Each fall, the changing leaves in Old Louisville serve as accents to a vast palette of colors overtaking the ground level: The St. James Court Art Show.
Hundreds of artists come to exhibit and offer the fruits of their labor for sale at the nationally renowned arts and crafts show, now in its 58th year. For the past 19 years, the organizers have held a contest to find a singular work to encapsulate the festival and represent the entirety of the artists present.
This year, that honor goes to Nikki Pritchett, winner of the 2014 St. James Court Art Show Poster Contest.
A resident of Evansville, Indiana, Pritchett’s entry, which captures the neighborhood’s stately Victorian homes and iconic bronze fountain in hot, bold colors and curvy lines indicative of her signature style, was chosen from 50 submissions for this year’s contest.
Pritchett learned about the contest through an online network of local artists. Though she has never exhibited at St. James, she has visited in the past and is a frequent visitor to Louisville for dinner, concerts and other fun short trips. On one of her visits, Pritchett took her camera and snapped various shots of the neighborhood, including the one that would go on to be captured in bold acrylic colors that will become synonymous with the 2014 festival.
“Some of the scenes I paint quite often are city scenes,” Pritchett said “I started with focusing on Evansville scenes in the early days of my painting, and then I started expanding into painting other cities. Lots of times, it would be a city that Iâ€™d visited.
“I was thinking Iâ€™d like to participate in the St. James Court Art Show one day, and so while I was over there, I went to that neighborhood and shot photos, thinking I might use them eventually,” she said. “When I decided to enter the poster contest, I went through all those photos, and there was one that showed the St. James Court street sign, and I just thought, â€˜Thatâ€™s perfect.â€™”
The poster competition is open to the public and receives entries from across the artistic spectrum: young, old, graphic designers, professional artists, students and hobbyists, according to St. James Court Art Show Executive Director Marguerite Esrock.
Organizers never know how many entries will be submitted, but they generally average about 55, Esrock said. It has been tradition that both the art show committee and St. James Court residents are able to cast their vote for their favorite poster design since the competition began in 1995.
“I personally love Nikkiâ€™s design because it is bright and happy and shows such positive creative spirit that we think embodies The St. James Court Art Show,” Esrock said. “It is a great addition to our poster lineup.”
Pritchett came to art via her sister, also a professional artist. While her sister studied art, Pritchett pursued a degree in education. But it was during college that her sister convinced her to purchase an art set that would serve her well – just not for some time.
“I didnâ€™t even want to buy it,” Pritchett said. “She just kind of twisted my arm into it. I always thought art was her thing. I didnâ€™t really have an interest or anything, but I bought the art set and played around with it some. I left it alone and didnâ€™t use it for a long time. Around the time when I started having kids (my oldest is 19) and became a stay-at-home mom, I just played around with painting in the evening more.”
Pritchett’s sister began inviting her to exhibit at art shows with her. She quickly overcame many beginning artists’ biggest stumbling block.
â€œStarting out in art, for some people, the big question is, â€˜What am I going to paint?â€™” she said. “For me, I initially thought â€˜I have an interest in buildings.â€™ I did some small building paintings. And Iâ€™ve always been attracted to colorful stuff, so I made it colorful. Since Iâ€™m self-taught, I guess it was really easy to break all sorts of rules and not worry about where the color went and just color where I liked to color.”
Pritchett’s style quickly found fans – including in Louisville. In 2010, a local designer who bought a print at a show recommended Pritchett to Churchill Downs, who commissioned her to create paintings for Churchill Downs Entertainmentâ€™s “Fork, Cork & Style” events. She was recently honored as Best Artist in Evansville Living magazine’s Best of the City January/February 2014 issue.
Pritchett’s goals for the future include taking her art further beyond Evansville. She hopes to exhibit at St. James in the future and make other forays into the Louisville market -Â including, possibly, one of the most high-profile commissions around.
“Hopefully Iâ€™ll get some more opportunities,” she said. “I want to do the Derby poster!â€