As I hope you have been reading, I have been involved in a flurry of information flowing to us from the visual art community in and around Florence, SC, including a couple of blog entries which you can visit later – click here for the entry about the exhibit, A Celebration of Many Talents: Artisans of the Cotton Trail & the Tobacco Trail, on view through Mar. 4, 2011, at The Art Trail Gallery in Florence, and here to see the entry about the exhibit, The Whimiscal World According to Fowle, featuring works by Patz and Mike Fowle, on view through Jan. 27, 2011, in Gallery 412 at the Florence Regional Arts Alliance in Florence.
Florence is just two hours north on Hwy. 52 from the headquarters of PSMG, Inc. in Bonneau, SC, so at some point I decided to go see some of the works we were presenting to readers in person by attending the opening reception for the exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery and while I was there – why not visit the Florence Museum and the show at the Florence Regional Arts Alliance.
Normally I would travel from here to Manning, SC, to pick up I-95 and zip on up to Florence at 70mph, but I decided to go Hwy. 52 to see if anything has changed along that route, but I can report – not much has changed in 20 years except for a little more development on the Florence side of Lake City, SC, and the south end of Florence. It’s still a trip of 60mph, 45mph, 35mph, 45mph, 60mph, 45mph, 35mph, 45mph, 60mph – you get it.
When I got to Florence I was surprised to see they still had a lot of frozen looking snow and ice in the shade left over from the big southern snow storm. And, you still had to watch out for black ice – masquerading as melting water on sidewalks and in the street.
First stop, the Florence Museum. I’ve been to the Museum several times in my art history, but this was the first time I caught it in-between shows. They’re getting ready to launch the exhibit, Florence Photo Album, an exhibit of historical images of Florence, SC, during the growth years of the early 20th century, accompanied by period maps and memorabilia from the museum’s collection, which will be on view from Jan. 18 through Mar. 13, 2011. But I did get to see some interesting items in the Museum’s collection. The Museum is housed in a converted residence, so it has a lot of rooms on multi levels to roam through. I also got to meet Stephen Motte, museum curator, who I had spoken with on the phone about upcoming exhibits a week or so ago. I’m not going to mention anything – you need to go see it yourself.
“Pearl Fryar’s Fantastic Fro-piary Garden” oil painting by Patz Fowle
My next stop was the Florence Regional Arts Alliance at 412 South Dargan Street, which will soon be known as the arts district in Florence – more about that later. This facility was last used as some kind of office as the entrance faces the back parking lot – maybe a doctor’s office. One plus right off the bat – plenty of free parking. It should be noted that you have to press a buzzer to let folks inside know you want entrance, which I think is more the nature of the building than a security issue.
“Out on a Limb” mixed media by Mike Fowle
The exhibit, The Whimiscal World According to Fowle, which features works by Patz and Mike Fowle was small, but not so small that I later learned as I looked over the gallery handout that I missed seeing a couple of paintings. There must be more display area there that is used for bigger shows or I just missed it. I’ve seen images of shows in that space which show a larger area, so it must be expandable or other rooms were not being used for this exhibit. I’m still not sure how I missed them.
“Picasso’s Palette” coil built ceramic jug head by Patz Fowle
One thing not so good about the gallery space is its fluorescent lighting – not so good for showing art and not so good for photographing it either. I had to use flash – which is not good either. But we all do what we can in the arts these days. And, I prefer them showing art to not showing art.
Good light, bad light, it’s still easy to enjoy Patz Fowle’s works, which I’ve seen in conditions more challenging than this. I won’t name names to protect others who are doing the best they can. Such is life in the visual arts – often the stepchild of most art communities. So my photos will be so, so.
The works by Patz Fowle were not for sale, which I thought was strange, but I later learned that many of these works just came out of the kiln and she likes to wait until she finishes a series before she offers the works for sale. She also keeps a collection of works on hand for competitions and exhibitions.
Like they say – you have to wait for the good things in life.
