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Kansas City Welcomes Back Plaza Art Fair, 'A Great Big Fun Art Party,' After A Yearlong Delay

Julie Denesha
John Lamberton snaps photos as soap and suds cover his windshield at a carwash in Mission, Kansas. Lamberton was inspired by the light, color and movement as his car moved through the carwash.

After being canceled due to COVID-19 concerns last year, the Plaza Art Fair returns this weekend. The 90th annual event is a celebration that covers nine blocks of the historic shopping center. Three local artists have spent months working in their studios to prepare.

It’s a few weeks before the Plaza Art Fair and experimental photographer John Lamberton is working on a new project.

“I’m going to get a car wash today,” Lamberton says.

Lamberton creates 3-D images with his camera. Lately he’s become obsessed with the light, color and movement crossing his windshield at the automatic car wash.

After 40 years working as a professional photographer, Lamberton will show his work at the Plaza Art Fair for the very first time. He prints colorful abstract photos on metal with a high glossy sheen. It creates the illusion of depth, but to get the full three dimensional effect, you need 3-D glasses.

John Lamberton
John Lamberton's "Wavefront 65 v3" is a 3-D photograph using single, double and triple exposures to record luminous light sources creating images that resemble painting.

“It has to work with or without the glasses and, you know, it's like, 'Oh, that's pretty cool,'” Lamberton explains. “And then you put on the glasses, 'Oh, that's really cool. You know, that's amazing.'”

Once his car rolls out of the car wash -- Lamberton stops to take a peek at the photos he took.

“I'm happy,” Lamberton says with a laugh. “This will keep me occupied for a month. Plus, the car looks nice.”

Ceramic artist Erica Iman is preparing for the Plaza Art Fair, too. She’s creating texture on a large vessel of dark clay.

Julie Denesha
Ceramic artist Erica Iman creates texture on a large vessel of dark clay. Like many artists, Iman spends much of her time working alone in her studio on Troost.

“That energy and excitement is what I'm really looking forward to,” Iman says. “I know Kansas City especially has always brought that out.”

Like many artists, Iman spends most of her time working alone in her studio on Troost. She’s looking forward to seeing crowds of people again.

“Getting out and getting to finally present the work in kind of a fresh space,” Iman says. “Have people come in and ask questions and talk about it, it's definitely a different brain space.”

Setting up for an art fair is a big commitment especially traveling with large ceramic pieces. But Iman says, on the art fair circuit, every art form has its challenges.

Erica Iman
Erica Iman's hand-built, large vessels made of dark clay often resemble forms found in nature.

“You know, sometimes I see jewelers come in with little boxes of things and that seems so light and easy,” Iman says. “But really, it's all difficult. We all work hard for the event. We set up a temporary gallery pretty much, and we do all of our own sales and marketing and everything to packaging and dealing with the customers. So it's all a lot of work, but very rewarding at the same time.”

A few blocks away, in artist Andrew Johnson's Brookside studio, Johnson works on embroidered animals in recycled wood frames that have been a part of the show for the past 15 years. He’s back again this year with new designs like a whimsical house covered in flowers.

“I think I called it ‘Daisy in the House,’” Johnson explains as he threads his needle. “It’s got 30,805 stitches."

Creating cheerful scenes helped Johnson stay focused during the darkest days of the pandemic.

Julie Denesha
Thousands of stitches make up the small fiber works of artist Andrew Johnson. His embroidered animals, flowers and people in recycled wood frames have been a part of the show for the past 15 years.

“When things were getting pretty, pretty bad with a pandemic, you know, I kind of grasped it as a motivation to spend more time in the studio and to just be really creative,” Johnson says.

For Johnson, creativity and fun are what art fairs are all about. He says he looks forward to all of it.

“It's just such a great experience from start to finish,” exclaims Johnson. “I’ll see my other artist friends setting up. So we're all just kind of laughing and setting up our displays and our tents and and there's just a whole build up to it. You know, the whole weekend is just a great big fun art party.”

After months of pandemic stress, an art party might be just what the doctor ordered.

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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