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Posted on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Artists ready for crowds of visitors as Ann Arbor Art Fair returns

By Jenn McKee

Full coverage of the 2013 Ann Arbor Art Fair

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Artists prepare to open their booths Wednesday morning. The annual Ann Arbor Art Fair runs Wednesday-Saturday.

Melanie Maxwell |

‘Twas the (sweltering) day before Art Fair, and all through the town,
Tents went up on each block while the artists’ sweat poured down.

The pieces were hung in each tent with great care,
In hopes that intrigued buyers soon would be there.

The townies were nestled all snug in their workplaces
Imagining next week’s unblocked streets and parking spaces.

But love it or not, the Art Fair is here
So let’s hear from some artists who come every year.


Bill Thelen, working Tuesday to prepare the booth he shares with his wife, Laurie Fowler.

Photo by Jenn McKee |

Artist: Laurie Fowler and Bill Thelen, sculptural fiber and mixed media
Fair: South University Art Fair
Home: Northville, Mich.
Distance from home: 27 miles (they’re housing Art Fair visitors from out-of-state)
How many years they’ve been coming to the Ann Arbor Art Fair: 41
How long it takes to set up: “It’s a funny thing,” said Fowler. “It takes you as long as they give you. When you only have two hours, you do it in two hours. But on a hot day like today, we try to take it slow.”
Least favorite part of setup: “Setup,” joked Thelen. “I love the pain. I’m a masochist.”
How many art fairs they go to yearly: 20-25
How this year’s fairs have gone so far, in terms of sales: “Spring was great, but then business fell off,” said Fowler. “It’s the weather. It’s been plaguing us.”


Janet Searfoss' batik paintings often feature mermaids, owls and angels.

Photo by Jenn McKee |

Artist: Janet (Otto) Searfoss, batik painting
Fair: Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair
Home: Greenville, SC (though Searfoss grew up in Ann Arbor)
Distance from home: 666 miles
How many years she’s been coming to the Art Fair: 13
How long it takes to set up: 4-5 hours. (This includes a floor that they construct for their tent only at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, because the slope of the street tends to make their tent pretty swampy when it rains. "You get everything in Ann Arbor, except for snow," said Searfoss. "We even got hail one time.")
Historic ties to Ann Arbor: “My grandfather had the first Otto’s Band,” said Searfoss. Husband Harold Searfoss added, “They were the first ones to play the Michigan fight song. And her dad built the old press box in Michigan Stadium.”
How many fairs do she goes to yearly: 30 (“We’re getting too old for this,” quipped Searfoss.)
How this year’s fairs have gone so far, in terms of sales: “We’ve done it a little more than 10 years, and it’s been one of our best showings.”


Ray Papka set up his booth on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by Jenn McKee |

Artist: Ray Papka, multimedia
Fair: Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original
Home: Lexington, Ky.
Distance from home: 334 miles
How many years he’s been coming to the Art Fair: 2
How long it takes to set up: 5 hours
Least favorite part of setup: “The lights,” said Papka. “The lighting. It’s just tedious. A lot of going up and down on the ladder.”
How many fairs he goes to yearly: 10 outdoor shows
How this year’s fairs have gone so far, in terms of sales: “Up and down. There have been a couple of really good ones, and a couple of busts. … I did really well in Ann Arbor last year."


Jeremy Keller and Mary Ennis must unwrap each individual piece while setting up for Art Fair.

Photo by Jenn McKee |

Artist: Jeremy Keller and Mary Ennis, ceramics
Fair: State Street Area Art Fair
Home: Lewisville, Ohio
Distance from home: 314 miles
How many years they've been coming to the Art Fair: 4
How long it takes to set up: 5 to 6 hours. “On a show like this, when we can pull up right to the booth and unload—that cuts down our time," said Keller.
Least favorite part of setup: “Just the unwrapping," said Keller. "It’s all breakable. Every piece has to be unwrapped. And same with tear-down. Everything has to be wrapped back up. So it’s just a long process of wrapping and unwrapping and placing on the shelves.”
How this year’s fairs have gone so far, in terms of sales: “Some up, some down," Keller said. "It’s been pretty close to what we experienced last year.”

The Ann Arbor Art Fair runs 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday throughout downtown Ann Arbor. Find full coverage here.

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.


Honest Abe

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.



Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Don't let these people fool you or under estimate how hard they work. My mother was a local well known calligrapher and we used to set her up in a lot of shows including the ann arbor fair for several years. It's a lot of work and being there all day can be draining especially for the elderly artists and exhibitors. Often times the price of an item seems in the high side but consider all the work, effort and passion that went int it to bring it to you for exhibition. Good luck everyone!

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

Crowds of people? In this hot weather, I expect thongs of people.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

I LOVE the poem that introduces this.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

Plus 1.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

I had to laugh at, "because the slope of the street tends to make their tent pretty swampy when it rains". And we know it will rain because, well, it's the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Good luck to all the artists. I hope you have a stellar year! My annual MO is to go down on Tuesday night, have dinner outside somewhere to watch the set-up and get a sneak peek at some of the art. I highly recommend doing this as it is kind of a surreal experience - even though everyone is busy setting up their space, it is super quiet. Makes for a very relaxing evening before the craziness sets in.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

On these hot, hot days, I always feel sorry for the cooks at the food booths with fryers and woks. Whew. Keep drinking water! I do love art fair and can't wait to get down there after work!


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

Where do workers at food booths wash their hands?


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

I hope they have EMS available nearby, there's going to be some heat related illnesses today.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Don't forget the $5 bottles of water.


Wed, Jul 17, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

American Red Cross, Huron Valley Ambulance, Ann Arbor Fire Department, and Ann Arbor Emergency Management have been planning on that for a while now. They're on it!