In the world of art, eight people and fifty feet of snow fence make for pretty humble beginnings. But those were the modest components of the first Keuka Lake Art Association Hammondsport Art Show. Keep that in mind when you walk through this year’s fiftieth anniversary event, set for July 9 and 10 on the village square. (The show opens on Saturday and the judging is Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. www.keukalakeartassociation.com.)
Hammondsport High School art teacher Michael Moretti taught a painting class to area adults in 1966. So enthused were the students, they asked their teacher about showing their work in a public setting. Cue the snow fence. Within five years, the art show had grown to encompass more than just paintings. Sculptures, fiber, acrylics, and photography have grown in representation, keeping pace with the show. The impact of the event has also grown, including the inclusion of student work with a reduced entry fee. For many, the juried Hammondsport show is their first taste of competition. More than three thousand dollars in cash prizes are awarded to exhibitors annually by the show, as well as the Jeanne M. Lent Scholarship, awarded to high school and college students in memory of the Hammondsport art lover who was one of the show’s first committee members.
The range of categories offers a visual feast for art lovers both seasoned and casual: drawings and graphics, pottery, jewelry, photography, and sculpture are open to all original work. In two categories—oils and acrylics, and watercolors—there are separate competitions for amateurs and professionals. Consider it homage to that original group of eight amateurs who found their artistic voices with Michael Moretti’s help.
That influence also helped shape the Moretti family, all of whom have creative tendencies. Their children grew up at the Hammondsport Art Show, from helping to set it up to being old enough to enter their own work. Today, son Tony Moretti and his wife Gwen Quigley organize a “Children’s Corner” where kids can put their summer energy into making creations from natural materials. Inspiring future generations is a family tradition.
Michael modestly calls the enterprise “successful” and is reluctant to receive the praise alone. “There is a core group of volunteers who make it happen year after year. And the Village of Hammondsport is very supportive.” So is the art community.
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Many regional artists mark it in their calendars in ink. One of them is Leah Corey, who lives in Bath and makes textural beadwork jewelry and sculptures of all sizes (including miniatures for doll houses). She has been a part of the Hammondsport happening for twenty years. “I am thrilled to have such a high quality event in my own backyard. The energy and creativity fostered by this show, and the fact that it was conceived and supported by artists, has positioned it to remain a popular and viable event for fifty years. And no doubt, fifty years to come!”
A summer day on the village square is a work of art in itself. The shade trees, the charming shops and restaurants, the lake shimmering nearby—it all makes for a picture as pretty as those on exhibit. The Keuka Lake Art Association knows how to make a good thing better. Guitarist Bill Groome will be on the bandstand Sunday, and local favorite pianist Ed Clute will tinkle the ivories both days of the show.
Besides the aesthetics of the art itself, the Hammondsport Art Show is very important to the town itself. Chamber of Commerce President Ken Corey, husband of Leah, calls the event “an integral part of the fabric of the Hammondsport area.” Familiar with its simple beginning, Ken notes that the circle of artists involved grew with each year. He credits the direct involvement of artists for keeping the quality of the work so high. “An art show that is juried by artists will attract excellent work, work that people buy to display or gift. It elevates the event.”
Such events are partly responsible for the steady flow of visitors to Hammondsport. The year-round count of voting adults is 750. That number plumps up like a Finger Lakes grape to 20,000 during the warm months. Happenings on the square anchor activity for tourists who are also coming for the lake and the wineries. Come December, the locals will enjoy a Christmas celebration on the square that will feel like a family party with the decreased traffic.
That surge in population also feeds a unique combination of world-class shopping and dining that normally isn’t found in small towns. Add it all up and it equals a summer experience that one resident calls “unspoiled,” an enjoyment of all the best things in life in a setting out of a painting.
After fifty years, what is the future of the Hammondsport Art Show? Michael is uncertain. That core group of volunteers is aging and he isn’t sure of who will be there to step up. He retired from teaching in 1990, though his impact as an educator will be felt for generations to come. At ninety-two, he is starting to think about slowing down. That’s a concept that doesn’t sit well with some of his board members. One of them informed Michael that his “retirement” would have to wait for a slightly more significant event—the stepping down of Queen Elizabeth. When the Queen hangs it up, Michael can turn the hanging of regional artwork over to a successor.
It’s very clear whom Hammondsport would miss more.