“Critter” mixed media by Mike Fowle
This was the first time I’ve gotten to see Mike Fowle’s metal works, which was a real surprise, as the work we showed in the blog looked as if it was a large piece and it turned out to be a small piece – much smaller than I would have expected. It just shows that images without a reference can be deceiving. He uses a lot of recycled materials in the creation of his art which I always admire how some people can see normal everyday objects that most of us can just see as one thing – as something totally different.
I first saw one of his mixed media clay pieces at last year’s Palmetto Handsexhibit during the North Charleston Arts Festival. In the exhibit handout it states that Mike has been working with Patz for 30 years, but just started making his own works three years ago. I’d say he was paying close attention and that Patz may have a rival on her hands someday, but I’m sure a friendly one.
In keeping with the show’s title, I think the Fowle’s find lots of things in life “whimsical” or at least choose to take that view. It always puts a smile on my face.
This show will be up until Jan. 27 – there’s still lots of time to go see it. I’m glad I did.
The Alliance has a new blog, which can be found at (http://florenceregionalartsalliance.blogspot.com/). Following it through its less than a year of postings – you can see they host quality exhibits – a few I really wish I knew about ahead of time – hint, hint.
Next stop, the Art Trail Gallery, at 135 South Dargan Street, soon to really be in a prime location. At the south corner of the intersection of South Dargan and Cheves Street you’ll find construction going on at the new Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, which I understand may open this year. Across Cheves Street is the site of the planned new Florence Museum and next to that is the Arts Trail Gallery complex in the old, massive Kimbrell’s building – an old furniture store, now owned by the Florence Downtown Development Corporation.
Florence is a city poised for change. It will be interesting to see how the opening of this new performing arts center and a new museum will effect the overall level of the arts being offered. Will it be a spark like the Spoleto Festival USA was in Charleston, SC – where through continued exposure to higher art forms – the community demands more, better, and more diverse forms of art. Perhaps the facilities will just finally be catching up to the level of the local talent of the area.
I know one thing for sure as mentioned in my earlier posting about Florence. There is no doubt in my mind that being thought of as a second tier city in the minds of most in SC, especially those in the centralized government in Columbia, Florence has never gotten the support and funding needed to do better. The main three cities in SC don’t leave much of the pie left for others to prosper. This is a city that is pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.
Dargan Street reminds me a lot of King Street in downtown Charleston where either end and the middle have little in common than being on the same street, but that will probably change in a few years if these new projects are successful. And I worry if the Art Trail Gallery will be able to hold on to the space it is in down the road as things do get better.
The arts always seem to be pioneers in revitalizing rundown urban areas and as soon as things get better – the first to go. As some developer will soon see that the space would make a great restaurant or inn or combination of both. Of course by then, I would hope that the city leaders would feel the Art Trail Gallery deserved a better home as it is also not an ideal location for showing art, but now needed and very much appreciated.
And all credit for that goes to Jane Madden, who is an unpaid volunteer, who has a full time job at Francis Marion University, and more than a full time job keeping the Art Trail Gallery going. We don’t have enough space to go into all the praise she deserves for what she’s done for this space. Perhaps at another time when she wins a Verner award or the city has the grand opening for the Jane Madden Center for Visual Arts. She and the building’s other tenant, Alex Palkovich, won the 2009 Main Street South Carolina Inspiration Award from the Municipal Association of South Carolina in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. So, some people have recognized what she has accomplished.
The Kimbrell building is large – 44,000 sq. ft. so it’s a real challenge to just do the basics – keep it clean, keep it warm, light all areas. Madden said something to me about the floors and for the life of me – I couldn’t describe them.
I once told someone who remarked about a critic’s review about a show at an old museum facility where they mentioned the shabby shape the floors, walls and ceiling were in – “that if you walk into a gallery space and you find yourself looking at the floor or ceiling – there was something wrong with the art hanging on the walls”. But I didn’t trip over anything and my shoes were clean when I got home so I guess they were clean. And, now that I see the photos I took – the place was spotless – inside and out.
