Art al fresco
When warm weather arrives, art fairs start to pop up everywhere.
© Beth Gauper
A customer browses in a photography booth at the Park Point Art Fair in Duluth.
We all know what summer means — days at the beach, boat rides, marshmallow roasts . . . and shopping.
Not at malls but under the little white tents that pop up wherever there's a festival, on the shores of lakes, in parks and on picturesque town squares.
That's where the region's most accomplished potters, glass makers, jewelers, painters, weavers and photographers bring out their wares and make themselves available to whoever cares to stop — customers, passersby, admirers.
At Duluth's Park Point Art Fair, set up near the end of the sand spit that forms Duluth's harbor, Frank Garcia of Duluth cast himself into the last category. He went from one photographer's booth to another, looking enviously at beautifully composed portraits of wildlife, flora and landscapes.
At each booth, he stopped to chat with the artist.
"Even if I don't buy, I've seen some beautiful things by the end of the day," Garcia said. "They're interesting people who interact with life in a completely different way."
For shoppers, it's a golden opportunity to get to know interesting artists and to see new works by artists they already know.
At Park Point, I was glad to see photographer Jim Gindorff of St. Paul, because I'd wanted a framed print of his striking "Oak Leaves"' ever since I'd bought the image on a $4 greeting card at the Northfield fair two years earlier.
Luckily for Gindorff, most people don't spend that long deliberating about spending $120.
"I've had people coming through on their way to their cabin in Grand Marais, and they'll say, 'I'll take this one and this one and that one,' and I'll think, where do they get their money?" he said. "I don't try to talk them out of it, though."
Call of the loon
Strolling along between rows of booths, I was drawn by the call of a loon. It turned out to be coming from potters Jim and Mary Lee Henriques of nearby Carlton, who made a loon whistle one day as a lark and now are known as "the loon potters."
The exquisite dinner plates, vases and pots they primarily make sell well, but the whistles fly out by the dozens.
"Now, if we don't bring them, people say, 'Where are the loons?'" Mary Lee Henriques says.
As I walked along, chatting with the artists and collecting postcards of art I might want to buy someday, a harpist played. Children played on a giant wood ore boat, and vendors sold gyros and kettle corn.
Nearly every art fair offers food and entertainment, especially those that are part of a community festival. But each has a different character.
© Beth Gauper
A shopper looks at some unusual handmade purses at the Park Point Art Fair.
Many of the fairs are very popular, and people who plan to build a summer weekend around one should reserve lodgings ahead of time.
Trip tips: Outdoors art fairs
Below is a guide to some of the best outdoors art fairs in the region. All are in attractive settings and in towns that have many attractions for tourists. All are juried.
People who want to visit summer art fairs in popular weekend destinations — Duluth, Grand Marais, Bayfield, Ely, Red Wing, Madison — should reserve lodgings in the spring.
Here are dates for some of the best fairs in 2020.
For a list of fall studio tours, see Autumn in the studios.
For more about the area, see Baraboo's gilt complex.May 15-17, DubuqueFest in Dubuque, Iowa. In addition to a juried art fair in Washington Park, there's dance, music on two stages, storytelling, food and children's activities.
For more, see Destination Dubuque.
May 29-30, Street Faire at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes, Minn. There's music and food as well as art in this western Minnesota resort town.
June 5-7, Iowa Arts Festival in Iowa City, Iowa. More than 130 regional artists sell at this downtown festival, which includes, music, dance, children's activities, a Global Village and a Culinary Row.
June 5-6, Park Art Fair in New Richmond, Wis. This fair in western Wisconsin includes helicopter rides and a beer garden.
June 6, St. Anthony Park Arts Festival in St. Paul. This festival in the charming St. Anthony Park neighborhood features more than 70 artists, music and food.
June, Northern Illinois Art Show in Sycamore, Ill. This longtime show is on the county courthouse lawn.
© Amy Janczy
The Kids Art Yard is a popular part of Lake Mills' Arts Festival in July.
June 6-7, Gold Coast Art Fair in Chicago. This fair, which attracts 350 juried artists, is in Grant Park.
June 13-14, Art on the Lake in Excelsior, Minn. The show in this western Minneapolis suburb has a lovely setting in a park on Lake Minnetonka, near a sand beach, a playground and tennis courts.
For more, see Cruising around Excelsior.
June 13-14, Monument Square Art Festival in Racine, Wis. More than 50 artists show their work at this downtown festival. There's also entertainment and children's activities.
