Susan Morrow Potje’s happy place is under the white tents

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Susan Morrow Potje has a motto for this year’s Celebration of Fine Art: Celebrate art 6 feet apart.

“I think it’s a good, happy place for people to come to,” says Potje, who helms the event with her husband, Jake.

The 31st annual festival runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, March 28, with strict rules in place. Masks are required, and patrons who are ill must stay home. Potje spaced the tables farther apart in the café, but tables and chairs have been added to the patio.

The Art Discovery series will continue from 4 to 5 p.m. Fridays, but with minimal refreshments. It’s a live and interactive event in which guests hear about the adventures, stories and processes that shape art. Artists discuss topics such as metalworking, jewelry making, abstract art and sculpture.

Recognizable by its signature “big white tents,” the Celebration of Fine Art offers 40,000 square feet of art ranging from realist to impressionistic, Western realism and abstract to contemporary across all mediums from stone to metal, wood to glass, and canvas.

Potje says she brought in a series of new artists and those from her previous events. Michael Jones of Bigfork, Montana, displays his metal work, while Phoenix’s Gedion Nyanhongo once again speaks to guests about his abstract stone carvings. Paul Rhymer will travel from Point of Rocks, Maryland, to sell his wildlife-inspired bronze sculptures. Jeweler Michael McRae of Park City, Utah, will make his Celebration of Fine Art debut.

David Barkby of Dover, Pennsylvania, uses Buckeye Burl wood to create sculptures and furniture.

“Two of his largest pieces he’s ever done will be on display this year,” Potje says. “That’s pretty impressive. We also have an area set up where he can do demos and people can watch him from time to time.”

Similarly, patrons can see a 7-foot crow warrior piece by John Todd Paxton of Espanola, New Mexico.

“This year, because so many artists were at home for so long, they’ve created more work than they normally do in a year,” Potje says.

“We have amazing works of art, some of which are on the marketplace site. It’s awesome. People are looking for something safe and joyful. With so much happening in the world right now, we can all use a happy distraction. We’ve been known as a happy place where people can feel connected through and inspired by the art. I think it’ll be a nice departure for people to be able to come here.”

Last year, Celebration of Fine Art decided to close 10 days early when COVID-19 started creeping up on the world. Potje says it was the best thing to do.

“It was an easy decision but a difficult logistical decision,” she says. “Since we’re a temporary thing, everything has to come down. We have to schedule people to help, the dumpsters to come.

“We felt, for this year, we have enough space to keep people properly distanced, and the airflow is perfect with the tent walls. We don’t have people elbow to elbow. We filed a COVID plan with the city, which was approved, with all the mitigation things in place. We’re going to do our best to provide a safe environment.”

For art lovers who feel uncomfortable, Potje launched an online marketplace at celebrateart.com/marketplace.

“We have most of the artists on there; art for immediate purchase,” she says.

“We wanted to do that before anyway. With the whole situation, it inspired us to get moving on that. It’s a big job to create an entire marketplace of ecommerce. We launched it December 1, so people can look at it anytime, anywhere.”   

31st Annual Celebration of Fine Art

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, March 28

WHERE: Hayden Road and the Loop 101 in Scottsdale

COST: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, children younger than 12 are admitted at no charge. The Celebration of Fine Art ticket is an all-event pass that is good for all 10 weeks.

INFO: celebrateart.com

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