Apalachicola merchants are saying it was the biggest Artwalk ever.



On Saturday, over 50 artists from Franklin County and beyond took part in the ninth annual Artwalk. The weather was ideal with blue skies and temperatures hovering at 70 degrees.



The number of artists displaying their wares was down a bit from last year but the quality of work on display was excellent.



Visiting artists included Jean Marie McDonnell, of Daphne, Ala.; Linda Rabon of Havana, Marta Elam Dorton of Lexington, Ky. and Denise Callaghan of Ontario, Canada who said she traveled here specifically for the event.



Local galleries put their best face forward for the swarm of visitors.



The Cotton Exchange hosted demonstrations and exhibited work by local painters Lynn Spohrer, Susan Richardson, Ed Springer and Pam Corcoran.



New this year were awards for best in show in the divisions of fine art, pop art and photography. Entries were judged by three anonymous volunteers who visited booths and galleries.



In fine arts, first place went to Apalachicola’s Richardson, who works in oils. Second was taken by water colorist Cassie Tucker of Wakulla County. Apalachicola’s Spohrer received an honorable mention.



The top award for pop art went to basket weaver Rabon. Second was taken by ceramic sculptor Ann Eason of Cape San Blas. Sue Ellen McMillan won an honorable mention for her multimedia paintings using pottery shards, broken jewelry and personal keepsakes of all kinds.



Two Apalachicola artists led the field in photography. Richard Bickel took first for his stunning portrayals of the people of the Apalachicola Bay and more exotic locales. Lane Autrey took second for her artful portrayals of natural beauty. Charlie Sawyer of Tallahassee won an honorable mention.



Anita Grove, director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce and Artwalk organizer, said judging the art was a late addition to the event and she will work to refine the process over the next year.



The crowd grew until parking was at a premium and hundreds of visitors wandered from booth to gallery to shop. In the afternoon, the second phase of Artwalk began at 2 p.m. when 17 restaurants and bistros opened their doors for an open-air wine tasting and many offered special dishes in honor of the occasion. Several of the venues featured live music.



Grove said about 250 people paid to sample wine.



Dale Julian of Downtown Books said she had an extremely busy day on Saturday. She hosted a book signing for author Scott Marlowe in addition to welcoming three artists to her sidewalk.



“At one point we had 200 people in here,” said Carrie Hall, of Up the Stairs.



Artist Carole Jayne said Artemis Gallery was packed throughout the afternoon. She said two customers who visited Saturday returned Sunday morning to buy paintings.



 “The day brought us a tremendous amount of traffic,” said Leslie Coon of the Bowery Gallery. “We had three artists working outside in addition to our standing exhibit. I think it was a good thing that the art was more spread out this year. It encouraged people to walk all over the downtown area.”