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Art of the Carolinas – Feeding the Muses

All right, I’ll admit it – I’ve begun (finally) to think of myself as an artist.  But I don’t think that as long as I live that I will reach a point where I don’t think there is more to learn about tools, techniques and materials…especially when the opportunity comes along to be in a place for four days with the sole purpose of eating, sleeping and living art in the company of superstars, wannabes, hobbyists, and “emerging artists” no less.  Annually, Jerry’s Artarama (www.jerrysartarama.com) pulls this extravaganza together and though it was my first time, it will not be my last.  Sharon DeGuilio must still be in coma in the aftermath of this event – unless she is already at work getting next year organized.  Sort of the same way Mardi Gras preparations begin the day after Fat Tuesday in New Orleans…

I have to admit that I don’t really know how many workshops, suppliers and attendees where there.  I had planned a most ambitious agenda for myself, wanting to get as much instruction and information out of the event as I could – which to some degree necessitated floating through in a fog…there really was so much more to gain from the experience.  Next year I will be wiser, I think…

The one thing I did especially well was to dedicate the six or seven hours to driving to the event from home instead of flying to Raleigh.  Road trips are a sort of payoff for me to begin with, and I get cold shudders thinking about trying to get wet artwork onto a plane – and even colder ones if I contemplate not doing the hands on work because I won’t know how to get it home.  Driving was really the best idea on all levels.

Driving through Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina in the fall is a real bonus, especially on the kind of day I had to make my way south.  It was clear and glorious and cool to begin getting warmer as the day progressed, but still autumnal.  I stayed off the interstates as much as possible, taking Route 301 south as soon as I could get to it, headed toward Richmond through Camp A.P. Hill, Hanover Courthouse and Chamberlayne before having to get onto US85.  I have to admit that the weather was lovely, the traffic was light and the freeway was mesmerizing, but I came to my senses and exited – someplace onto old Route 1 which was the very best idea I had in the course of the entire day.  For most of that part of the ride, I was the only car on the road, rattling along at 55 mph from 45 mph zone to 45 mph zone, through one small town after another that had been passed by the freeway.  It was like having the opportunity to drive through a museum of gas station architecture of the 30’s to 50’s, with repurposed garages and auto courts (the original motels) sprinkling mile after mile.

It isn’t always lovely, but it is always interesting to see how people adapt to the changes made by transportation innovation.

By South Hill, Virginia, I was ready to stretch my legs, and because I was driving through the heart of the town, I had an opportunity to be intrigued by the signs advertising “Museums.”  South Hill is one of only three circular municipalities in the United States, being originally laid out in a perfect circle radiating 5/8ths of a mile from the intersection where the Atlantic and Danville Railway crossed Boydton Plank Road which is what US 1 was called in those parts.  By 1907, South Hill was the third-largest flue-cured tobacco market in the United States.  The town is proud of both its tobacco and railroading heritage, so I was able to see the Tobacco Farm Life Museum of Virginia, the South Hill Model Railroad Museum, and oh, by the way, the Virginia S, Evans Doll Museum in the short while I was taking a break from the drive to Raleigh.  The Tobacco Farm Life Museum is a spotless collection of items collected from the local community – items from barns (and some actual barns!) and lofts and attics and basements – all of which speak to the hard work and sacrifice that is a farm life.

The Virginia S. Evans Doll Museum is an awesome collection donated by a local elementary school teacher whose taste seems to have run the full gamut of doll-dom – as long as the dolls were loved.  I was crazy about that collection for that very reason. The Model Railroad Museum (aptly set up in the old train station – and one of the best uses for an old train station I’ve ever seen) sort of freezes the community in the 50’s.  It was a great stop that made the long trip to Raleigh seem shorter and friendlier by a long shot.

