ENGLEWOOD — Debra Purdy has the distinction of being the only artist to attend every Spring Fine Arts Festival since they began in Englewood 32 years ago.
She’s made many friends and earned many admirers over the years.
“I’ve been fortunate that my customers have been good to me over the years,” the Port Charlotte resident said. “It’s got nothing but better. I think the people of Englewood really appreciate us.”
Purdy is ready to sell a new batch of sculptures, including herons and tarpons, Saturday and Sunday at the 32nd Spring Fine Arts Fest on Dearborn Street.
The festival has come a long way, according to Englewood artist Carroll Swayze, who started the event.
Swayze handed over the reigns to the Englewood Rotary Club years ago, but she’s the festival’s featured artist this year.
Her work will show up on posters and T-shirts promoting the event.
“When I worked on (the festival), I did it alone,” Swayze said. “It was nice the Rotary took over. I’m excited. It’s fun to be the featured artist.”
The festival has had its share of ups and downs, but the best thing that happened to it was moving it to Dearborn Street, Swayze said.
The art festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day on West Dearborn Street, which will be converted to a pedestrians-only artists’ village, with more than 100 artists.
“The fact that we have so many returning artists and the work of the Rotary is a testament to how much of a staple this is in the community,” said Carol Peterson, Rotary festival chairwoman. “Some have done the show for over 20 years. (Purdy) has participated for 32. So many people look forward to it, from enthusiasts to the artists themselves.”
This year, for the first time, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation is helping to sponsor the event.
“The Englewood Rotary Club approached us due to our work fundraising and previous experience with the Englewood Rotary Youth Foundation,” said Greg Lubrecki, GCCF spokesman. “(The) Englewood Rotary and its foundation both do much for the community, and that’s something GCCF is proud to support.”
Swayze said the biggest changes she’s seen over the years at the festival are the quality of work and the clientele.
“They weren’t apt to buying before, but now they’re doing it,” she said. “It was difficult to attract artists here. We could attract a lot more people now. (The) quality of art is so much better every year. There are more ways to communicate now, (whereas) before it was just word of mouth.”
Festival admission is free, and Rotarians will be at the gate requesting “$1 donations for a smile,” according to a prepared statement. Proceeds will go toward the Englewood Rotary Youth Foundation to support youth programs, including the Junior ROTC, Lemon Bay High School scholarships, Project Graduation, and local and international Rotary Club projects.
“The town is very supportive,” Swayze said. “It brings everybody together, and it’s a nice mix of people of all ages. People have been so good to me. It’s a great little town.”
For more information, go to http://www.englewoodrotary.org.