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STARCO says Plein Air was best yet - PHOTO GALLERY

    The Steelville Art Council’s 6th Annual Plein Air event is in the books and by all accounts, it was another successful week as 50 painters from eight states invaded the area to show off their talents. If you missed out on the event, don’t worry, numerous paintings from the week are now for sale and on display through the end of June at Gallery Zeke in downtown Steelville.


    Plein air is the method of painting outdoors in a single seating, no matter the weather. Each day of the event, artists were sent to a new place to create a work of art that is completed that day and turned in for judging in the evening. Areas covered by the artists included Maramec Spring Park, a farm near St. James, Keysville, two farms in Crawford County, and downtown Steelville.
    “We were very pleased with the artists,” said Arts Council Vice President Jack Bowles. “For the first time, we hit 50 artists and that was even after we had eight who had registered cancel, so we could have had 58. Fifty is about as many as we can handle with our volunteers and finding housing for them.
    “It was great to have a bunch of artists who are so friendly and supportive of each other,” said Bowles. “One of our artists from Wisconsin said she has never seen a bunch of artists at a Plein Air event who worked so well together, and that it felt like one big family, which is something we noticed, too. That’s why we don’t just invite the best, but open it up to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis.”
    The paintings were judged each week and the top artwork was auctioned off during the annual Plein Air Gala Dinner, which was held Friday night at Belmont Vineyards near Leasburg. Paintings were also on sale Saturday at the Steelville Community Center before the remainder were moved to Gallery Zeke.
    “We had the best gala auction we’ve ever had,” Bowles said. “The 21 paintings we sold were just amazing. Also, for the first time this year we did a quick paint, where the artists had just two hours to paint on Main Street. We really thought the painting wouldn’t be as nice because of the limited amount of time they had to work on them. Boy, were we wrong.”
    Two artists – one who has been to several of the Steelville events and another who participated this year for the first time – both reported that they had great times during last week’s Plein Air. One of them is a seasoned professional, while the other is working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Mizzou.
    “Steelville is one of my favorite Plein Air events, if not my most favorite,” said Daniel Fishback, who lives in North St. Louis County. “I’ve made a lot of friends down here. I love the rivers and creeks. Growing up at my grandma’s house, which was near a creek, it brings back a lot of good memories. I just love the terrain, the rolling hills. It’s just a beautiful place, quite diverse.”

Daniel Fishback works on his two-hour quick paint in downtown Steelville on Friday morning. This was his fourth year to participate in the Steelville Art Council’s Plein Air Event.

    Fishback was painting in Steelville for the fourth year in a row and started getting seriously involved Plein Air painting about 10 years ago. He has been doing art for nearly 20 years, and this year he has already been to Plein Air events in Wisconsin, Illinois, several in Missouri, and will be doing another in Illinois.
    “I’ve always been an outdoor person,” said Fishback when asked what he likes about Plein Air painting. “I like nature and being outside, and I like the fact that you can really see what you are painting when you are outside, rather than painting from a photograph.”
    Fishback, who previously worked as a draftsman, in advertising, and in technology, said he is a continual student of art. “I study a lot,” Fishback said. “One of the things I learned that is very important is to study and constantly study to try to improve. I teach that to my students in workshops and classes.”
    Fishback has taught at other Plein Air events and at classes in the St. Louis area. He also conducted a workshop while he was the Steelville Art Council’s artist in residence last September. Fishback has won numerous awards for his work, which can be purchased at Leawood Fine Art, in Overland Park, Kan., The Art House in Fulton, Mo., the OA Gallery in St. Louis), and at Jacobie Art Center in Alton, Ill. He also currently has art on display and for sale at Gallery Zeke.
    You can find out more about Fishback at danielfishbackfineart.net and dailypaintworks.com, or by searching for him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
    While Fishback was taking part in his fourth Steelville Plain Air event, Hayley Portell was participating in her first. Portell, who is a local artist from St. James, is currently studying at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she will be a senior this fall, to earn a BFA in drawing with a minor in psychology. She plans to get a master’s degree in art therapy.

Hayley Portell concentrates on her work during Friday’s Plein Air painting in front of Lange General Store in downtown Steelville.

    “Going in I was really nervous,” said Portell, who graduated from John F. Hodge High School in St. James in 2015. “I’m definitely a beginner and I’d never experienced painting outside like this, with a time limit where you can’t go back and fix things later. It was intimidating knowing that I was participating against 50 other professional artists, but they were great and really helped me a lot.”
    Despite her concerns before the event started, Portell was pleased with how her first Plein Air went, especially since she was able to sell four of her seven paintings.
    “I think it went really well,” she said. “All of the artists put out great works and we had a great variety of locations. I think I’ll do it again sometime. Plein Air kind of ties into the natural elements of what I do in the studio, but it’s a nice way to break out and immerse yourself in what you are doing.”
    Portell is currently working as a summer intern from the Steelville Arts Council and during her time at Mizzou she has volunteered for the Columbia Art League, completed research through the Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program, and was a site leader for Mizzou Alternative Breaks. Her artwork has been displayed in the George Caleb Bingham Gallery, Jesse Hall at Mizzou, and at Gallery Zeke. She enjoys a variety of mediums, including pastels, charcoals, oils, as well as painting, fiber works, and printmaking.
    Portell will be taking a break from her internship work for the arts council later this month through early July in order to take part in a trip to Canada as part of Mizzou’s undergraduate research mentorship program. She will be working with a mentor who has worked with another student to write a children’s book about the Cheslatta Carrier Nation in British Columbia and will be doing the illustrations for the book.
    “We will be there about two weeks during their annual campout on their native land that they were displaced from in the ‘50s,” said Portell. “During our time there, we will be getting to know them, so we can finish up work on the book.”
    You can follow Portell on Instagram @hayleyportell.art, and you can see some of her work from Plein Air at Gallery Zeke in Steelville for the rest of this month.
    The Steelville Arts Council is already making plans for next year’s Plein Air event, which will include a new event where artists will be painting historic Crawford County barns. Anyone who has a barn and would be willing to participate can contact the arts council by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..