Artists receive top awards during Art and Apples Festival

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 12, 2017

ROCHESTER — Nearly 300 artists from across the nation filled Rochester Municipal Park last weekend for the Art and Apples Festival, but only a select few headed home with awards for their craft.

In the festival’s 52nd year, staff from the Paint Creek Center for the Arts transformed the park into one of the nation’s largest juried fine art festivals Sept. 8-10, highlighting work in a variety of mediums — including ceramics, digital art, drawing, textiles, glass, printmaking, jewelry, metal, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture, wood and more.

PCCA Executive Director Tami Salisbury said a panel of four jurors identified top artists from across the country to bring together for the festival, and after examining their work during the festival, the panel named the top six artists.

“We have new juries every year that go and evaluate each artist and rank them, and then we take the top tabulations. Our top scorers will get invitations to automatically come back next year without having to apply,” she said.

Best in Show, the festival’s top prize, went to Eli Helman, from Easthampton, Massachusetts, in the drawing category. Helman, a self-taught artist, creates black ink drawings in a style that he calls “maximalist” — creating pieces with an emphasis on detail and an unyielding lack of empty space. Using Micron pens on drawing paper, Helman uses tightly drawn lines and an intricate array of decorative and folk art-inspired shapes, patterns and images to fill every inch of a piece with a proportional balance of black and white.

“I just started doodling,” Helman said of developing his style and craft. “It was just kind of my own compulsion to fill the space on the page.”

Helman, who does shows all over the country, decided to participate in the Art and Apples Festival for the first time this year after being encouraged by a friend who was part of last year’s festival. While in Michigan, he is also participating in art shows in Ferndale and Birmingham this month.

Helman said he was “a little bit surprised” to learn that he received Best in Show, earning him $1,500 and the opportunity to return to the Art and Apples Festival next year without having to go through the juried selection process. 

“One of the judges had said my work might go over well with the judges yesterday, so I thought, ‘Oh, this could happen.’ But I never expect it. I don’t really think about it that much. I’m not in it for the awards or anything, but it is nice when it happens,” he said.

Judges selected five additional artists to receive an Award of Excellence in each category, which included a $500 cash prize and the opportunity to return to the festival without having to go through the juried selection process. 

Sidney Carter, from Powder Springs, Georgia, received an Award of Excellence in the painting category. Carter, a self-taught artist who has been painting professionally for more than 30 years, uses a free and vibrant mix of color in his signature art styles — which include cubism, music abstracts and still life.  

Carter said he found out at the age of 13 that he had a gift, and he hasn’t stopped painting since.

“I love music, so I paint about music. I do different instruments broken up and turn them into abstracts. I go to a lot of jazz festivals, so I tend to think about music all day, so I paint about it,” he said.

Carter, an eight-year festival participant, said Art and Apples is one of the best art shows around.

“I jumped about 5 feet off the ground (when I learned that I won an award). It’s always good to win an award, to know that you are doing something right,” he said. “I go to art shows all over the world, and this is one of the top, so I make sure I make it back here every year.”

In the nonfunctional clay category, Wayne Gao, from Rowland Heights, California, took home an Award of Excellence. Gao said he merges the three-dimensional lines technique — using free-hand painted designs and his own formula glazes on a slab of clay to project it into a 3-D image — into ceramic arts. His works, on tile, are designed to hang and also serve as furniture when placed in wrought iron stands.

“It feels good,” Gao said, of his award.

Scott Martin, from Kalamazoo, received an Award of Excellence in the functional clay category. This was Martin’s ninth year exhibiting in the show, which he said is one of his favorites. Martin said he makes his pieces raw, on the wheel, using his own clay, and applies glazes of his own recipe in a spray booth to give his pieces a subtle flow. He said his work is subtly inspired by scuba diving and the organic textures that you see under the ocean.

“It feels great (to win). It is nice to be recognized, and it is nice to get the money too. No complaints,” he said. “I like this show. It is a good show. The clientele shows up for me, and I got an award this year, which makes it even better.”

In the metal jewelry category, Carlos Montanaro, from Indio, California, took home an Award of Excellence. Montanaro, of Rewind Jewelry, uses jewelry bench skills and traditional watchmaking techniques to engrave and restore antique timepieces and to create edgy jewelry.

“I am a recycle artist, so I will completely remake one-of-a-kind watches out of old pocket watches,” he said. “I also like to make things out of other found objects, like carved coins. I like to alter the coins by changing them into skeletons, redoing the faces, then just making all kinds of weird, unusual jewelry from anything that I can come up with.”

Montanaro, a second-time festival participant, said he saw lots of return customers and was thrilled to learn about winning the award.

“I was extremely excited. I was right in the middle of a sale, so it was even better,” he said.

Janet Searfoss, from Bay City, received an Award of Excellence in the nonwearable fibers category. Searfoss uses the ancient art form of Batik, which is a wax-resist process combined with painting techniques, to create imagery that combines realism with the abstract through the use of waxs and dyes.

“They appear to be paintings. They look like stained glass, but in fabric form, but they go through multiple dye baths, and the wax cracks when you are creating the pieces, so you get these fine lines of color,” she said.

Searfoss, a returning festival artist, said she had great sales and was “very happy” to take home an award.

“There are so many excellent artists, so I just feel blessed,” she said.

The Art and Apples Festival is a program of the Paint Creek Center for the Arts — a regional, nonprofit art center located in downtown Rochester. For more information about the festival, visit