There are not many art facilities in this state that couldn’t use some good old TLC and funding to make them look better – unless it’s relatively new. I’ve seen some great art placed in crappy frames. Did it make the art any less great? Not to me. And, I’ve seen it the other way around.
But, impressions mean a lot – especially first impression and I hope Madden and the artists in this show excuse me for just a few minutes as I explain that my attention was highjacked before I entered the building. Let me explain.
The reception started at 5:30 and I got there just after that and it was already getting dark. From the outside looking in at the lighted building my eye couldn’t help but go to the works I could see of Alex Palkovich, a sculptor who shares space with the Art Trail Gallery. He’s got some lifesized works in the studio and a few bigger than lifesize and you can’t help but notice them. So, before I’m in the door I’m thinking – “that’s right, there is a sculptor in the building. And, I’ve heard of him before.”
Within minutes of being inside I came to a spot where I looked in the direction of that studio and on the wall I can see paintings – abstract paintings and they are saying to me – “Tom, over here – you know you’re going to love us”. I’m a weak person, I admit it, so I stroll in that direction. I at least didn’t make it a straight bee-line, but I’m there within a few feet in no time. I didn’t know this sculptor painted too was my thought, but I soon saw the name Dowis and a lightbulb when off and for some reason I knew it was “Jack” Dowis. By the time I circled the room I found info confirming it was Jack Dowis a local painter, whom I had heard of also, but I had not seen his work before. There were so many wonderful abstract paintings and I was thinking of William Halsey and Corrie McCallum.
The connection with William Halsey is a little funny as once again I was asking someone if Dowis was still alive – like I did once of Halsey. The logic is that the artist must be dead for our state’s art community to ignore a living artist of such talents, but I’ve learned that the folks in charge can overlook a lot in this state.
I might have come to Florence sooner – like in November if I had known that Dowis was being featured in a show at Gallery 412, but we never got a press release with images – that’s all it would have taken.
During the evening I met Palkovich and had a good talk with him. I’ll have more about Palkovich and a project he’s invloved with in another posting dealing with a statue of Francis Marion.
OK – back to the show at hand. I looked at everything on display at least twice – some works a little longer than others. If this was just a cross-section of the talents of the artists of the greater Pee Dee area we’ve all been missing something through a lack of communications.
There was such a wide variety of media offered, of course I had my favorites, as I’m sure others’ favorites would differ from mine. It doesn’t make any work better than the other, just more appealing to one person over another. There was a lot of work on display worthy of being purchased and taken home and treasured for generations. And, that’s the whole point of this show folks – to not just look at art but to buy some art.
Work by Patz Fowle provided for another posting
I ‘ll name a few but there was a lot of good work there. Of course I loved Patz Fowle’s Van Goat character. I’m not sure that’s the right name, I didn’t write down any titles. I think I might have gotten in real trouble if I got out my pen and pad and started taking notes. And, after all this was a reception. I also liked a painting by Vicky McLain of someone striking a match in the dark. There was also a nice pastorial painting, hanging down low near the floor, by Ruth Cox who was painting during the reception. I also took a liking to the pine straw works by Susan Allen. It’s amazing to see what someone can do with just pine needles.
I also met some people there who I’ve known by their work and other connections, but actually met for the first time like Patz Fowle (and her husband Mike) and Jane Madden, as well as others like Alex Palkovich, Lawrence Anderson, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Francis Marion University, and a few of the artists. I left before the event was over as I had a two hour ride back home on a night that was already below freezing.
The trip was quick – almost a blink of an eye, but connections were made and I hope it was just the beginning of a new and lasting relationship. At least let’s hope so.
If you live in the area – go by and see these exhibits, if you live outside the area keep an eye on Florence and plan a trip to see what’s happening somewhere else in South Carolina. You might be surprised.
Finally, I want to thank and acknowledge the support the Florence Downtown Development Corporation has given to the Art Trail Gallery. It really helps when the business community knows the power of the arts to attract folks to a downtown area. Just make sure that after they have attracted a crowd – they get to stay and reap the benefits too.