SEDAST raffle continues to benefit local art students

Next weekend, 18 of the area’s most noted artists and crafters will be opening their doors for the 15th Annual SouthEastern Delaware Artist Studio Tour (SEDAST), one of the area’s most highly anticipated art events each year. Galleries and studios will give guests a personal, inside look at the men and women behind original and extraordinary creations, and each artist will again contribute a work for the popular “Art in the Hat” raffle.

The evolving tour has welcomed new faces, such as jewelrymaker Shelby Foxwell, who has been added to this year’s tour for her debut. Others, such as John Donato and Jill Thomas, are anticipating another successful year after joining SEDAST for the first time last year.

“The event went really well,” said Thomas of his first SEDAST. “We had a nice, steady crowd through the weekend. The little apprehension I had last year is now gone. I know what to expect.”

Thomas, who studied art in college, experimented with paints before delving into the realm of fabrics and fiber art about 10 years ago.

This year, she has put a fiber-art creation, dubbed “Santorini,” depicting the Greek archipelago overlooking the Aegean Sea, into the raffle prize pool.

But Thomas herself is excited for the debut of “Sanctuary,” a new piece based on a photograph taken on a trip to California.

“It has a peaceful color palate,” she said. “I held onto the picture for years before I finally did something with it.”

Unlike acrylic and watercolor painters, Thomas’ medium inherently involves tedious attention before completion.

“These pieces can take upward of 100 hours,” she said. “I think people recognize that when they look at my art, though.”

Each year, the artists contribute to the “Art in the Hat” raffle, where tour-goers have the opportunity to win one-of-a-kind items. The money raised from the raffle is donated back to art departments in schools throughout the Indian River School District.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Thomas. “It’s so exciting to give back to the community. When I was growing up, my high-school art teacher was such an influence on me, and if children today have the resources, we can help keep art more of an option for them, whether they are pursuing it professionally, or just making it an asset to their education.”

Often, art departments are among the first in a school hit when budget cuts are made. The raffle helps raise money for equipment and supplies.

“We send out letters to art teachers in the Indian River school district,” noted Justin Cavagnaro, who has helped head the tour in past years. “We base the money we give out on what we get back, and what the different schools are asking for. When we can, we honor specific requests. There are different levels at the different schools. Teachers know their curriculum and their students’ interest, and they come to us with their requests, and we try to get as close to that as we can.”

Although the tour itself will be 15 years old next weekend, the raffle itself has been part of SEDAST for only nine years, but that hasn’t stopped the participants from giving back. Through last year, the raffle alone has raised just shy of $30,000.

“The raffle has been a great success,” said Cavagnaro. “We want to cross that $30,000 barrier in style this year.”

Tickets for the raffle cost $10 each or $25 for three, and will be available at most of the galleries and studios during the tour. Tickets must be purchased by Saturday, Nov. 28, by 4 p.m., as the drawings will be made later that evening.

Newcomers to the tour aren’t the only ones who look forward to the studio tour. Grant Massey, a metal and mixed-media fine-crafter, has been on the tour since its start.

“We’ve seen a lot of success right from the beginning,” he noted, “and we’ve been busy from the get-go.”

Massey’s trade involves metalwork, such as copper and stone, which he has transformed into yard lights, sconces, mobiles and pendants.

“The great thing about the tour,” he added, “is that we still have the room for growth and more involvement. Community organizations have come together to help us out, and we’ve gained recognition from exhibitors throughout the state.”

As for giving back to the next generation of artists, “That’s the whole goal,” Massey said. “SEDAST is very institutionalized, and it’s great to give back to the community.”

This year, Massey has donated a “3 Perch Mobile” to the raffle, incorporating copper and rocks, and measuring 33 by 30 inches.

Over the years, SEDAST has become the focal point of some visitors’ returns to the Delaware shore.

“We’re definitely hoping for good turnout,” said Cavagnaro. “The studio tour gives people another option, rather than just the standard outlet shopping when they come to the area. We’re giving them something different to look at, and we’re continuing to raise a good amount of money while doing so.”

Cavagnaro and other SEDAST organizers, including Amy Kaufman and Damon Pla, have found a balance over the years between returning artists who have become veterans on the tour and fresh faces who bring much to the event.

“The variety is the best parts about the tour,” Cavagnaro noted. “To a certain extent, we’re different from year to year. It would get a stale feeling if guests were coming to see the same people each year. It’s nice to have staples within community and artists that the visitors know. It allows us to present new work and have a more diverse weekend. The more materials we show and the more artists we can get on the tour, the better.”

SEDAST will be held on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Artists and crafters will open their studios and galleries to the public for a self-guided tour, from Bethany and Fenwick Island, to Selbyville, Frankford and Dagsboro, and every town in between. Some artists will keep their doors open on Sunday, Nov. 29, too.

For more information about the participating artists, or for a map of the tour and studio locations, visit Raffle tickets for Art in the Hat will be available to purchase during the tour at the artists’ locations.