Posts Tagged ‘Alex Palkovich’

Traveling in the Pathways of Francis Marion Checking Out the Visual Arts in the Pee Dee Region of SC – Part II

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

I left off in Part I talking about the Hotel Florence on West Evans Street in Florence, SC. If you want to read what I wrote in Part I visit this link.

On the other side of the street across from the Hotel Florence, a half a block toward Irby Street, you’ll find the Art Trail Gallery, at 185 West Evans Street. This is the gallery’s second location and I understand that they will soon be on the move to a third location. You can’t say the arts in Florence are not doing its part for urban renewal – especially when it comes to the Art Trail Gallery. Where the Art Trail Gallery goes – so go folks looking for the arts in Florence.

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On this day they were showing Photofabulous 2015, a show that is an annual display of photography from the region. This year’s offering was a juried show, selected by Julie Mixon, an Assistant Professor of Photography at Francis Marion University. At the old gallery’s location on South Dargan Street I’ve see a few Photofabulous shows that were “you bring it and hang it kind of shows” and the type and quality of photography on view ranged from children and adults taking snapshots, some really funky images using some form of photography, and very good traditional photography. These shows were all over the place. I’ve been an advocate for more focused or themed shows to be shown at the Art Trail Gallery and last year the Florence Regional Arts Alliance presented one that focused on works produced by teachers and students associated with Francis Marion University. But, after viewing this juried photography exhibit I kind of wished a return to the wild and woolly photography shows.

Now, some of my opinion could have been determined by the fact that the gallery was transformed into a banquet hall, with tables and chairs filling the space making it a real challenge to see the works hanging on the wall. The Art Trail Gallery is a multi-use space after all, and it was just unfortunate to catch it at this time in this form, but there was something else about the exhibit. All the works were well done and presented very professionally, but there was no pop – no – what is that? or how did they do that? I’ve seen a lot of photography in my life, after all my background in the arts was in photography before I became a pimp for the visual arts, so I like to see things that I haven’t seen a million times before. I’ll admit that it is a very high bar to get over and maybe a little unfair to expect.

I don’t know if some of those funky photographers from older open shows didn’t enter or didn’t make the cut of this juror or what. I know there is less space in this version of the Art Trail Gallery. On South Dargan Street they used to hang hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Maybe some photographers don’t like taking the risk of getting in a juried show – a lot of artists are like that at some point in their careers. The general worry by these folks is that they might not win or won’t even get an award.

I didn’t take any photos at this gallery as it would have been impossible and most works were behind glass, so I can’t show you any examples of work on view. I also didn’t bother taking any general view shots as it would just look like a big room full of tables and chairs – and by the next day all that stuff might be gone. So when you go see it you will see a show totally different than the one I viewed. Well, it’s the same show but different circumstances.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t like anything I saw – I did. Here’s a list of a few images that stood out to me: Anne Baldwin’s “Keys to the Past”, Janet Leonard’s “First Bloom”, Suzanne Muldrow’s “Remnants of Spring”, Patricia Burkett’s “Stolen Moments” (who one first place at the exhibit with this work), and my personal favorite of the show, Susan Griggs’ “Maine Tidals” which showed a few totems of river stones against the backdrop of a rushing river.

I guess what I’m saying is that I found this show to be a little too tame after viewing The Pee Dee Regional Art Competition at the Waters Gallery of the Florence County Museum. If this was the only exhibit I viewed that day, I might have come away with a whole different feeling about it. But then again, none of us lives in a vacuum – we’re affected by what we ate for breakfast, the drive to where we were going, everything we saw along the way, not to mention the environment we grew up in. You’ll see a totally different show and that’s what this is all about – you going and seeing these exhibits yourself and making up your mind about what you saw. I’m just one person who goes and sees shows and gives his opinion.

While I was there, Uschi Jeffcoat, Director of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance, that now shares space with the Art Trail Gallery, introduced me to a couple of interns from Francis Marion University, who will be helping to expand the reach of the Alliance throughout the community. I know I said something to these two young men, but for the life of me all I can remember is “Yada, Yada, Yada” on my part. Jeffcoat has an exhibit of watercolors over at the The Clay Pot Coffee Shop, at 166 South Dargan Street, across from the Florence County Museum. Adolescence in Flight: Reflections Seen and Observed, which will be on view through Feb. 28, 2015.

