GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Artists Tom Berger and Sally Thompson are the epitome of longevity.
In the 50-year history of the Glenwood Springs Art Guild's Fall Art Festival, the watercolorists have participated every year. Thompson said she doesn't miss a year because of the opportunity to grow as an artist and to feast on the camaraderie.
"I've made a lot of friends over the years," she said. "You see so many familiar faces."
Throughout the last five decades, Thompson has made a point of attending Berger's live demonstrations on watercolor painting. He teaches in the Lakewood and Denver area and encourages his Front Range students to participate in the long-running, non-juried art show.
"He's been a very good ambassador for our show," said Thompson, a former Fall Art Festival grand champion. "He's been wonderful. He and his wife are very good friends of mine."
In honor of Thompson and Berger's 50-year run, the art guild has produced coffee mugs that feature their paintings. Thompson said she is honored to participate in a show run solely by community involvement and patron funding.
"It's grown so much," she said. "Sales have been great. And we give away all of money."
Grace Stahlschmidt, Glenwood Springs Art Guild president, said the nonprofit goals of the festival make it stand out in the art world. The festival runs through Sunday at the Ramada Inn in Glenwood Springs.
"The Glenwood Springs Art Guild produces the Fall Art Festival without government funding and without corporate underwriters and has done so for 50 years," she said.
"We have one of the largest, most popular and successful art shows in the United States," she said. "We make a profit, pay taxes to local governments, stimulate the local economy, and try to delight everyone who attends."
Stahlschmidt said the patrons make all the difference for this annual show featuring 285 artists in its 50th year. Each year, the festival opens on Tuesday with the ever-popular Patron's Night. Guests visit with the artists and join in the fun of the famous art stampede.
"Patrons race to purchase their chosen gallery painting at 8 p.m. sharp and then get first choice of the fabulous deals in the bargain bin," Stahlschmidt said. "We have loyal patrons and a regular fan base. We do rely on a group of patrons who commit to purchase a work of original art, and because of that commitment they receive first choice.
"The concept is simple. To support art, purchase an original piece of art. Make original art a part of your daily life and it will enrich your life."
In the last 12 years, the Fall Arts Festival has sold more than $1 million in original art, all in a festival that is open for less than one week per year, Stahlschmidt said.
"It is an incredible display of original paintings, sculpture and pottery. We are open five days a year, that's $1 million in original art sales in 60 days," she said. "We are successful because we have fantastic original art, wonderful patrons and hundreds of incredible artists mainly from throughout Colorado. For five days each year we create the largest and most amazing original art gallery in Colorado."
Stahlschmidt said a new feature to this year's festival - miniatures - has already attracted attention.
"These are paintings, sculpture and pottery that are one-tenth scale," she said.
Money raised from art sold that's featured in the main gallery, as well as the Bargain Bin, support art education. The Fall Art Festival is the single fundraising event for the Glenwood Springs Art Guild.
"Proceeds are used to encourage art education through grants, scholarships and donations to schools, nursing homes, and recovery centers," Stahlschmidt said. "Your purchase helps to support both existing and aspiring artists."
Stahlschmidt and the art guild she represents has a message to the children receiving art supplies from the proceeds of the event.
"Create beautiful art," she said. "Create a beautiful life."