(Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Sunday September 30, 2012

LENOX -- The three-day Berkshire Arts Festival made its first foray into town this weekend as 95 exhibitors displayed their jewelry, ceramics, paintings, fiber arts, leather creations, clothing and other crafts on the Shakespeare & Company grounds.

Promoter Richard Rothbard of American Arts Marketing acknowledged that Friday's cold rain dampened the opening-day turnout with 50 instead of the expected 500 visitors.

Rothbard reported better attendance on Saturday, "much improved but not what we had wanted or expected." He said about 600 people came through the gate by day's end, compared to the 1,000 he had anticipated.

Admission for adults is $12 as the show winds up today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rothbard, based near Middle town, N.Y., plans to continue two summer-season shows, both in July, at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, where his Berkshire venture has been located for 11 years.

He said the total cost of putting on the Lenox show ranged from $30,000 to $40,000. The town granted the festival a short-term, $3,000 loan for marketing and startup expenses.

"It came to me as a surprise, a last-minute thing," said Roth bard. "We love to get community support. It's more about the relationship with the Selectmen and the Chamber of Commerce than the dollars."

About 25 to 30 percent of his exhibitors live within two hours of the Berkshires -- the rest hail from more distant points, including Colorado, Florida and the Midwest.

"When you do a new show, you always want to have the right quality, so size is not necessarily the criteria," said Rothbard.

He was enticed to expand his festival to Lenox because, he said, "there's a culture that's unique to the Berkshires. We're literally in town, not out of town, with all the great amenities."

Asked whether he plans to bring the show back to Lenox, he responded: "Here's the deal, it's as simple as this. If the artists are happy, they're going to return and there will be more. The tale is told based on what happens here this weekend."

"Honestly, it's all about attendance," he added. "It's a fabulous idea, in theory. If people come out for the show and support it, it returns. We've had a tremendous success in Great Barrington, and we think we should have the same in Lenox."

Rothbard extolled the Shakespeare & Company site -- "it's as good as you'd ever want to have in terms of the layout, the space, the ambiance, it's a wonderful place to hang out."

Among the exhibitors under a large tent on Saturday was Danielle Merzatta of Mendham, N.J., who runs a small jewelry-design company with her husband. Making her first visit to a Berkshire Arts Festival, she said she was pleased by the area, the quality of the show and the camaraderie with other artists.

Displaying his creations at the 2 Rivers Ceramics Studio booth, artist Lloyd Hamovit of Newburyport, a regular at the festival's Ski Butternut site, said "there are always bumps in the road but so far, generally, it's a well-run show and Lenox is a good location."

He noted road signage needs improvement, "but it's a first-time show here and those things get worked out. There are great possibilities with this show building into the fall season."

Attending the show was first-time visitor Janie McCabe of Northford, Conn., near New Haven. "The location's beautiful," she said. At a nearby booth, her daughter, Keelin Brett, a jewelry designer, said she was exhibiting because she had displayed her work at Ski Butternut this past summer.

"I like this location better because it's closer to the center of town," said Brett. "It's just beautiful."

Examining the artists' offerings, Beth Allison of Albany, N.Y., said she was "glad to give it a try" after sampling the Butternut show in previous years. She added that she was attracted by the jewelry and pottery on display, "but everything's lovely so it's just a matter of enjoying it."