While I was at the Art Trail Gallery I also ran into, or was spotted by Alex Palkovich, who seems to show up everywhere I go in the Pee Dee and he invited me over to his studio, just behind the Art Trail Gallery on Irby Street. His works also share the space at the Art Trail Gallery. It’s a major component of the gallery – worth the trip alone.

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Here’s an image of a small version of the statue by Palkovich which was on view at the first ArtFields© in Lake City, SC

Palkovich has a new project in mind for Charleston, SC’s Market area – a nine foot tall sculpture of a mid-century black woman with a basket of goods on her head – walking to the market. He’s been pretty successful getting his sculptures placed around the Pee Dee area, but Charleston is another world and one thing it is not known for is public sculptures.  But I’m not betting against Palkovich – he’s a real persuasive man.

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My next stop was the Doctors Bruce and Lee Foundation Library, located at 506 South Dargan Street. It’s a little further away from where the art district is but still very close. That’s where the FMU Artists Exhibit, is on view through Mar. 30, 2015. The exhibition features works from nine faculty and staff members from Francis Marion University’s Department of Fine Arts in the Dr. N. Lee Morris Gallery, located on the 2nd floor of the library. Mediums range from 3D art, ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, and mixed media.

Featured in this exhibition are works by Colleen A Critcher (1st place winner of The Pee Dee Regional Art Competition), Dr. Eaujung Chang, Julie S. Mixon (juror of the Photofabulous 2015 show and in the Pee Dee show), Douglas E. Gray (who has his ceramic works on display in three of the spaces I visited this trip and in the Pee Dee show), Gregory G. Fry (in the Pee Dee show), Dr. Howard J. Frye (in the Pee Dee show), Steven F. Gately, Walter W. Sallenger (in the Pee Dee show), and Lawrence P. Anderson (in the Pee Dee show).

The Dr. N. Lee Morris Gallery is a challenge to take photos in but I took a few anyway. But the work here is like an extension of The Pee Dee Regional Art Competition. My favorite work here was “Anticipation” by Dr. Howard J. Frye, a pen and ink work made in 2010. I always like everything I’ve seen by Douglas E. Gray, but there is a lot of good work here. So I would say that if you go see The Pee Dee Regional Art Competition you should follow it up by visiting this library exhibit.

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“What If… by Julie Mixon, 2013, white marble fresco image transfer

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“Anticipation” by Dr. Howard J. Frye at far left and photos by Walter W. Sallenger

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View of works by Gregory G. Fry on left wall, works by Julie Mixon on the other wall, and glass case with works by Douglas E. Gray

I think it is great that at least four major branch libraries, that I know of in SC, have art galleries in them – that’s Charleston, Columbia, Spartanburg and Florence. These warehouses of knowledge also think it is important to offer their visitors art on a regular basis. I love libraries and hope the public always supports them as one of the most important parts of our communities.

At this point we move on to Lake City, SC, to the Jones-Carter Gallery of the Community Museum Society Inc, at 105 Henry Street, next to The Bean Market. They are presenting The Sum of Many Parts: Quiltmakers in Contemporary America, featuring selections from a larger exhibit curated by Teresa Hollingsworth and Katy Malone of South Arts, Atlanta, GA. The exhibit will be on view through Mar. 7, 2015.

A larger, original version of this exhibit was conceived and sponsored by the United States Embassy, Beijing, and developed and managed by Arts Midwest and South Arts with additional assistance from the Great Lakes Quilt Center at Michigan State University. Titled The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st-Century America, the exhibit toured throughout China in 2012 and 2013.

This is just another example of the quality of exhibits the Jones-Carter Gallery is bringing to South Carolina. Here we have a display of contemporary quilts from the best fiber artists from throughout the US. They are acting like a big city art museum, but the admission is free – lucky us.

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I took one photo of an interactive quilt board where people can make their own quilt by using patches of fabric and attaching then in any pattern they like to a background. It’s fun to spend a few minutes putting something together and then you look a one of the quilts on display and wonder how many days or months did it take for the artists to put them together. It’s mind blowing when you look at the details of some of these works. The other photos presented were provided by Hannah L. Davis, the Gallery Manager.

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Caryl Bryer Fallert, “Fibonacci Series #8″, 2012, cotton, polyester, and bamboo batting, 30 x 30 inches, courtesy the artist.