June 20-21, Stone Arch Bridge Festival in Minneapolis. Along the Mississippi at St. Anthony Main, 250 artists show their wares. There are also three stages and a car show.
For more, see On the river in Minneapolis.
June 20-21, Land of the Loon Ethnic Arts & Crafts Festival in Virginia, Minn. This Iron Range town festival features a parade and is held near Silver Lake, home of a 20-foot fiberglass loon.
For more, see On the Iron Trail.
June, Custer Fair in Evanston, Ill. This big fair features 250 artists, 50 variety performers, a medicine show and entertainment on two stages.
June 20, Art in the Park in Lanesboro, Minn. Many fine artists live in and around this Minnesota bluff-country burg, a favorite of bicyclists.
For more, see The belle of bluff country.
June 21, Snake Alley Art Fair in Burlington, Iowa. The fair along the famously crooked street in this Mississippi River town coincides with the Steamboat Days festival.
June 26-28, Des Moines Arts Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. This big, juried arts fair at Western Gateway Park includes a jazz and wine pavilion, film festival and interactive arts projects.
June 27-28, Art Experience in Wayzata, Minn. More than 100 juried artists show their work in the pretty downtown of this Minneapolis suburb on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.
June 27-28, Grand Haven Art Festival in Grand Haven, Mich. Washington Avenue downtown turns into an art gallery, and there are free arts activities for children.
June 27-28, Spring Green Arts & Crafts Fair in Spring Green, Wis. This arts community along the Wisconsin River also is the home of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, House on the Rock and the American Players Theatre.
For more, see Drawn to Spring Green.
June 27-28, Park Point Art Fair in Duluth. It's held across the Aerial Lift Bridge, on the sand spit that creates the harbor.
For more, see Duluth stories.
July 4-5, South Haven Art Fair in South Haven, Mich. More than 100 artists show their wares in Stanley Johnston Park.
July 11, Art at St. Kate's in St. Paul. This small, mellow festival on the lawn of St. Catherine University in the Highland Park neighborhood also features music and food.
July 11, Fine Art & Craft Fair in Pentwater, Mich. The juried fair in this Lake Michigan town is held on the Village Green downtown.
July 11-12, Art on the Square in Madison. This is a huge event, with nearly 500 exhibitors, but a universal favorite.
© Beth Gauper
Shoppers browse at an art fair in the old mill district of Minneapolis.
For more, see Summer in Madison.
July 11-12, Arts Festival in Grand Marais, Minn. This small festival is very popular for its beautiful setting on a Lake Superior harbor.
For more, see Artistic Grand Marais.
July 11-12, Phelps Mill Festival east of Fergus Falls, Minn. This is one of western Minnesota's most popular festivals, held in a bucolic county park along the Otter Tail River, next to a restored 1889 flour mill and general store. There's a high proportion of crafts.
For more, see Otter trail country.
July 17-19, Highland Fest in St. Paul. On Ford Parkway, fairgoers stroll between artists, musicians and food vendors.
July 17-19, Minnehaha Falls Art Fair in Minneapolis. At this fair in Minnehaha Falls Park, each of 150 booths includes items that cost less than $30. There's also live music and food.
July 18, Stockholm Art Fair in Stockholm, Wis. This tiny village on Lake Pepin hosts a small but beloved festival.
For more, see Destination: Stockholm
July 18, Lake Mills Arts Festival in Lake Mills, Wis. The show in this town, half an hour east of Madison near the Glacial Drumlin State Trail, is held in pretty Commons Park and features Wisconsin-based artists.
For more, see Riding the Glacial Drumlin.
© Beth Gauper
For Madison's Art Fair on the Square, booths surround the state Capitol.
July 18-19, Festival of Arts in Bayfield, Wis. Few settings are more picturesque than Bayfield's Memorial Park on Lake Superior.
For more, see Beloved Bayfield.
July 18-19, Midsummer Festival of the Arts in Sheboygan, Wis. This festival is on the grounds of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a few blocks from Lake Michigan and renowned for outsider and folk art.
For more, see Sights of Sheboygan.
July 18-19, Art in the Park in Bemidji, Minn. In summer, few places are more refreshing than the shores of Lake Bemidji in northern Minnesota.
For more, see Bemidji's behemoths.
July 24-26, Blueberry Arts Festival in Ely, Minn. This show in Whiteside Park features more than 260 artists and crafters.
For more, see Dreaming of Ely.
July 25-26, Geneva Arts Fair in Geneva, Ill. More than 150 artists show along historic Third Street in this town on the Fox River.
