|File photo. Artist Chris
Plummer during last year’s Black Swamp Arts Festival. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
The Black Swamp Arts Festival is one of artist Chris Plummer’s favorite art fairs.
And that’s not just because the festival has returned the love with several awards over the years
including Best of Show honors in 2013.
Plummer likes the festival for other reasons. First, of course, his woodcut prints that capture odd,
rough-edged slices of life sell well here – if they didn’t he couldn’t afford to come back no matter the
other enticements, he said in a recent telephone interview.
He’s a music lover, and loves the acts the festival features, including those he gets to hear on the
acoustic music stage set up in the atrium of an old bank building right in the middle of the art show.
And the artist loves the ambiance of the town, taking time to rifle through the used vinyl records on
sale at Grounds for Thought.
"It’s actually one of my favorite shows of the year," Plummer said. "The music and
everything that goes with it … is the one thing I look forward to."
But there’s also the satisfaction of meeting with art buyers face to face, he said. That contact is one
of the great attractions of doing the art fair circuit.
Back when he was a student at Northern Kentucky University he would enter his work for gallery exhibits.
He’d send a print off. It would be hung and exhibited, He would get it back. "It was nice but I had
no idea who saw it and what they thought of it."
At the Black Swamp Arts Festival and other street shows he gets to talks with art lovers and answer their
questions. The best part of art fairs, Plummer said, "would just be showing artwork to people and
having them appreciate it."
That work has its roots in Plummer’s upbringing in Edgewood, Kentucky, a southern suburb of Cincinnati.
From an early age, he drew, crowding the margins of his school notebooks with characters and scenes.
The cartoons didn’t really tell stories, rather they were more "day in the life" sketches.
That’s true even of his work now. The setting owes much to the land of suburban subdivisions that form a
hedge between city from country. Being caught in between "is what a lot of my work is about,"
he said. "Most of my art work is based on me and my thoughts."
But there’s nothing mundane about their execution. The jurors at last year’s festival praised his
"very strong style."
They were intrigued by "the dialogue" between the characters in his prints. There were implied
relationships that viewers could emotionally connect with.
His wide-eyed characters and haunted scenes supply a narrative, drawing the viewer in wondering about the
rest of the story.
Plummer said he likes being able to show his work together in his tent, playing up the connections among
the pieces. "My work hangs better as a group. I arrange them so that it makes each one part of a
whole. I think it enhances my work."
Plummer didn’t dive into art. Until college he was self taught. He started as a marketing major, and then
drifted into graphic design, taking art courses along the way.
He decided graphic art was not for him. "I knew I wanted to make art for myself, not for other
Then he found what he was looking for. "Once I took a printmaking class I discovered how I could
take my drawings and transfer them into what I considered art," he said.
The doodles took on another life and could be replicated.
At first, he admitted, he wasn’t sold on the art fair scene as a way to disseminate his art.
As a college student he worked for a printmaker. She and her husband lived off selling her work at fairs.
"I told her this wasn’t something I wanted to do because I knew how hard she worked and how little
money she made."
But then two years after graduating from Northern Kentucky in 1999, he decided to enter a fair. He won an
award and realized that this could be a way to make money from his art.
Plummer has balanced having a day job – he’s worked at Kroger since high school, the last 15 in the
bakery department – with the demands of his art.
At first he expected he’d work full time and do art on the side. "I didn’t want the pressure of
making a living off my art. But after a year I realized that if I was making a living off my artwork
that would force me to continue making art."
So he cut back to four days a week and has hit the art fair circuit, doing as many as 20 shows a year.
"My goal after graduating was to continue to make art for the rest of my life, and this was
definitely keep me going."
He’s married and has three children. And that’s meant he’s cut back to about a dozen shows a year. His
wife will sometime travel with him, and he tries to bring each child to one show a year.
"It’s a big deal for them," he said. "They have a good time." But he knows if they
went to more than a show or two a year, the novelty would wear off.
His children’s own art has inspired changes in his work. He incorporates some of the "more
primitive" qualities of their drawings into his prints.
At 38, he’s one of the more youthful art exhibitors. "It definitely is an aging population."
But he’s seeing young artists entering the field as well as "artists willing to push the boundaries
of what an art fair can be."
Plummer said his best, and most profitable, shows are in college towns.
In Bowling Green he usually stops by the student art sale on Clough Street.
Some may ask about the art fair circuit.
"One reason I would encourage them and the one reason I do art shows is it keeps you working and an
important part after you graduate is you need to find a reason to keep working," he said. "Art
fair circuit does that, and you’ll definitely get feedback."