There was a time when artists hung their paintings from an actual clothesline at Guild Hall's Clothesline Art Sale. But that was in the early years of this Hamptons tradition of nearly 70 years that makes affordable art available for one midsummer's day.
This year, that day arrives on Saturday.
In the beginning -- 1946 -- this was a much smaller event. No records remain of how many artists participated or how many paintings were sold. But vintage photos show how the annual sale got its name. "Now we generally receive 1,500 to 2,000 artworks for the sale, of which about 700 to 800 are sold," says Cailin Kaller, special events coordinator at Guild Hall, the leading visual and performing arts center in East Hampton since 1931. With about 500 artists submitting up to five pieces each, art is displayed in winding rows on the lawn outside the Guild Hall Museum and John Drew Theater.
"People are so excited to find a super bargain for a fine work of art," says Kaller, now in her eighth year running the show. "They line up as early as 6 a.m. for a sale that opens at 9. They want to get that perfect piece of art. If the weather's good, thousands stop by." Since there is no admission fee, attendance figures do not exist. But Kaller estimated the number at "2,000 -- probably more."
PRICED TO SELL
The sale is open to any artist -- not just Guild Hall artist members, who have their own annual exhibit inside during the off-season winter months. "But each piece must be an original work of art," Kaller says. To keep the art affordable, Guild Hall sets a strict price range. The first piece an artist submits must be priced at $200 or less. The ceiling for a second work is $300, $500 for the third, $900 for the fourth and only if all the other price ranges are met can an artist submit a fifth piece -- that one at $2,000 or less. Shoppers pay in cash or by card -- debit or credit -- and carry the painting, watercolor, print, photograph or small sculpture home.
Proceeds from all sales are split 50-50 between that artist and Guild Hall, which uses its share to fund its programs -- from art exhibitions to concerts and theatrical performances. The entrance fee for each artist is $10.
Although it's only a one-day sale, Kaller says the event would be impossible but for the 225 volunteers who work three days to make it happen.
AN ARTIST'S VIEW
"It all evens out," Barbara Bilotta says of the price limits and the 50-50 split. Bilotta, a Mount Sinai abstract expressionist painter, has sold works at the Clothesline Art Sale for 10 years.
"Usually an art gallery will get 50 percent of whatever you sell. So this arrangement seems fair. And I like supporting what they do at Guild Hall," Bilotta says. "I've been lucky. I usually sell out."
The lower price range makes it likely that an artist will sell something -- a piece can be priced for as little as $50 -- while the higher prices can make it very profitable for a single day.
"Guild Hall is the heart of the Hamptons," says Bilotta. "Patrons who follow me usually show up, assuming the weather's OK." (It's rain or shine for the Clothesline Art Sale.)
Two paintings Bilotta submitted at the higher price levels for Saturday's show are "The Sky's the Limit" and "Serenity on the Water." Both are seascapes -- a popular choice for this sale at a site just a couple of miles from Main Beach, which Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman of Florida International University rates as one of the top ocean beaches in the United States.
"I would say that my success in the Clothesline Art Sale has been instrumental to my success overall," says Bilotta. "A lot of people who really want to own some original art see your work at this show."
WHEN | WHERE 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, outdoors at Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton
INFO 631-324-0806, guildhall.org