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The Art Show Rat Race

All week long she toils, only to drive away in her tightly packed mini van early Saturday morning. Like most of the other regulars on the outdoor art show circuit, she allows plenty of time for the trip, then a good two hours or so to set up her booth and get ready for the crowds.

The additional 20 hours or so she’ll work during the weekend cap off a schedule that would exhaust most people. Yet, it’s one Zittrain will repeat more than a half dozen times over the next few weeks.

“This spring I’m doing the Junior Women’s Club Show in Williamsburg, the Mathews Art Group show in Gloucester, and Ghent, Stockley Gardens and May Fair right in a row,” she says.

“Then I skip a week and go to a show in Fredericksburg. The boardwalk show in Virginia Beach is two weeks after that.”

Zittrain is hardly alone in taking on such intimidating labors.

When the Ghent Art Show opens at Norfolk’s Town Point Park Saturday, nearly 200 artists, many of them marking their third or fourth event this season, will be on hand. Another 115 determined talents will set up at the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival, also in Norfolk, during the weekend that follows.

The Newport News artist will exhibit her work at both places, arriving early in the hopes of finding a good place to unload her tent, display screens, hand truck and folding chairs. Then there’s her umbrella, charge machine, tool box, card table and shopping bags.

She’ll need at least six large paintings to make the booth look good, she says, as well as a dozen or so medium and small canvases. Scores of framed and ma toms tted prints will be placed on view with an even larger number of reserves stored in cardboard boxes.

“In my display, I may have 50 or 60 things hanging on the screens. It makes you tired just thinking about it,” she says.”

“You learn to unload and unpack it all by practicing. If things get helter skelter, you’re in trouble.”

Sometimes, Zittrain’s husband, Larry, comes along to help her unpack and put the booth together. Through some unspoken, yet seldom broken rule of outdoor shows, however, the nicer the setting, the more difficult it is to unload.

At Town Point Park, the artists must move everything they need including the weights that hold their tents down from the curb of Waterside Drive to an exhibit site located several hundred feet away. Hand trucks and dollies are the main beasts of burden here, since nothing bigger than a golf cart is allowed to drive inside the gates.

That makes extra muscle essential, says Ghent coordinator Leslie Davis, who usually starts directing her tr toms oop of about 100 volunteers around 6:30 Saturday morning.

“It’s like a really, really bad B rated movie,” she says.

“All you can see is swar toms ms of people moving back and forth carrying tents, chairs and pieces of art.”

Swarming people was the last thing Zittrain expected as a child growing up on the picturesque beaches of remote Catalina Island. But the dramatic shoreline and striking wildlife scenes of the California coast had an impact that still influences her work today.

The former teacher and Army wife took her first art classes more than two decades ago, sparking what would become a lifelong enthusiasm for representational painting. Following the encouragement of her instructors, the painter entered her first outdoor art show only a few years later.

Today, Zittrain exhibits her paintings at nearly 20 events each year, concentrating on the spring, autumn and winter shows. She also moves back and forth between the subjects that captured her imagination as a child.

“I’ve been painting birds and animals all winter, and now I’m switching gears to seascapes and the beach,” she says.

“I think it would be b toms oring to paint the same thing all the time.”

Equally boring is the thought of remaining at home in her studio while the 15 galleries and shops that carry her paintings do all the selling.

Despite the difficulties involved, Zittrain thrives on the chance to leave the solitude of her easel for the crowds that flood the outdoor exhibits. She especially likes to meet the people who buy her work and live with it in their homes.

Ghent show organizers estimate that more than 60,000 visitors will stroll by and look over the artists’ booths.

Many of them nod and smile at her work, Zittrain says, giving her a rush of feedback found in no other situation. A surprising number stop to ask her about what they see in her pictures.

Watching the people as they pass by her work may be one of the most rewarding parts of her profession.

“I can always tell when it’s another artist. They’re the ones who put their faces two inches from the painting and stare at some little corner,” she says.