John Snell's photography booth — dotted with colorful photos of the starting gate at Keeneland and the natural wonders at Red River Gorge — was packed with art-loving shoppers on Sunday.
Snell, an amateur photographer turned professional in 2000, has been an exhibitor at the Annual American Founders Bank Woodland Art Fair for the past 13 years. Despite a tepid economy, Snell said Sunday that the fair is consistently one of his top-selling shows.
"I'm having a really great weekend," Snell said. The Lexington-based photographer does many Kentucky-based shows during the year. "Woodland is typically my best show every year. It's looking that way this year."
The two-day art fair, now in its 36th year, was recently named one of the country's top art shows by Sunshine Artist Magazine, a popular arts magazine, and the Southeast Tourism Society has named the fair a Top 20 event.
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But a tough economy means people are saving more and spending less on art. Many artists said Sunday that's why they go to Woodland: It's an established show that consistently has a crowd of about 60,000 people. Lexington's economy, which is fueled by the University of Kentucky and the health-care industry, has weathered the downturn better than other parts of the nation. A record number of artists applied to be in this year's show — 600 for the 200 booths, organizers said.
"The worse the economy gets, you have to be smarter," said David Piper, who has been selling his hand-crafted sandals at art shows across the country for decades. Piper said that when the economy first tanked in 2008, he and his son thought they should do more shows — 30 or 31 shows a year.
Instead of making money, the Texas-based artist lost money on travel and other expenses. This year, he will do about 22 shows and is back in the black.
Piper said people are buying, but they aren't buying as much or putting it on their credit cards.
"They buy half as much, and they think it over," Piper said.
Dicky Stone, a wood sculptor, traveled from Savannah, Ga., to come to Woodland. He had heard about the show from other exhibitors but decided to come after seeing the art fair mentioned in Sunshine Artist Magazine, which recently did a cover story on Stone.
Stone exhibits in his own gallery in Savannah but decided to do the art-show circuit to expand his audience and potential customer base. This was his first year at Woodland.
"I had to ask myself, 'What can I do differently?' " Stone said. "I've been in galleries, and I decided this year that I would branch out and do some shows."
It worked. On Saturday, he sold more than $2,500 in art. Many people who didn't buy his wood sculptures on Sunday were asking for his brochures.
People are still buying art, said Andrea Coates, the director of marketing for the Lexington Art League, the presenter of the Woodland show.
"I've heard a lot of people say that they put the Woodland art show in their budget," Coates said.
Stephanie Harris, the executive director of the Lexington Art League, agreed.
"We're seeing once again record attendance at the fair," Harris said. "People are still buying art. It's a really big part of our economy."
Harris said that not only does the money raised from the fair finance much of the Lexington Art League programs, it also helps downtown Lexington businesses by bringing people to restaurants and hotels.
Rod Lindauer, a metal and wood sculptor who also makes modern furniture, had a packed booth on Sunday as people looked at his unique metal and wood benches, side tables and metal sculptures.
Lindauer, who works out of a shop in Estill County, said the past two years have been difficult. He, too, has to choose what type of shows he does. In 2008, he went to a highly regarded art show in Chicago just days after a major stock market collapse. The show was a bust. He lost money.
But Woodland is different. He doesn't have to travel far, and he can tap a broad audience from a wide geographic area.
"I'm not a typical patron for the fair," Lindauer said. "I'm just getting my name out there."