Take a breather from the midway and duck into the art exhibits at the Pensacola Interstate Fair. The most prominent one, the Fine Arts Exhibition in building 7, is run by Quayside Gallery, in downtown.
“It’s the largest non-juried art show in the Panhandle,” said Robert Towson, a fine art illustrator who chairs the exhibition.
The show’s entrants competed for hundreds of dollars in cash prizes and ribbons among a field of 148 entries.
The Pensacola Interstate Fair has had a lengthy history with local art. John Frenkel, Sr., the fair’s founder, was an art enthusiast and dedicated a building on the grounds for an art show over 50 years ago. Quayside, a co-op gallery, elected to organize it each year, enlisting its members to volunteer as gallery sitters during the show’s run, Oct. 20-29. A call to artists was released a couple of months prior to the fair, inviting all traditional media. Well over $2,500 in cash awards was announced at a reception on Oct. 18 where the judge, Randy New, presented the ribbons.   
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“We have a lot of students from Pensacola Christian College,” said Towson. “Usually, about a quarter of the prizes go to them.”
The PCC art program is known for its fidelity to realism. One of its students, Emelie Swanson, won an Award of Distinction for her striking portrait of a woman combing her hair. Ellie Garber and Adrionne Shover spared little detail for their still life paintings.
New, a local sculptor, noted that he is drawn to realism, but has a critical respect for technique as well. This may be why Fuller Brown won an Award of Excellence for a fine landscape painting of sand dunes and Andrew Hudson, an Award of Distinction for a genre painting of a cowboy entering a picturesque canyon by horse. The evening culminated with Best of Show, awarded to RodMan, a graphic artist whose work is often seen on Graffiti Bridge. His meticulous study of a locomotive titled “Roll N’ Round the Bend,” is a sample of his ink and scratchboard technique. 
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Towson added that the Fine Arts Exhibition gives artists greater exposure, with possible leads to commission work and collectors. Viewers may weigh in with the People’s Choice Award, a $50 prize decided by popular vote during the show’s run through Oct. 29.
The Fine Arts Exhibition isn’t the only art show at the fair. Across from it in building 2, is the Art Study Club show, another fair tradition that underscore’s Frenkel’s love of art.
“Our theme for this year’s show is ‘Feeling Groovy,’ a song written by Simon and Garfunkel,” said Kay Packwood, who chairs the show. “Actually, that song snapped me out of the doldrums while painting one morning. Staying groovy lends itself to encouragement to stay positive, keep going and make the world a better place.”
Best of Show went to Becky Holland for her acrylic painting. Vivian Spencer, Teresa Rogers, and Sarah Lynn Heller won first, second, and third place, respectively.
The Art Study Club is probably the oldest continuing group of its kind in the area. It was founded in 1959 by students in an adult education art class and continues its mission “to improve and enrich their knowledge of art and help created and maintain a continued interest in cultural activities in the community.” Prior to joining the fair in 1969, the club exhibited at the USO Hobby Fair, Escambia Hospital and Nursing Home, and at the United Fund Show at Town and Country Plaza. Their annual dues was $3.
As a nod to local art history, the club enlisted Victor Bokas to judge their show. He grew up in Gulf Breeze and earned a degree in graphic design from the Univ. of Florida in 1983. He returned home that year and applied his craft with other nascent artists with pop-up shows at the Handlebar and won three awards at the Fine Arts Exhibition. A few years later he was a co-founder of Art on the Tracks, a seminal art venue in downtown that helped spawn Artel Gallery.
In 1987 Bokas moved to Orlando and was the senior art director at Sea World and Tupperware Brands. His “Florida-themed” studio art is a “blend of beach scenery and Greek motifs.” He is currently represented by four galleries and has two permanent works in the Orlando International Airport. Honoring  his roots, he’s shown at the Great Gulfcoast Art Festival six times and he returned again to judge the Art Study Club Show. 
“It’s a great place to come visit,” said Bokas. “I’m so grateful that I have family and friends still there. It’s kind of a homecoming for me.”

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