Arriving in Raleigh at the hotel – and I have to say a little something about the hotel – it was the North Raleigh Hilton where the event was being held.  The folks working there were amazing – negotiating with aplomb the sloshing oceans of artistic pheromones that beset them for the following five days.  Everyone from the front desk to the cleaning staff was unfailingly helpful and cheerful…it was a great place to be in view that my car did not move again until Monday morning when I loaded the last of my gear and headed north again.

In view that the event was not scheduled to begin until the following day, my arrival on Wednesday was amid the influx of artists who were coming in to prepare for the 9 a.m. kick off of the workshop schedule the following day.  Also arriving were the many vendors who knew their work the following day of setting up booths of merchandise was going to require a good sleep.  This gave me an opportunity to greet friends like Robert Burridge and his wife Kate Burridge from California (www.robertburridge.com) and to meet new friends like Brenda Mattson from Michigan (www.brendamattson.com).  The atmosphere was already heady.  I had enough sense to get an early dinner and head to bed.  I had no idea how much I was going to have to draw on that sleep over the next few days.

Morning arrived early – the excitement of beginning was more than my  system could handle, so I was wandering around downstairs well in advance of the availability of breakfast or coffee.  It gave me time to enter notes into my sketchbook, however, and make a stab as getting myself pulled together for the day.  Of course, this meant that when there was a delay at the registration desk that was to have opened at 8 a.m., I was restive and anxious.  Turns out, it was a rookie mistake.  I should have slept longer.  I could have sailed downstairs at ten minutes before the start of my first workshop and had plenty of time to get my name tag and marching orders.  Thank goodness the guardian of the gate, Maggi, had seen it all before and understood that enthusiasm to begin does not suffer waiting gladly.  She was delightful.  By 8:45 it is probably true that the hundreds of people standing in line were unlikely to have been described quite that way, but it all worked out – we were all where we needed to be when we needed to be there.

For me, it was in a workshop with Jerry’s own Joe DiGuilio called “Contemporary Abstracvts in Acrylics” in which he introduced us to his approach to abstract painting as well as some of his favorite materials.

It was an all day workshop, meaning that it went until 4 p.m. and by the time 4 rolled around, my head was bursting with information and I was primed for the rest of the event.  Being held a day in advance of the actual event, it was one of the smallest workshops I attended which gave me an opportunity to question and explore that was going to diminish in the following days as more and more (and more!) folks poured into workshops during the course of the event.

As if I hadn’t enough to think about already, I went from Joe’s workshop into one on knife painting in oils with Mike Rooney (www.mikerooneystudios.com)- and incredibly high energy North Carolina painter who is comfortable enough around a pallet knife to make it all seem so simple  By the end of the day, dinner wasn’t even an option.  I could barely haul the work out to the car and myself up to the 4th floor.  It was, in fact, everything I had hoped it would be.  Totally exhausting in a GOOD way.

The following day I had set up with an ambitious schedule of three workshops by very different artists in oil – one for the new material (I had never used water soluble oils, nor painted on gesso board), one for the color of it all, and one for technique (the promise of learning how to see water falling was very intriguing.) So I started my morning with  Caroline Jasper (www.carolinejasper.com) for her amazing command of color, in a workshop called “Seeing the Light in Painting.”   I went from her workshop to Sean Dye (www.seandyestudio.com) who has a very quiet teaching style that imparts enormous amounts of information almost before you know you are being enveloped.  I practiced a lot of techniques with a new material that will follow me around in whatever medium I use.  I went from his workshop almost without breathing to one held by Dick Ensing (www.dickensingartist.com) who paints a lot in the Great Smokey Mountains en plein air in a fresh, Impressionist style.  Dinner in the hotel with a classmate was hasty because falling asleep in my plate was a real danger.

