(Photos courtesy J.R. Poradek, circa 1957)
“Wanna buy some art?”
Much like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano Mission every year—artists and craftsmen (and their admirers) will make their annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis’ “Talbot Street Art Fair’ in Herron-Morton Place today and tomorrow. This year marks the 56th anniversary of TSAF—which claims to be the oldest continuing street fair in Indiana. Initiated in 1956, several John Herron Art School students wanted to expand the school’s annual sidewalk sale. Differing accounts of that first year cite between 15-25 artists and 1,500-2,000 attendees. These local artists wanted to “create an opportunity for the public and the artist to meet on an informal level.” Still today, artists and patrons interface amidst the lively crowds and wafting aroma of kettle corn.
The fair’s location was chosen—among other reasons—for its proximity to an area already established in the public’s mind as the city’s center of art: near the Herron Art Institute and a variety of private galleries and nearby studios. The first fourteen fairs were held in the alley between 14th and 15th Streets, (between Delaware and Pennsylvania Streets—Talbott Avenue, where artists alternately displayed work on garage walls, back fences, free-standing easels, tables… In 1970, the 15th fair removed north to the part of Talbott known as “Talbott Village,” just south of 22nd. The fair returned to its original location the following year, to the chagrin of the business owners who had enjoyed the benefits of hosting the fair the year before. The response: “Talbott Village Fall Festival of the Arts.” Both fairs ran concurrently in 1971 and 1972. TSAF subsequently moved back to Talbott Village in 1973. Mysteriously, the trail of this upstart group disappears after ’73. In 1977, TSAF settled into the location it continues to inhabit today, in Herron-Morton Place.
Each year brought together a colorful cast of characters—many recurring—to create an experience as unique as the art itself. TSAF clearly evolved over the years. Indiana Artists-Craftsman, Inc. was officially organized in 1960 and has since been overseeing the annual event. For many years, the familiar artist’s lettering graced the posters and programs.
The free-spirited approach to setting up exhibit space was traded for more structure as the fair grew—booth space was assigned for the first time in 1964 and continued henceforth.
1970 saw a competition judging: “the manner in which the work is presented;” not about the art itself, this contest determined which booths had “the most visual impact.” (Genesis for one of those “Top Design” shows, perhaps?) The move to Talbott Village in that year also made food a handy convenience for the first time. The 20th anniversary in 1975 introdued a policy limiting and prejudging entries. Out of state artists were welcomed starting in 1977. In 1982, the Herron-Morton Place Home Tour was open on the same days as the fair to capitalize on the already-present crowd. Accounts of other years mention minstrals, puppeteers, musicians, clowns, quick sketch artists, and a monkey who begged for pennies.
It seems you never know what you may see at Talbot Street Art Fair. For a couple years, there was even a kook in a Civil War-era dress, giving talks about the neighborhood’s history to fair visitors…
Over at the Harrison Center of the Arts, the INDIEanaHandicraft Exchange will also be going on today (Saturday, June 11th) from 12-8pm and feels to this impartial observer to better represent the original intent and flavor of the original Talbot Street Art Fair. Luckily it’s so close by, you won’t have to miss either.
Draw your own conclusions about how such events evolve. Do they get better? Worse? Stay the same?
Are they as relevant or important today in connecting purveyors and purchasers of art?
What makes one show better than another?
(And p.s. You can make a difference to the Herron-Morton Place, the neighborhood hosting this annual event, by buying your water or lemonade on 18th Street from HMP’s Association and Foundation; with their thanks in advance!)