ESSEX — Standing near the water’s edge, artist Caleb Stone set up his easel at 7:30 a.m., when the tide was low. His tailgate was raised to protect him from the rain, and the three dories he was painting were sitting on a soggy bottom.
“I was attracted to the low tide, with the dories tied up along the sand,” he explained later that morning, when the rising tide had lifted all boats except for the three on his canvas.
“I prioritized and painted this first, the position of the dories as they rested in the sand,” he said, gesturing toward the bottom of the painting.
The Gloucester resident works in Essex about once a week, but on this day he had plenty of company. Despite intermittent rain, 54 artists set up their easels all around town Aug. 18. on Paint Essex Day.
Cosponsored by the Eventide gallery and the Essex Merchants Group, the event included daylong painting by artists of all abilities, followed by a reception and “wet paint” auction of the completed works held at the Cox Reservation.
“It’s a great idea as something to promote Essex, and help more people find this area,” Stone said. “It’s like a hidden jewel. Most people just drive through the area, but it’s nice to be able to stop and look at the scenery around them. It’s a beautiful area to paint.”
The reception drew more than 150 people and the event made about $9,000 for the merchants group, which promotes the restaurants and shops in town. With the Route 133 construction project completed, just getting to Essex is now a lot easier.
“Obviously, the completion of the Route 133 reconstruction project was paramount. But to a different degree the opening of the Riverside Bistro restaurant, after nearly five years of dormancy, and the introduction to Essex of the new Eventide Art Gallery are equally important in themselves,” said Bob Coviello, chairman of the merchants group.
While neighboring Rockport and Gloucester have well-earned reputations as artist colonies, art has had less presence in Essex despite its scenic marsh and a wide array of sights that could inspire landscapes, marine paintings, and still life. As Newburyport artist Marjet Lesk said, “You can paint anywhere, and there’s something interesting.”
When Eventide opened in July 2011, it was the first retailer to exclusively sell art. Proprietor Teri Canelle Eramo, who cosponsored and gathered the artists for the paint day, said her purpose was “To get people to come to Essex and actually stop and to get out of their cars, and enjoy it, and see the beauty that it has to offer.”
Red balloons were tied to easels to signify the artists, who were spread out all over the downtown area. There were several at the town landing, also the site of the Essex Shipbuilding Museum and the iconic Burnham’s Boatyard, as well as at Island Road at Conomo Point, Cox Reservation, Paglia Park, and elsewhere. A few also were spread around indoors, painting still life.
Organizers felt that rain, which lasted on and off until noon, kept the numbers down, but only slightly.
Weekend painter Jim Clyde of Essex found a spot at Paglia Park late in the morning.
“I went to the dump, and shopping, and then it cleared up so I thought, ‘I better get down here,’ ” he said.
Dot Procter, a Bethesda, Md., artist who was visiting her cousin in Gloucester, was pleased to find that the inclement weather didn’t cancel the event.
“These New Englanders are very hardy,” Procter said. “In Maryland, it would have absolutely been canceled, or postponed.”
While Procter usually enjoys painting the seascapes and marshes of Cape Ann, she opted for the sheds and boats at Burnham’s Boatyard. “I’ve never painted a scene like this, but today it was so colorful, so why not?”
Wet paint auctions — preceded by artists gathered in groups to work, often outdoors — are a popular form of fund-raiser, said Lesk, an artist and manager of the Bridge Gallery in Newburyport, who noted that there’s another scheduled Sept. 29 to raise money for Newburyport Friends for Peace.
“It’s nice to paint in a group; there’s energy there,” Lesk said.
The event was the first of its kind for Betsy Schulthess of Exeter, N.H., who paints most often in the Portsmouth area.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I’ve painted outside with friends, but nothing like this.”