St. Charles Fine Art Show to feature 100 artists, chalk painting performances

  • The 21st annual St. Charles Fine Art Show will be held this weekend along Riverside Avenue in the heart of the city's downtown.

    The 21st annual St. Charles Fine Art Show will be held this weekend along Riverside Avenue in the heart of the city's downtown. Courtesy of Oscar Pallares Photography

  • More than 100 artists will be featured at the 21st annual St. Charles Fine Art Show this weekend in the city's downtown.

    More than 100 artists will be featured at the 21st annual St. Charles Fine Art Show this weekend in the city's downtown. Courtesy of Oscar Pallares Photography

Updated 5/23/2019 6:55 AM

Sue McDowell understands the delicate balance of putting on a juried art show.

You want enough artists to offer a variety of unique styles and media, but not too many that it overwhelms attendees. You want high-quality content and broad appeal.


You want community involvement to draw visitors to local shops and restaurants. But you also want to keep the focus on the painters, jewelers, photographers and sculptors who make a living traveling throughout the country and showcasing their work.

In St. Charles, McDowell believes her event committee has found the perfect recipe.

The St. Charles Fine Art Show began more than two decades ago with about 35 booths and a goal of bringing people downtown, said McDowell, the show's committee chairwoman. This weekend, the 21st annual event at Riverside Avenue and Main Street will feature the work of 100 juried artists with a range of specialties, from watercolor and oil to fiber, wood and glass.

"We've grown over the years, but we're still a nice, manageable size that we and all the artists like," she said. "We are kind of a very controlled (event) because we want to have people enjoy downtown St. Charles, as well as the art show."

Put on by the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, the art show receives a couple hundred applications from interested artists each year, but organizers aim to keep the number of participants around 100, McDowell said. Committee members typically invite back the "best of the best" from prior events, while leaving 30% to 40% of the show open for new artists.

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"People come back, and they love to see their favorite artists that they maybe see year after year," she said, "but you have to keep it fresh and keep adding new, too."

About half the artists are from the Midwest, with the remaining participants coming from other parts of the country. New to this year's event will be a booth featuring artwork from Elgin Community College students, McDowell said.

"We're really excited about that," she said. "It's great for us, and I think it's going to be a great experience for the students to be able to show their work as well and to be able to talk to some of the other artists."

The event is held rain or shine from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Live music will be featured throughout the duration of the art show, which attracts more than 30,000 art buyers and supporters.


On the west side of the Fox River, more than 20 artists will use chalk and pastels to create sidewalk art along First Street and throughout the plaza, McDowell said. Last year's inaugural Paint the Pavement festival was a success, she said, prompting event organizers to bring back the mesmerizing performance art.

In front of the St. Charles municipal building on Main Street, a tent will feature Murano glass derived from Italy with artists representing their work, McDowell said. At the Fox Island Square on Illinois and First streets, merchants have organized their own activities, from children's art to plein air groups who will paint whatever they see that inspires them.

"We really encourage the local businesses to participate like that," McDowell said. "No matter which way you go across the river, you're going to encounter some art activities, and of course in between, restaurants and stores and all the wonderful things we have downtown."

The "upscale event" kicks off the summer for St. Charles residents and visitors, while also benefiting the city as a whole, said Jenna Sawicki, executive director of the downtown partnership. The organizing committee is made up of volunteers, like McDowell, who spend countless hours putting on the beloved show, she said.

The event is a labor of love for McDowell, who enjoys being able to promote her community while also supporting local and national artists.

"It's an interesting occupation because they work so hard and they put their passion onto their canvas, or whatever their art is. And then they sit there all weekend and hope people will walk by and like it," McDowell said. "It's sort of like baring your soul."

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