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Enthusiasts stroll Under the Oaks to view fine art in Vero Beach

VERO BEACH – One of the most looked-forward-to events of the season is the venerable Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts Festival, an extravaganza that turns the shaded winding paths of Riverside Park into a brilliant bowl of colors, shapes, and sounds.

In its 60th year, the nationally renowned, juried event showcases the work of top artists and craftsmen from across the country, eager for the chance to pitch their tents and display their best pieces for the thousands who fill the park during the three-day event.

Official categories include creative crafts, graphics/pastels, Jewelry, oils and acrylics, photography/mixed media/digital art, sculpture, and watercolor.

Of the 219 exhibitors, some 124 are Floridians (25 of these from Vero, three from Sebastian).

The rest represent 28 mainland states, and one watercolorist is from Israel.

The show is sponsored by the Vero Beach Art Club, which has supported artistic growth and art education in Indian River County for more than three-quarters of a century. Tasked with determining who among all this dizzying talent will score the Best of Show – $1,500 – and the first -, second- and third-place cash awards in each of the categories, are two well-credentialed judges, award-winning artists in their own right: Watercolorist Tom Jones, a Central Florida resident; and Vero Beach resident, Old Towne Gallery owner and Museum of Art instructor Sean Clinton.

This jam-packed show demands more than one trip around the display circuit.

From the entrance on, show designers have cleverly interspersed non-art booths, in which show sponsors spotlight luxury cars, insurance, printing, financial planning, health, banking, plants and donuts.

Displays fill the tents lining both sides of the path, beckoning the crowds zig-zagging from one side to the other, chatting, pointing, inspecting first a display of silver jewelry then the fanciful, crayon-box bright paintings wide-eyed children and animals.

Pale, delicate watercolor portraits; pastel-rendered sheep check out a curious calf in “Askance” in Beth Crowder’s tent; huge metal tree frogs; the usual scattering of iconic Florida flora and fauna, interpreted in pastel, watercolor, oil, acrylic, film.

“That evolved from 40-something years of working with pastels,” artist Jody Drew McLeane said of a unique technique she uses in her pastels work.

The dry sticks of pigment break easily, an expensive challenge for an artist.

“I break it up in my palm and push it on with my thumb,” she explained, extending her color-dusted hand.

Under the Oaks-goers won’t find any “starving artists” here. Not under these oaks. Not this weekend.

Occupying the show’s central corridor are the food booths, a gauntlet of deliciousness, tantalizing smells of all kinds swirling together in a full nose-al assault, daring you to make it through unscathed – or at least, unfed. Chicken on a stick, gyros, shrimp, kettle corn, Italian sausage, nuts, Teriyaki.

A little crowd gathered around a booth called “Artichoke French” where they tried deep fried artichokes, beans and greens.

The show (admission is free, you can donate to the Vero Beach Art Club if you wish) continues today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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