For more, see Towns of the Fox River.
July 25, Art Sail in Clear Lake, Iowa. More than 75 juried artists set up in city park next to the lake. This pleasant lakeside town, two hours south of the Twin Cities, hosts the Iowa Storytelling Festival on the same weekend.
For more, see Clear Lake tranquility.
July 25-26, Art & Chalk Fest in West Bend, Wis. In addition to 65 fine artists, there will be 15 national chalk artists at work, plus music, art activities and free admission to the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
July 25-26, Art in the Park in Alexandria, Minn. The lakes are the traditional draw in this resorts town.
For more, see Alexandria's enigma.
July 25-26, Art on the Rocks in Marquette, Mich. This show is in scenic Presque Isle Park, a peninsula in Lake Superior.
© Northfield Chamber
In Northfield, artists set up along the Cannon River.
For more, see Marquette's double appeal.
July 25-26, Loring Park Art Festival in Minneapolis. This festival is down Hennepin Avenue from the Uptown Art Fair, on the edge of downtown.
Aug. 1-2, Powderhorn Art Fair in Minneapolis. This festival is around a lake in Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis.
Aug. 7-9, Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis. This festival in this busy neighborhood near Lake Calhoun is big, with 350 exhibitors; ride a bike or take the bus.
Aug. 8-9, Art in the Park in Lake Geneva, Wis. More than 80 artists set up in Flat Iron Park on the lakefront.
For more, see Gawking in Lake Geneva.
Aug. 8-9, Morning Glory Fine Craft Fair in Milwaukee. The fair features 140 exhibitors on the plaza outside Fiserv Forum arena.
© Beth Gauper
Artists sell ironwork and mosaics as well as paintings and pottery.
Aug. 15-16, Art in the Park in Elkader, Iowa. This fair is along the Turkey River in Founder's Park and features music, food and a children's Creation Station.
Aug. 28-30, Artstreet in Green Bay, Wis. This large downtown event includes four stages and strolling performers.
For more, see Packer country.
Aug. 29-30, ArtWorks Festival in Austin, Minn. This show around the downtown power plant includes music, demonstrations and family activities.
Sept. 5-6, Third Ward Art Festival in Milwaukee. The festival in this historic district near downtown features 140 artists.
Sept. 11-13, Harvest Moon Festival in Ely, Minn. The art show in this north-woods town is held in Whiteside Park and attracts more than 125 artists and crafters.
For more, see Dreaming of Ely.
Sept. 12-13, Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair in Little Falls, Minn. This massive fair in central Minnesota includes 850 exhibitors and 100,000 visitors.
Sept. 12-13, Riverfront Fine Arts & Crafts Festival in Northfield, Minn. This fair along the Cannon River an hour south of the Twin Cities coincides with the big Defeat of Jesse James Days. Don't miss the re-enactments.
© Beth Gauper
In Minneapolis, the Uptown Art Fair draws crowds.
For more, see Scrappy Northfield.
For more, see Wausau's liquid assets.
Sept. 12-13, Downtown Downers Grove Arts Festival in Downers Grove, Ill. This main-street fest features the work of more than 40 juried artists.
Sept. 19-20, Driftless Area Art Festival in Soldiers Grove, Wis. It's also apple season in the ridges and valleys of this part of southwest Wisconsin.
For more, see Valleys of Vernon County.
Sept. 19-20, Marine Art Fair in Marine on St. Croix, Minn. This village on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River hosts a fairly large fair, with 175 exhibitors.
Sept. 19-20, Lakeville Art Festival in Lakeville, Minn. The fair in this town south of Minneapolis features more than 70 artists, live music and a youth art tent.
Sept. 26-27, Afton Art in the Park in Afton, Minn. This fair is small, but the St. Croix River village just east of the Twin Cities is a favorite weekend destination.
For more, see Autumn along the St. Croix.
Sept. 27, Millstream Arts Festival in St. Joseph, Minn. The juried show in this town at the start of the Lake Wobegon Trail also features music, street performances, horse-drawn trolley rides, children's art and history tours.
Oct. 10-11, Galena Country Fair in Galena, Ill. This down-home fair is in Grant Park, along the river; reserve lodgings far in advance.
For more, see Galena getaway.
Oct. 10, Fall Fair on the Square in Baraboo, Wis., near Wisconsin Dells. While you're there, visit Circus World Museum and Devil's Lake State Park.
For more, see Baraboo's gilt complex.
Last updated on February 10, 2020