‘Plein Air in the Smokies’ Gala and Private Art Sale showcases more than 200 original paintings

September 27, 2022

Plein Air in the Smokies gala graphic

by Julie Dodd

Celebrate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by attending the “Plein Air in the Smokies” Gala Reception and Private Art Sale at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The Clayton Center’s art gallery, lobby and hallways will be filled with more than 200 original paintings created by the 20 nationally known plein air painters who have been invited to participate in the inaugural “Plein Air in the Smokies.” You’ll be able to talk with the artists and have first opportunity to purchase their paintings.

Clayton Center for the Arts
The Clayton Center for the Arts is the location for the Plein Air in the Smokies Gala Reception and Art Sale. The center is located on the campus of Maryville College, in Maryville, Tennessee.

Fundraiser for GSMNP

The gala is part of “Plein Air in the Smokies,” a fundraiser for GSMNP and hosted by Friends of the Smokies (FOTS).

“The Smokies have inspired a generation of artists whose work has attracted attention, tourism, and ultimately made a case for the formation of a national park,” said Lauren Gass, FOTS Special Projects Director. “’Plein Air in the Smokies’ continues this tradition of artists interpreting the beauty of these sacred places and the continued importance of their protected status.”

Tickets for the gala reception are $250, which can be purchased online. The ticket price can be applied toward the purchase of a painting.

Wild Blue Yonder - Celtic band members
The Celtic band Wild Blue Yonder will provide entertainment at the Plein Air in the Smokies Gala Reception and Sale. From left to right: Michael Leffel, Karen Leffel, Cindy Wallace, Melissa Ware and Phillip Coward. Photo courtesy of Wild Blue Wonder

The Gala Reception includes hors d’oeuvres and several bars. Music will be provided by the Celtic band Wild Blue Yonder.

“Wild Blue Yonder band, founded and rooted in East Tennessee, celebrates the rich Scots-Irish heritage of the Appalachian region, so performing for ‘Plein Air in the Smokies’ is a perfect fit for our music,” said Melissa Ware, who plays guitar in the band. “We’re honored to be the recipients of that tradition, and we look forward to entertaining at Clayton Center for the plein air gala.”

The Clayton Center’s large-screen monitors will play videos of events of the week, including the artists painting in the park, so those attending the reception can gain more insight into the process of plein air painting.

During the reception, Crissy Haslam, Honorary Chair of the “Plein Air in the Smokies” Committee, and GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash will speak to the group.

Painting competition winners

Winners of the painting competition will be announced by Seth Hopkins, Executive Director of the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, and judge for the painting competition.

The paintings will be recognized in several categories: Best of Show, Best Water, Best Structure, Best Use of Light and Best Landscape. In addition, the artists will select an Artists’ Choice winner.

Clayton Center for the Arts interior
More than 200 original paintings will be on display in the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Planning involved in creating week-long event

The “Plein Air in the Smokies” Committee has been at work for more than 18 months to plan and organize the week-long series of event.

“I am pleased to serve as Honorary Chair of the inaugural ‘Plein Air in the Smokies’ event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Crissy Haslam, Tennessee’s former First Lady. “Tennesseans are blessed to have one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service in our state, and the opportunity to have 20 nationally acclaimed plein air artists here to interpret its beauty is unparalleled.”

Committee members are: Crissy Haslam – Honorary Chair, Nancy Daves – Chair and FOTS Board member, Dana Soehn – Park Representative, Karen Bentz, Kay Clayton, Sara Coker, Cindi DeBusk, Traci Topham, Mary Beth West and Melissa White.

Dana Sohen, Lauren Gass and Nancy Daves
Dana Sohen, Lauren Gass and Nancy Daves attended the Grand Canyon’s Celebration of Art to learn about their plein air event.

Once Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park decided to create a plein air painting event in the park, committee members and Lauren Gass studied other plein air painting events.

“We wanted to understand best practices of plein air events,” Gass said.

Gass and committee members Nancy Daves and Dana Soehn attended plein air painting events at the Grand Canyon National Park and Blowing Rock National Park. Gass also attended the Olmsted Plein Air Invitational in Atlanta. In planning the “Plein Air in the Smokies” activities, they applied what they learned from attending plein air events and talking with event organizers and artists.

The “Plein Air in the Smokies” gala and art sale is the combined effort of many people.

The District Gallery & Framery in Knoxville will install the art. Turner Custom Homes built easels to display the paintings in the hallways.

Dr. Carl Gombert, Professor of Art at Maryville College, has provided training for volunteers who will assist those attending the event in selecting paintings. He also will supervise volunteers who will pack the purchased art.

“We have world class talent coming to the Smokies to paint the beauty we love,” Lauren Gass said.  “The reception will be a fun time to come and see this level of talent.”

Learn more about the week’s events

You can download the schedule of all the events, which includes the artists painting in Elkmont and Cades Cove. A Plein Air Quick Draw Art Festival will be held at Maryville’s Greenbelt Pavilion on Oct. 1. A public sale of paintings will be held on Oct. 2.

The artists’ work also is available for purchase online.

Next year’s “Plein Air in the Smokies” already is on the 2023 calendar – Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2023.