Art show judges take a shine to whimsical work at Black Swamp Arts Festival

JBird Cremeans, best of show winner at the 2018 Black Swamp Arts Festival

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Whimsy was a winner at the Black Swamp Art Show Saturday.

JBird Cremeans from Huntington, West Virginia, won Best of Show for her digital images which superimpose animals heads onto human figures taken from vintage photographs.

First place in three-dimensional art went to the colorful ceramic houses created by Gint and Regina Sabaliauskas.

Nicholas Ringelstetter, 2D winner

The first place for two-dimensional art went to Nicholas Ringelstetter who creates intricately drafted paintings filled with cartoon figures.

Other award winners were:

° Second Place: furniture maker Ellen Smith 

° Third place: Chris Plummer for his wood cuts and monoprints

 ° Honorable mentions: Peggy Schuning, slate mosaics; Dave Thompson, metal found object sculptures; and Robin Lauersdorf, hyper-realistic drawings.

Cremeans said she was inspired by seeing a man in her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, selling his art in his driveway. She wanted to do that. Now she does about a dozen shows a year and plans to do more. 

As a child she always loved anthropomorphic creatures such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She was inspired to head in this direction by seeing “the original cat memes” produced for books by Harry Whittier Frees. He created “these horrifyingly cute pictures” by dressing cats and posing them, Cremeans decided to do this digitally and use a variety of animals.

She collects vintage photographs and decides what species or breed fits the personality of the human subject. She does custom work, allowing people to place their own pets into her images.

Cremeans works in Photoshop with a variety of tools, and then prints them on light sensitive paper,  akin to photographic paper.

Cremeans has been doing the art fair circuit for about 10 years. College towns tend to be a good market, with the exception of her hometown of Huntington. Big cities are receptive to her work as well.

Cremeans has a steady following at the Black Swamp Art Festival with customers seeking her out.

Ringelstetter said he was also inspired by an artist he encountered in his home town of Spring Green, Wisconsin. That artist Andy Van Schyndle, who trades in whimsical large scale paintings, also exhibits at the Black Swamp Arts Festival.

Ringelstetter said he used to go to his hometown art fair just to see Van Schyndle’s work.

About 10 years ago Ringelstetter decided to exhibit at the fair. He showed his first 16 paintings, which he’d done for “my own walls.” Thirteen sold, and he knew he had something. He turned to Van Schyndle who gave him all the advice he needed to be successful on the art fair circuit.

The work he sells is an extension of what he’s been doing as long as he can remember. Whenever he had a pencil in his hand he’d draw aliens, monsters, and foreign planets.

Growing up in a farming community “I felt like an outcast my whole life,” he said.

 “The great thing about an art show is to be able to put yourself in front of people who get you.”

People come to look at and buy art, and talk to artists.

Doing so many shows he’s turned to supplementing his originals — he does about a half dozen large pieces a year as well as smaller concept pieces — with reproductions.

The originals have gotten too expensive and he wants everyone who walks into his booth to be able to walk out with some art.

“Every week  I’m in a different city but that’s where I belong,” he said. “It’s my home now.”

Danielle Wiley, from Fremont, is a fan. As she paid for her painting, she noted the “Where’s Waldo?” quality of Ringelstetter’s work. “I look at it and find my favorite characters.”

She said she was attracted to the booth by the vibrant color. She was looking forward to hanging it up at home, she told him.

The painting was based, the artist responded, on a dream he had.

Ringelstetter said his work develops more and more as he becomes a more skilled draftsman. 

The work, though, he sees inside his head is even more involved. “This is the kid-friendly version,” he said, of his current pieces.

He’ll wait a few years to bring that work out of his imagination into reality.

Ringelstetter doubts when he does he’ll go back to what he does now.

“I always make art that makes me happy, makes me feel good and puts me in that state of mind.”

Gint Sbaliauskas, 3D winner

Gint Sabaliauskas, from Evergreen, Colorado, came to making ceramics working with his father in Lithuania. Twenty years ago, he arrived in the United States, and “I needed to eat.”

His father made similar work, but  Sabaliauskas uses brighter, glossier glazes to appeal to the American audience.

He did have an ulterior motive in traveling so far from home. He’s his way to Muskegon, Michigan, to go salmon fishing.

Winning the award here was “a nice surprise.” 

Often such whimsical work is not considered “art.”

That clearly was not the case at this year’s Black Swamp Arts Festival.

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