West Hartford’s Art Trail turns front yards into markets

WEST HARTFORD — During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of local artists were trying to find a safe way to reconnect and sell their art.

Thus was born the twice-yearly WeHa Artists Emporium art trail.

And pandemic or not, the outdoor event is here to stay. He returns on Saturday.

“The energy was amazing because people really hadn’t seen each other,” said artist Julie Phillips. “We were all excited. Being around people or seeing people, talking to other human beings and reconnecting was great. There was an art aspect to it, which was nice, but it was really a community event in the first year.”

This year, 19 artists and artisans will take their places in the yards of five homes in the Morley School neighborhood — creating what Phillips said is a vibrant, walkable art trail.

“I think most people hit all five spots,” Phillips said. “We’ve designed it so it’s not overwhelming, so we’ve cut out some other places in the city so no one gets too far.” They are all within walking distance of my house.”

Phillips said spreading out the venues is key, especially when compared to an artist’s showcase that is contained within one room.

“I think there’s something really nice about having these separate places,” Phillips said. “It gives people a mental break between venues to clear their minds of art. You can tour, you can rest and have lunch, and then you can see more people and more art.”

Even better, though, is the energetic mood the trail of art creates, Phillips said.

“It’s almost like a block party. There’s such a vibe,” Phillips said. “You can buy the art, but we just want them to have a good time if they want to just get together in my backyard with some chairs and have a nice chat and meet their dogs.”

During the pandemic, the art trails held each spring and fall served as an important source of income for artists who had no other physical spaces to display their art.

“A lot of artists had their concerts canceled and they just didn’t have places to showcase their art,” Phillips said. “A lot of artists need that money to eat and heat their houses and charge their cars. Artists Emporium has always tried to help artists in general present their art to the community. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure we support the artists who participate with us. We want everyone to do well. It was a great way to do it.”

One such artist is Monica Whalen, whose home will be one of the five host locations. While she doesn’t rely on art for a living, she knows others who do and recognizes the value of events like the art trail.

“I don’t work full-time, but I have quite a few friends who do. That was fantastic for them,” Whalen said. “During the pandemic, we were finally able to sell some of our artwork again. It was super popular. All the artists in our yard were super impressed.”

Phillips said the artists who participate intentionally bring items that fit the spirit of the event. They are not trying to sell anyone an expensive painting. Rather, the items are smaller, more affordable, and often make great gifts. And there will never be any pressure to make a purchase.

“We try to keep in mind what people coming to the art show are looking for,” Phillips said. “There are different types of art that work on different types of shows. This is not a gallery space. No one comes here to buy a $2,000 painting for their house. They come for affordable art and art for gifts. We want this to be more of an event than just a sale.”

Whalen is excited that the show will continue as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease, due to the success she and other artists have achieved during the art trail.

“It’s been one of our most successful shows, although other shows are coming back,” Whalen said. “At the first show it was just amazing to be back in the crowd and doing what we’ve been doing all along. We went back and talked to human beings. Now it continues to be again just a great way to build together.”

The Art Walk will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Shoppers can visit the artists at five West Hartford locations: 35 North Quaker Lane, 23 Farnham Road, 111 Foxcroft Ave., 45 Grisold Drive and 70 Ballard Drive.

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