Only two workshops the following day, but again, amazing.  Bill Buchman’s (www.figuredrawing.org) “Expressive Figure Drawing – Wet” and David Dunlop’s (www.landscapesthroughtime.com) “Luminous Skies.”  My “only” turned out to be a huge day of teasing my appetite…Buchman is a musician and artist who can seemingly coax the very essence of the human figure out of a blur of colored ink, and David Dunlop’s lecture on art history is worth the price of admission – although he goes on to demonstrate painting the light of skies in oil, watercolor and acrylic…with equally impressive results.  Both men explained techniques so well that I am hopeful that I too can make beautiful things happen in the studio, although it will clearly take practice.  One thing is certain, however…I need more time with both of these guys.  While it is true of everyone with whom I worked on this trip, these two gave me much to think of when my brain was reaching a saturation point.

Did I mention that I might have made a few rookie mistakes in my master plan?

My final day of workshops was a single, day long experience with James Sulkowski (www.jamessulkowski.com) whose old masters style of portraiture appealed to the “emerging” portraitist in me.  Another small workshop – limited because he wanted to give us all plenty of input.  It was perhaps the right place to end this artistic marathon because it was a very controlled, quiet process that brought me down slowly. I was totally amazed by the quality of the work produced by the class – I know there were artists there of all skill levels, but even the ones who claimed to be new to portraiture created images that were simply wonderful.

In all of my misguided planning, I had done several things right.  I was able to experience the techniques and teaching styles of a diverse group, and I was able to make the acquaintance of a great many charming and delightful people.  Would I do it again?  I’m making my reservations as soon as I can next year…oh, yes.  I’ll do it again.

I was kind of afraid of the trip home – I was just wrung completely out and there was still this long drive home.  But the morning dawned beautiful and colorful and warm, so it wasn’t very long before I was changing my route and headed toward Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel.  Traffic was lighter than I’d anticipated, and even driving east into the rising sun, I was able to enjoy the ride across North Carolina and into Virginia.  I stopped a little more often, perhaps, but for shorter periods – just to get a sense of this route that seemed to bisect at every turn another pathway of the Civil War.  Cotton fields were being harvested all around me and along the byways 500 pound bales were tarped and ready for transport to gins, and loose fistfuls of cotton drifted along the road like the remnants of snow.  

I found myself seeing the trip a little differently, in that I was evaluating the light, the line, the composition, and the color of what my eyes were taking in from a standpoint that was all about four very intense days of art.  I could hardly wait to get home to start putting to work all that I learned, which is why I made myself stop and take pictures of those things that caught my eye.  It was a nice exercise in self discipline to allow yourself to actually see what catches your eye.

By way of example, along the roadside where I stopped to take a photo of a Civil War train trestle, I also saw a discarded bent wood rocker that juxtaposed the landscape in a rather exotic way – I have the photo.  In Emporia, Virginia, I drove around the block to take a photo of the facade of the Klugel Sheet Metal works – which seems to be wired for sound with the number of electrical and telephone wires wreathing around it.   It reminded me of a the huge radio set my grandparents had – except that it seemed to be all of metal instead of flumed mahogany.

The traffic on the Bay Bridge/Tunnel was light enough that it felt like I could enjoy the ride – and facing 17 miles from shore to shore of a bridge, that would not be my typical reaction.  I was able, however, to enjoy not only the drive, but the welcome I received once I got back to the

Eastern Shore – both from the seagull welcoming committee and the perfectly wonderful Visitor’s Center (which was mine alone, by the way)

of the National Wildlife Refuge that is your first taste of the Eastern Shore from that southern  tip… 1415 acres on the mainland and on Fisherman Island (which you get to drive across as a part of your trip across the Bridge/Tunnel.)  Tucked behind the rest area/welcome center on Route 13, the Welcome Center is a treasure trove of information about the native and migratory bird species of the region.  I have to admit, it was a nice respite after the bridge – even without traffic, 17 miles is a long time to be suspended above, or sunk well below the water.
There are a lot of places I would have liked to have stopped down that way, but I have to admit, it was time to get home.  For that moment, I don’t think I could have taken in one more thing. (Well, almost!)  What a fortunate state of being!






One thought on “Art of the Carolinas – Feeding the Muses

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