The Tall Grass Art Fair is expected to draw thousands to Park Forest

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When Jean Lewis lived in Park Forest, she attended the Tall Grass Arts Association art fair every summer. An art teacher at the time, Lewis thought it would be great to exhibit his work at the fair one day.

“Then I retired from teaching art and did it,” she said.

Lewis began painting pastel portraits and placing works in galleries such as Tall Grass and Union Street in Chicago Heights. Now the Glenwood-based artist is in galleries everywhere and gearing up for her ninth year at the Park Forest Art Fair, which is set to return for the 66th time from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. September 17-18 on Main Street, between Western Avenue and Orchard Drive, around the Village Green.

“I love being there because the folks at Tall Grass really go the extra mile to make artists feel welcome,” Lewis said. “That hometown feeling is there, and they really put in the effort.”

Janet Muchnik, Tall Grass board member and chair of the exhibition, said caring for artists has always been a hallmark of the Park Forest Art Fair. It offers reasonable rates to attract a wide variety of mediums, from ceramics and prints to sculpture and photography, from paintings and digital works to jewelry and mouth-blown glass. Tall Grass, 367 Artists Walk, provides artists with breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, a large dinner on Saturday, snacks throughout the day, cash prizes, and help with unloading and packing. And the jury show stays away from commercial sellers, opting to keep the spotlight on the creatives.

“It’s a very artist-friendly show,” Muchnik said. “We really love our artists and we do everything to make them feel welcome. … For us, it’s not just about making money; it’s about giving artists the opportunity to show their work.

Muchnik said the jury approach also ensures people will see and be able to buy great art. Park Forest tries to avoid the “pretentious” vibe of the art fair, Muchnik said, instead encouraging attendees to talk to artists, learn more about their work, motivate their development and, of course, buy what speaks to them.

When she first started at the fair, Lewis said people were initially hesitant to visit her space. But connections and interest are formed through those interactions and she is now seeing returning buyers and having more people following her monthly newsletter.

“It picked up over the years,” Lewis said. “I made a name for myself and the work started to improve. It went from there. »

Lewis is thrilled to present a recent pastel portrait she calls “Tranquil Moment.” She said working with the human form through pastels is always exciting because people are all different and inspire her in unique ways.

“I’ve been teaching for over 30 years and now I’m having an unforgettable time,” Lewis said. “It’s just something I like to do. It’s important that you have something to do after retirement that really satisfies you. It does.

Taryn Takacs, a photographer from Highland, Indiana, will be one of eight newcomers bringing work to the art fair this year.

“I feel very lucky to be part of the community and to be part of this process,” Takacs said. “I’ve always been a creative person. I just haven’t found a way to narrow it down specifically.

This opportunity arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. When many things were initially closed, Takacs started walking outdoors more and shooting things with a Nikon D3300 and later a D500. She fell in love with nature photography, especially during her visits to Highland Rookery.

“The world is moving whether you’re there or not,” Takacs said. “We see this tiny little moment when these animals, these birds are in their natural habitat. You can see their normal, natural behavior. You don’t watch it on TV. You can see it in person. And then when you pick up the camera and zoom in on that moment, you kind of become part of nature.

Takacs said she will have metal prints, acrylics, framed pieces and other work for sale at the fair, as well as the ability to place custom orders. But she’s very happy to have an outlet for her creativity now.

“It’s where I feel at home,” Takacs said. “It doesn’t matter how stressful my day was or how stressful life is in general. … At that moment, when you take that picture, nothing else matters. It is this ultimate peace that many people do not find. I was lucky to find my happy place. I really like.

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The performers for this year’s show are expected to come from across the Midwest, with a sculptor from Phoenix, Arizona making the longest trip to Park Forest. But about 20 of the artists featured this year are “very local,” according to Muchnik. This includes newcomers Lia Jackson, a painter from Chicago Heights; Maine Lee, a metal carver from Park Forest; and Penny Shnay, a Park Forest photographer.

Muchnik, who has attended the Park Forest Art Fair for about a decade, said pandemic cancellations and the aging of well-known artists have put the event in a “rebuilding” phase. Still, between 1,500 and 2,000 people usually attend the art fair and the artists do good business there. Organizers strive to improve the layout and marketing of the fair each year, but the basic formula for success has remained largely the same over the years.

“We’re changing little things,” Muchnik said. “The fact that it’s a juried art fair and that we’re committed to keeping prices low, those two things are consistent.”

The fair also includes a Kids Art Alley with hands-on activities and a Saturday Music Festival with performances by LondonKay Experience, Raíces Latin Jazz, Blend Acoustic, An American Prayer and Fredi Taylor with Nu Source Band. The Grande Prairie Choral Arts Group is scheduled to perform on Sunday.

Sunday will also feature a tribute to Tall Grass artist Patricia Moore at 1 p.m. in front of the Tall Grass Gallery. Moore, who died this year, was one of the fair’s longest-serving performers. Some of his works are presented at the Tinley Park Convention Center. She also taught aspiring artists and ran the Salon Artists Gallery at Park Forest.

“This gallery was his baby, his job and his love,” Muchnik said. “She meant a lot to the village, the region, the art fair and Tall Grass – and all the other places where she taught.”

Bill Jones is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.

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