Plein Air Mt. Lebanon Arts Festival ready to shine

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Ask about a piece of art, and the owner is likely to tell a tale.

Plein air painting would seem to lend itself particularly well to anecdotes.

"It's a specialized kind of art. There's a story that goes with each of these paintings, and that's what people are interested in," said Mt. Lebanon resident David Csont.

There always is a story when it comes to plein (pronounced "plain") art, which, translated from French, means "in the open air." Basically, the artist chooses a location and creates on the spot, rather than working without a timetable in the studio.

Mr. Csont, principal and chief illustrator of Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh, has participated in Plein Air -- Easton! The event in the Maryland town is the largest and most prestigious juried plein air painting competition in the United States.

"I got the idea that it would be really good to have an event like this for Mt. Lebanon," Mr. Csont said.

Last year, he helped organize the first Plein Air Mt. Lebanon Arts Festival, which experienced success to such a degree that another one promptly went into the works.

The 2013 version is scheduled for Sept. 26 through Oct. 6, with more than two dozen painters from around the country planning to participate.

The Mt. Lebanon festival is the first plein air competition in the Pittsburgh area. Similar events are held in Cumberland, Md., and the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne.

Some $5,000 in cash prizes is on the table in Mt. Lebanon.

"It's a big deal," Mr. Csont said. "These artists are coming to compete."

They'll take their positions to paint scenes in Mt. Lebanon and during one of the days, they also will fan out into city neighborhoods, including scenic Mount Washington.

That's the home of esteemed Pittsburgh artist Frank Webb, who will serve as juror for the event, judging the work that is produced. He has served in that capacity at numerous exhibitions and competitions, including plein air events.

"There has been a renewed movement in the last 10 years or so, people working outdoors in the good weather," he said about the distinctive method.

The former owner of an advertising art studio, Mr. Webb has conducted art workshops for more than 30 years, including many in Europe. At the Mt. Lebanon event, he will do a plein art demonstration.

"Mt. Lebanon seems to be a special kind of community," he said. "It has a lot going for it."

The Plein Air Mt. Lebanon Arts Festival opens at 4 p.m. Sept. 30 at the municipal building, to unveil an installation of colorful kites created by local students.

Winners of the plein air competition will be announced Oct. 4 at a preview party and exhibition opening, also at the municipal building. Tickets are $125 and include food, beverages and a $25 voucher toward the purchase of a painting.

Other festival highlights include:

• Live demonstrations and lectures by artists.

• Art-themed films at Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

• Plein air "Paint Out" contests for adults and children.

• Children's artwork displayed in the municipal building and in nearby businesses.

Also on the schedule is the Sunrise Rotary Club's 12th annual Art in the Park, featuring arts, crafts, entertainment and more in from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 5 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Academy Lot off Washington Road.

For tickets to the Plein Air Exhibition Gala, to view the schedule or to register for the Paint Out, visit


Harry Funk, freelance writer:


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