Connecticut Flower & Garden Show, 2/2008 before set-up
Doing Art Festivals, whether they are indoor or outdoor, are quite grueling events.
Basically what you are doing is building a moveable, temporary store. All the requirements for showing, selling and packaging your work are amplified since you must be able to set-up within an hour or two hour time frame in a temporary location. When you’re done you need to do the same in reverse and leave the location as you found it.
You need to design your store to be reflective of your style, visually inviting, easy to navigate & clearly representative of your body of work. You need to be able to give out information, write up and process sales, and provide packaging for customers to conveniently take home their purchases.
Connecticut Flower & Garden Show booth set up in February of 2008 for Mary Ahern.
Your booth and all your furnishings must be collapsible and able to be moved from your vehicle to the staging area you have been assigned. Desks, racks, tables & chairs all need to be lightweight and folded for transporting. The selection of your display needs to take into consideration the space requirements of the work you’re going to sell and the total amount of space available in whatever means of transportation you will be using.
After seeing the photos and reading the article Dream Chasers, written by Arlene Gross for Newsday, which featured myself among others who have turned in mid-life to careers which are more personally satisfying, I have enjoyed revisiting my journey.
Mary Ahern showing her oil paintings at the Floral Park Art League in 1976
Here is a photo of me with my Award winning oil paintings at the Floral Park Art League in 1976. I painted them all before I began my college Art education. For a year I took oil painting classes on Wednesday evening at the YMCA in Bellerose Queens NY and from this experience I found my life’s calling.
Each year I looked forward to showing my work at this outdoor art show and each year I sold some of my works. What a wonderful experience it is to realize that work you created from your own imagination and from assorted colors in tubes moved others in such a way that they will give you money that they earned so they can hang your vision on their walls. I am still moved that my skill and vision will enhance their lives each and every day.
Thirty-one years later I’ve returned to selling my Artwork outdoors at festivals. This shot of me was taken while I was taking a call on my cell phone at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Festival in New York City in May of 2007. I still enjoy getting out of my studio and meeting people. Speaking to my customers energizes me and personalizes the selling experience. At shows I always enjoy seeing some of my former customers who come by to say hello and tell me where they hung the Art they’ve bought from me and how much they enjoy seeing it everyday.
Excerpt of Article posted in The Times of Northport
Artist cultivates her livelihood like a garden
By Arlene Gross
June 13, 2007 | 02:39 PM
Northport resident Mary Ahern is a successful artist who practices a unique technique she describes as. “Digital Mixed Media Painting”.
But Ahern, who… (was) among the exhibitors at Arts in the Park in Northport July 8, (2007) was not born an artist. “I didn’t come to paint until I was older,” she said. “I didn’t even know I had a facility for it.”
As a young girl, she focused on music: playing trumpet and saxophone for the high school band and conducting her Fort Hamilton High School graduation in Brooklyn with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I’ve been in the bleeding edge of those kinds of issues,” she said. “In those days, girls didn’t conduct.”
A life-changing moment came in her 20s, when a friend gave her a coffee table book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“I opened it up and turned the pages and wept,” she recalled. “It was completely transforming. I could only look at 10 pictures a day, it was so overwhelming.”
From that moment, Ahern knew she must study art and, then a resident of Queens, attended Queens College.
Although she was influenced by O’Keeffe and painted similar subjects, such as close-up and sensual florals, Ahern said she did not mimic her idol’s technique. Whereas O’Keeffe painted with direct and rapid strokes, Ahern’s traditional paintings were created in grisaille, or gray scale, and layered with washes of pigment on top, giving the subjects a glow through the optical blending of glazes of pigment.
After divorcing her first husband, Ahern took a job at Barnard College’s career counseling office, where she herself was able to get some career guidance. Through her Barnard position, she attended Columbia University for free by working there while raising sons, Chris and Michael, then ages 10 and 8.
“I knew if I couldn’t stay home and be a mom and paint, I had to make a decision: I’m going to make as much money as possible,” she said.
With profit in mind, Ahern went into technology sales, selling computer graphics and eventually becoming Northeast regional sales manager at Chyron Corporation in Melville (and a National Marketing Manager at The Dynatech Video Group.) Then she started Online Design, a digital graphics company.
For Ahern, feminism was not a word to bandy about but, rather, her day-to-day reality – working as a single mother in a male-dominated industry.
“My single-minded focus on providing a good life for my sons enabled me to ignore the tremendous obstacles, prejudice, emotional assault and loneliness that comes from breaking through social barriers,” she said. “I, like my father, pulled myself up by my bootstraps. As a woman in a male industry however, I, like Ginger Rogers, did everything in high heels and backwards.”
In 1989, Ahern fulfilled her dream of buying a house with a spacious garden in Northport, which she said, “was like a step back in time to a slower and more gracious lifestyle.”
“The center of town with a Main Street embedded with trolley tracks leading to the harbor breezes and music in the gazebo captured my attention and insisted upon my attendance. I needed to move here.”
Eleven years later, she renovated her home, adding an airy, second floor art studio, and now natural light trickles throughout.
The garden, which Ahern designed, encircles the house, with its artfully designated focal points and meandering paths, everything flowing gracefully.
“I practice nonviolent gardening – no rose bushes to stab you – all soft inviting plants,” she said.
