SOUTH PORTLAND — People who attend the annual Art in the Park Show & Sale generally circle the displays like schools of fish in an aquarium, occasionally darting out from the lines of strollers to get a closer look at the artwork inside dozens of tents erected around Mill Creek Park.

The canvases and photographs tend to be heavy on seascapes, marshes, deserted barns and other Maine iconography. So when something different comes along, crowds tend to gather.

That may explain why Lori Austill’s tent was often filled Saturday by browsers wanting to know about her encaustic paintings, which she makes out of hot beeswax, pigment and tree sap, a technique developed by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Her brilliant pastels of nature, rich earth- and jewel-toned abstracts and leaping dancers caught the eye of many passers-by, including Laura Thomas of Medford, Massachusetts, who just had to have one.

‘”It’s the texture and I really like the colors,” said Thomas.

Austill has been a regular at the Mill Creek show for the past 15 years.

The show, a joint venture of the city of South Portland and business sponsors, has been held on the second Saturday of August for the past 38 years. This year the show included 170 artists and photographers, a food court, children’s activities and music. The best artist in the show – this year watercolorist Charles Mooradian of Nashua, New Hampshire – took home $800. There were another $8,500 in cash prizes distributed in various categories.

The show also awards a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating student from South Portland High School. In addition, the show’s proceeds help pay for park improvements, which have included the fountain, holiday lighting, sound system and gazebo.

One of Austill’s pieces won one of the five $150 merit awards this year.

“Goody, goody, goody!” she said when she learned she was among the finalists.

A graduate of the former Portland School of Art, now the Maine College of Art, Austill spent years painting on plaster until she switched over to encaustic painting nine years ago.

“Her work has evolved a lot,” said Anne Thomas of South Portland, the mother of Laura Thomas.

The senior Thomas said she has some of Austill’s artwork herself.

“It is bright and vibrant,” she said.

Austill paints out of her garage-turned-studio in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood. She opens up the studio to the public a couple of times a year.

“I am a shy painter,” she said.

Her work emits a faint odor of beeswax. The paintings have to be hung in the right spot – not over a hot radiator or near a burning wood stove or in bright sunlight – to prevent melting.

Muriel McDonald of South Portland paused before one of Austill’s pastel nature scenes and asked, “Is this a tribute to Monet?”

Austill nodded.

“Every once in a while, Monet will just pop out. I don’t know why. It’s a mystery,” she said.


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