First Friday in downtown Havre de Grace is a warm weather tradition in this waterfront town where the Susquehanna empties into the Chesapeake. From May through October on the first Friday of every month, the city of Havre de Grace shuts down St. Johns Street and North Washington Street, for this one-of-a-kind street festival, celebrating all the things that make Havre de Grace and Harford County the special place we all love to call home.
Walking down the street, you take in the enchantment of the warm, humid evening. You hear the harmony of live music and distance conversations. You smell the enticing aroma of food vendors grilling up special delicacies in locally owned food trucks that regulars line up to enjoy. As you get to Lafayette Square, peering up North Washington St., you see canopy tents lined up on both sides of the street with various vendors and thousands of people out enjoying the twilight festivities, and supporting the local businesses.
As you start walking up North Washington St., you see several groups of artists with portable easels painting this current moment on canvases. You stop by to admire their work and begin to conversate with them along with the street vendors. They give you their business cards, and you continue your stroll through downtown Havre de Grace. You can feel a magic in the air, but there is another type of magic that happens at these events that I experienced first-hand while En Plein Air painting during August’s Frist Friday.
I wrote at length on my art blog on my website, ZenobiaDarlingCreative.com, how En Plein Air painting, or painting outdoors, is a performance art capable of promoting local artists and spreading the charm of painting. This En Plein Air painting style is very popular with artists in Harford County and has the power to inspire the next generation of artists to pick up a paintbrush and experience the healing power of art. One of the two galleries I exhibit my fine art at in Harford County is Artist’s Emporium in Havre de Grace. Since the gallery is located on N. Washington St. where Frist Friday is held every month, Robert Buden, the gallery owner invites the artists in the gallery to En Plein Air paint in front of the gallery as it is good promotion for the artwork on exhibition, plus it is a fun, creative evening.
When I got there, Artists Emporium’s Artist-in-Residence John Keaton, and another artist who exhibits in the gallery, Robin Capecci, had already set up their painting stations. Once I touched base with Robert in the gallery, I began to set up my travel easel to paint. I was going to work on a commission I had to get started, but when I got there, I looked across the street to a yellow-painted brick building and decided I wanted to paint that instead. I remembered as a child this building was an ice cream parlor that had a flavor called “Crazy Vanilla”, which was rainbow-colored vanilla ice cream, that I loved as a kid.
I began to map out on the canvas where this building was going to be when a young boy came up to me and began watching me paint. This building has a white decorative trim running along the roof line, and as I attempted to paint this, the boy started to say I was painting in the wrong spot. I could tell he had an interest in art, so I handed him my paint brush telling him to give it a try. He was at first very hesitant, but after a while, he grabbed my brush and began to paint this white trim.
With my coaching, I let him paint for about twenty minutes. You could see as he painted that the creative and healing possibilities of art was beginning to be awoken in this young human. During this small painting lesson, photographer Pat Venturino with Venture Photos came by with her camera and photographed this moment. During painting, I quickly noticed that this kid has the raw talent and detailed eye of a great artist. He told me that he was from east Baltimore and came to First Friday with his extended family as they all love the charm of Havre de Grace.
His mom had been looking for him, and she came up to see what he had been doing. She was angry that he ran off but I showed her the painting he created, and she was delighted. He came back up to us a few moments later asking for paper and a pencil as he wanted to draw. John Keaton got him those supplies from inside the gallery, and he began to draw with John these detailed and impressive comic book superheroes. He then asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a professional artist, and gave him my business card, which he ecstatically took and went along his way to find his mom again.
Moments like these are why I love En Plein Air painting, especially during street festivals like First Friday. In college, I worked with a therapeutic art nonprofit called The Butterfly Art Project in Capricorn Township in Cape Town, South Africa. I could tell conversing with this kid while he painted, that he shared similarities to those kids I worked with and has faced a tougher experience that is far too common around the world, and right here in Maryland. But just spending a few moments letting him paint planted the seeds of a brighter future for him. I didn’t catch the name of this kid, but I know that I was in the right place at the right time to show this kid the power and freedom that can happen through art. This is the true magic of Havre de Grace’s Frist Friday.