein air competition commemorates the flood. 

Who: The plein-air style competition is open to artists 18 and older. Each artist can submit no more than two pieces for judging. Employees of the National Park and members of the Peninsula Chamber are  not eligible for awards.

Fees: $35 registration fee

When: Applications through June 9th. Competition June 7-9, with works created during the competition for sale at Peninsula Art Academy June 29-August 10. Winning works will be featured on

More information: or call 330-657-2788.

Saturday marks the 23rd annual River Day. 

But it’s been 100 years since the darkest day in the river’s history, the Great Flood of 1913. It engulfed the river valley, swamped the Ohio and Erie Canal and claimed more than 600 lives.

And it’s that tragedy artists will commemorate next month as they paint at selected sites in the village of Peninsula, in the open air.

En plein air is what the French call it.

It’s a portable, impromptu painting style that began in the 1870s when someone figured out how to make oil paint squirt out of tubes.

Beauty inspired by an unprecedented disaster
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ranger Karen Kopchak helps give the annual painting contest historical context. And this year it’s all about the flood. 

“The end of March, for about five days, the Flood of 1913 actually turns out to be the biggest, the most widespread national disaster ever in recorded history. It impacted 15 states.”

Locations designated for the competition are in areas that were most heavily affected by the flood.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park teams up with Peninsula’s Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the annual contest. Debra Bures is co-owner of Elements Gallery, vice president of the chamber and chairwoman of Peninsula’s plein-air contest.

“This is an area of great innovators, of free thinkers, free-spirited individuals. We have many artists who are residents who have studios in the valley. So it was the natural thing for us to do.  And with the river here, the river is such an important part of the culture here.”  

A tight window
Painters compete for prizes, including $350 for Best of Show.

The catch is, it all has to be done during the second weekend in June.  Beginning Thursday evening ,June 6th, competitors must  bring a blank canvas to Elements Gallery for an official stamp. Not until then can they start painting on the canvas, and they must deliver the finished art work  by 5 p.m. Sunday, June 9th.

Later this summer the paintings will be on view  at Peninsula Art Academy.

Nicki Lanzi has entered the plein-air contest every year since 2009 because she loves the challenge of working in the open air, even in a swift wind.

“I’ve had some easels fly away, but I got them back so that’s OK.”

Even with bugs, rain and critics -- it's still fun
Kathy Harrington of Hudson took up painting en plein air after her husband died 17 years ago, and although she’s been drenched in sudden downpours and had bugs land on her paintings, she's never stopped.

Passersby often stop to chat.

“And you could be painting five acres and someone will say, ‘You left that branch out.'" But she welcomes the interaction, saying it's among the many rewards  of painting outdoors.

On a day like today all of your senses are involved. I can hear the river. I can hear the birds. I can smell the river and the beautiful flowers when they bloom. I can hear the crunch of people’s feet, and I feel that I’m more into the painting. And then years later when I look at the painting, I can recall that whole day in its entirety.”  


(Click image for larger view.)

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