Seventeen years after her first marriage ended, Ahern married David Ruedeman, an engineer at Chyron. The couple worked together there but got to know one another only when he became a client of Online Design. This year will mark the couple’s 10th anniversary…
Early on in the second marriage, wishing to reinvent herself, Ahern got a degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale in 2000, with the idea of becoming a landscape designer, which she did for a year. “It was too much for my (aching) body,” she said, of the many hours spent working on bended knees.
From there, it was a two-year course studying botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Her (Mixed Media) painting, a culmination of expertise paralleling her life’s progressive journey, combines a passion for the fine arts, gardening, computer graphics and botanical painting.
“To be creative, you need to know your medium,” Ahern said of her computer graphics skills. Through her paintings, she seeks to make people look around them and become more aware of the nature surrounding us.
Dr. Roberta Koepfer, her friend since 1971, said, “She’s like a phoenix. I have seen her rise up from a fair number of devastating experiences. Every time she comes back, she comes back more dynamic, more focused on her art and with an increased zest for life and personal growth.”
When it came time to sell her art, Ahern’s business savvy came in handy; she started in Northport as an exhibitor at the annual Arts in the Park series (in 2004) and now participates in about 15 art shows in New York and Connecticut between May and September, with her husband lending a hand.
Ahern’s work has also been the focus of several gallery exhibitions, including a one-person show at Greenlawn’s Harborfields Library this past February.
Susan Hope, gallery coordinator for the library, noted that Ahern’s exhibit was well timed: her cheerful florals brightened the gloom of winter. “It has an eye catching appeal,” she said. “People really enjoyed it, whether they were art savvy or just seniors on their way to their meetings.”
Today, Ahern is either painting her botanicals, selling them or lecturing on the business of art at libraries or schools, although her business persona has changed radically over the years. “I did trade shows in high heels and silk suits,” she said, “now I’m doing business in Birkenstocks and shorts.”
To anyone seeking career guidance, Ahern advised, “Don’t throw away anything you’ve done because you want to transform yourself. Take the good portions, the positive elements and try to incorporate them into this new self you’re creating. That’s how I’m living my life.”
University Place NYC during the Washington Square Art Festival
Look at University Place in NYC during the Washington Square Outdoor Art Fesitival and look at the same street without.
All the Artist’s set up this mini city each morning starting at 10:30 and the show officially starts at noon. For the city that never sleeps, you can’t really dictate show hours however so frequently you are discussing your work while half of the booth is still in cartons.
University Place after the Washington Square Art Festival
At 6pm we take down our city. We do this exhausting work each day over the course of 3 days.
We do this show each Memorial and Labor Day Weekend.
Mary Ahern- Art Naturally had a Successful First Time Showing at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show
The 2007 CT Flower and Garden Show moved to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford CT. We never showed at this venue before so this was a new experience for us.
We brought our Traveling Art Festival Gallery to this exciting and very popular event and we’re sure glad we did.
The promised crowd of over 30,000 people showed up and at times, I felt as if I got to speak to each and every one of those winter starved gardeners.
This 4 day event has very long hours. Evenings until 8 each session. Did I mention very long days?
I’m glad that I brought my new bamboo director’s chair even though there were many hours I never got to touch it except to put my coffee in the cup holder.
The new lighting inside our Gallery worked just as we hoped so next time we’ll probably add the same system to the outside wall. The color correct lighting really makes a difference when showing Art.
As you can see, we’ve added new furniture to the Gallery and it makes writing up orders and taking information so much easier. Drawers in the desk really help me stay organized and the wood adds a nice sleek and solid look.
The racks on the outside of the Gallery were less than successful and we’re looking into alternative systems to show the small prints.
Mary Ahern-Art Naturally booth at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, 2007.
The third reason in my decision of whether to blog or not was:
To “open up my rather cloistered existence for greater conversation.”
Having enjoyed a career in sales which included at times 80% travel, which means that I was on the road by car or airplanes 4 days a week, and my life now, creating Art in the serenity and quiet of my studio, I can say that I sometimes miss the dialog of humans. During the year I solve this void by showing my work in a number of upscale Art Festivals around the NY, NJ and CT areas.
I call them my mini trade shows. I used to attend, as an exhibitor, huge trade shows targeted to the Television Broadcast and Production industries such at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) in Las Vegas, IBC in Montreux, Switzerland, Video Expo NYC while wearing high heels and silk suits. Construction crews and electricians put up huge booths over a period of days and many sleepless nights where experienced by the company engineers when the equipment didn’t work after the jostling of shipment.
My Festival Show booth
Now my booth is a 10’x 10′ EZ-Up popup tent with mesh side panels to hang my Art, racks to display additional smaller prints and a collapsible desk. My husband Dave, who is in charge of all logistics, has timed our set up to one and a half hours as our best-case scenario. That doesn’t count the endless fiddling I do during the course of the shows to perfect the positioning and hanging of the Art. My dress code has changed from 3″ heels to khaki and Birkenstocks. How sweet!
The conversations I have with people during the two to four days of each Art Festival are so energizing. The questions and suggestions from them spur me to really think about my work and to stretch myself in ways I don’t get from working quietly in my studio by myself. The studio and the shows each are contributing so much to my creativity, my life and my Art. I’m looking forward to opening up the dialog even further with my blog.