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Tall Ships festival converges with art world in 2016

Tim Cortes

Brady Slater

Forum News Service

Over and over, Tim Cortes jabbed his colored pencils into an automatic sharpener, returning to a poster board each time with a fine new point.

From a cramped basement studio in his Lakeside home last week, the 49-year-old Duluth artist already had outlined the image on the official Tall Ships Duluth 2016 poster with a graphite pencil.

"This is the fun part," he said, "going in and coloring like a little kid."

It's fitting that the local artist is providing Tall Ships Duluth with its promotional imagery. The wildly popular event will return Aug. 18-21 and coincide for the first time with Art in Bayfront Park — the annual art fair that features a lineup of artists from around the country.

"Standing alone, Art in Bayfront Park is a great event," said Tall Ships Duluth executive producer Craig Samborski, whose locally based Draw Events took over from Visit Duluth as Tall Ships organizer this year. "Combining these two makes it an attractive way to spend a weekend in Duluth."

Tall ships have been visiting Duluth sporadically since the 1990s, with the event formalizing around festivals in 2008, 2010 and 2013 as the vessels rotate from coast to coast and through the Great Lakes in a current three-year cycle.

Samborski said about 225,000 people visited the festival in each of the last two Duluth iterations. He expects the event could hit 300,000 attendees this year. By comparison, Grandma's Marathon in June expects to attract about 65,000, said Visit Duluth's Bob Gustafson.

Already, tickets for day sails that give passengers a sailing experience aboard the vessels have sold out. There still are tickets available for on-board ship tours.

In addition to the art fair, Tall Ships Duluth is partnering with the Duluth Depot, North Shore Scenic Railroad and Adventure Zone to offer combined tickets that present discounted fees on both ends. Samborski was conscientious to Tall Ships' potential, as the city's most-attended event, to drown out the city's other attractions.

"When we work together with those entities it kind of elevates their voice," he said, explaining that a standard $19 multiple-day ticket to Tall Ships can be upgraded to add the Depot for $21 total.

Another reason for Samborski's brimming optimism is that Tall Ships has been effective in reaching out to popular travel bloggers and also is using Google AdWords to broaden its potential tourist audience online. A related search by a person planning or considering a vacation can result in nonstop Tall Ships promotion.

"Our ads follow you around the Internet until you clear your browser or until you buy a ticket from us," he said.

Advance tickets have been sold to buyers in all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces.

"We do market to Duluthians," Samborski said, "but we do consider this a destination event, so we really are working hard on the tourism angle."

Samborski described an event that will congeal around Duluth's scenery and its array of eateries and craft breweries to form what he believes is an irresistible combination.

"Add some cool ships," he said, "and it's a cool mix."

Included in the vessel lineup are a Norwegian Viking ship making its first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, and the Spanish El Galeón Andalucía, a replica of the massive 16th- and 17th-century ships that were designed to explore trade routes around the world. The Viking ship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre, was sailing in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Greenland on Tuesday.

For DeBora Bernick, the originator and director of Art in Bayfront Park, the marriage of art and ships was "the perfect fit for us."

"It was kind of a no-brainer," she said, adding that the art festival draws about 20,000 visitors annually to its display and sale booths. The festival jury selected artists earlier this spring and turned down a record number of artists to reach its slate of 170 participants — about 25 in each category of wood, painting and drawing, pottery, jewelry, glass and sculpture.

Bernick, Samborski and Cortes all grew up in Duluth and know each other well dating back to school days spent intersecting with one another. That they're all united behind a festive weekend appealed to Cortes, who talked about their easy camaraderie and the lure of the city that keeps them here.

"We're all locally grown," Cortes said. "It's not for everybody, but I like it here."

Cortes' commissioned Tall Ships artwork figures to appear on T-shirts, postcards and more.

It's been quite a ride lately for Cortes. Nationally known for his lifelike colored-pencil sports montages, Cortes has kept his subjects closer to home of late. He produced a city-centric Hockey Day Minnesota poster last winter before submitting the completed 40th anniversary Grandma's Marathon poster just last week.

His Tall Ships poster will contrast the blue-gray steel of the Aerial Lift Bridge with the off-whites and wood browns of a tall ship's sails and mast.

"I'm trying to do more stuff locally," Cortes said, busy at his easel.

Known for working quickly, Cortes has completed about 5,000 works in the past 20 years. He joked that he spent those years avoiding having to draw the Aerial Lift Bridge that figures prominently in all three of his most recent Duluth works.

He understands the lure of the bridge, and he's excited about reaching such a wide new audience of Tall Ships tourists, saying, "I think they're going to get more traffic than they think they are."

Ships currently scheduled to appear at Tall Ships Duluth 2016

  • El Galeón Andalucía — classic Spanish expedition vessel
  • Draken Harald Hårfagre — Norwegian Viking ship
  • When and If — Gen. George Patton's personal yacht
  • US Brig Niagara — War of 1812 replica
  • Mist of Avalon — last timber-framed Canadian-built fishing vessel
  • Pride of Baltimore II — a replica Baltimore clipper used in War of 1812
  • Denis Sullivan — replica of traditional Great Lakes schooner
  • Appledore V — an Atlantic coast regular for 25 years


For more information on the festivals, go to