Crowd of 1,000 anticipated at UMSL first weekend in May as growing print fair enters second decade
While every visit to the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis has a tendency to lead to new discoveries, the possibilities were especially endless one recent morning during a gathering of local artists and dealers.
In one corner stood a prized watercolor by Missouri native and major American artist Thomas Hart Benton. Across the way, two striking photographs – one taken in California and another in Iceland – invited closer inspection.
Seated nearby was R.H. Dick, a local painter, author and sculptor who grew up on the very street where Benton lived later in life.
“I’d bump into him on his evening walks,” said Dick, who recalls visiting the late master’s studio as a teenager.
The fascinating assortment of art and people on hand at the library that day offered just a glimpse of a much larger gathering in the works: the 11th annual St. Louis Fine Print, Rare Book and Paper Arts Fair.
Set for May 5 to 7, the campus event is a highlight of the year for those invested in the St. Louis region’s cultural scene, and it draws dealers from as far away as New York, Colorado and Arizona. Last year’s 10th iteration was a record success, and this year organizers expect about 1,000 art and rare book collectors to pack UMSL’s J.C. Penney Conference Center over the course of the weekend.
“We are very gratified by the number of exceptional dealers who are asking to participate,” said Julie Dunn-Morton, the library’s curator of fine art collections.
St. Louis-based Kodner Gallery has had a presence at the event “since the beginning,” said Jonathan Kodner, president and director of the family-run business, which specializes in both national and regional fine art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
“It’s a don’t-miss event, and so we don’t miss it,” Kodner said. He enjoys the community interaction, the chance to connect with other dealers and buyers, and the sheer delight of helping all sorts of attendees learn more about the world of fine and rare art.
In conversation with local artists including Dick, that enjoyment of community- and relationship-building at the fair was a recurring theme.
“Being a studio artist can get a little lonely,” he said, noting the many solo hours artists spend alone with their work. “It’s nice to hear people’s feedback on things that you’re working on. And kudos to UMSL for supporting this event and for being really supportive of regional artists, of which I am one.”
Along with scores of colorful booths that together transform the campus conference center into an art, print and book lover’s dream for a few brief days, attendees can look forward to demonstrations plus a preview night (May 5) featuring a silent auction.
On the final afternoon of the fair (May 7), Firecracker Press, a local graphic design and letterpress print shop, will showcase its processes, as will Juliette Travous, who specializes in pastels.
“A lot of people mistake my paintings for oils,” the St. Charles, Missouri, artist said at the recent preview, where she had two landscapes on display. “But these are soft pastels. I started working with them 20 years ago and just fell in love with them.”
This spring will mark her third year participating in the UMSL event, which she describes as “a lot of fun.”
Fellow returning fair participant Jeff Appel, owner of Photography Past & Present, said he wants people to know that fine photographs can be found at the fair alongside the prints, rare books and various paper arts.
He noted that while photography may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to the world of fine art, it really has a vibrant place in that world – and he’ll have items for sale that fit within all sorts of budgets.
“I love being a part of someone collecting their first photograph,” said Appel, who represents over 30 photographers from many different parts of the world and offers contemporary works as well as pieces dating back to the mid-19th century.
Local dealer Mark Howald, who just opened Mark O. Howald Antiques & Fine Art on Clayton Road about two years ago, said this year will be his first time participating in the fair as a dealer – and he’s eager to interact and learn and help spread the appreciation for the wide-ranging items at the fair.
His materials are an eclectic mix. At the preview he showcased both a lithograph and a 1943 painting of the St. Louis riverfront – just two of many pieces he’ll have on hand in May.
All told, attendees will have the opportunity to build their collections and chat with 35 top-tier dealers. Some of the others new to this year’s fair include Conrad R. Graeber Fine Art and Anthony Philip Fine Art, who will join Aaron Galleries and William R. Talbot Fine Art as returning dealers.
Among the many other returning dealers are Stevens Fine Art from Phoenix, Arizona, which handles American and European art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries including Depression-era, New York urban and city subjects, California impressionists and more; Kiechel Fine Art, specializing in the work of Benton; New York’s Susan Teller Gallery featuring American art of the 1930s and 40s, especially industrial realism and modernism; and The Old Print Shop from New York known for historic American prints and maps.
Along with Kodner Gallery, Photography Past & Present, Travous, Firecracker Press and R. H. Dick, returning local dealers include McCaughen & Burr, featuring Missouri artists; Anthony Garnett with his antiquarian, first edition and international book titles; and Judith Haudrich Antique Prints specializing in 17th- to 19th-century botanical and historical subjects.
This year’s fair will kick off with a preview party on Friday evening (May 5) and continue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. that Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Proceeds benefit collections acquisition and conservation funds at the Mercantile Library, which is the oldest cultural institution in Missouri – and the oldest library in continuous existence west of the Mississippi.
For more information and tickets, visit printfair.umsl.edu or call 314-516-6740.
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