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Linda M. Roy, “Subtle Sixties”, 2004, cotton, 81 x 81 inches, courtesy the artist.

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Alicia Avila, “Chicken Quilt”, 2013, cotton, 51 x 53 inches, front view, courtesy the artist.

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Alicia Avila, “Chicken Quilt”, 2013, cotton, 51 x 53 inches, back view, courtesy the artist.

It should also be noted that the exhibit includes a work by artists representing both the Carolinas. Not too shabby since the original exhibit featured quilts by only 25 artists.

The next show up at the Jones-Carter Gallery will be ArtFields© 2015, on view from Apr. 24 – May 2, 2015. So make your plans now for a big art visit to the Pee Dee, but don’t wait that long – you should go see the exhibits that are on view now.

While were talking about ArtFields©, I received a copy of the Annual Report from the Community Museum Society who now manages ArtFields© and here are some interesting numbers offered in the report. Here’s a breakdown of submissions state by state for 2014 in order from most to least: SC – 674, NC – 138, GA – 76, TN – 42, AL – 34, FL – 34, VA – 19, LA – 14, MS – 10, KY – 8, WV – 8, and AR – 4. It’s plain to see that the farther you get from Lake City the numbers drop off and it’s clear that North Carolina is under represented. The 2015 numbers haven’t been released yet but I hope they have improved as far as submissions from NC.

My Grande Tour of the Pee Dee Area of South Carolina – May 18, 2013

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Sorry for the delay – our June 2013 issue got in the way.

May 18, 2013, was one of those Saturdays where I could accomplish a number of things in one sweep of the Pee Dee area of SC. First up was a visit to downtown Lake City, SC, a month after the big ArtFields event to see what was going on as well as a visit to Moore Farms Botanical Garden, just outside of Lake City, which was having May Days – a tour of the Garden, a plant sale and a BBQ lunch.

Next was a trip to Venters Landing, just outside of Johnsonville, SC, about 20 miles east of Lake City where the town was celebrating its 100th anniversary with a dedication of a statue by Alex Palkovich (Florence, SC) of General Francis Marion – the Swamp Fox.

My final stop was the new location of the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC, to see how that area – a new developing arts district in SC, was coming along. I hadn’t been there in some time.

Lake City A Month Later

If the goal of millionaire philanthropist Darla Moore is to remake Lake City into a destination for art lovers or whatever – she still has a lot of work ahead of her to get the town on board. I drove down Main Street twice, once at 9:30am and again at 4pm. And, as Dickens might say – this city was as dead as Jacob Marley. Both times, there were many more empty parking spaces than those with cars in them. Hardly anyone was walking the streets that just a month ago were filled with visitors. It looked like some event was going to happen at The Bean Market and on The Green, but later by 4pm – no one was in sight.

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Lake City is still working on banker’s hours – Mon.-Fri. which isn’t going to work if they want people to come there when most have time to go visiting – on the weekend. This is a chicken comes first before the egg moment. Lake City merchants will have to open their doors on the weekend giving tourists a reason to come. Only the retired have time to travel mid-week.

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I expected that this would be the case. The transformation of Lake City won’t happen overnight, but I hate to see them not take advantage of the buzz the ArtFields event generated. Of course that buzz had a bit of buzz-kill attached to it with the unfortunate news that they had to suspend the original People’s Choice winner and taking an agonizing week to name the new winner. But my trip wasn’t wasted. I learned from a flyer on the door of the Jones-Carter building that on June 21, 2013, the new Jones-Carter Gallery will present agriART, featuring an exhibit of works by Joshua Vaughan, Mark Conrardy, (both participated in ArtFields) and an installation by Vassiliki Falkehag, which will be on view through Aug. 26, 2013. I hope there will be Saturday hours and maybe even some on Sunday in the future, but for now it’s a Mon.-Fri. facility.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen or heard of anything from Vassiliki Falkehag who did an installation with tobacco seeds and plants – many years ago.

Moore Farms Botanical Garden

I’m an adventurous traveler, and I’ve done a lot of it in the past 30 years. Sometimes I’m very prepared and sometimes I just wing it. I wish I had prepared to find Moore Farms Botanical Garden. This was not one of my better efforts at finding someplace that I had never been to before. And, I’ll admit that most of my problems were my own fault. Firstly I did not check the location on Google Maps before I left home and secondly not knowing how to use my iPhone better, and being a man – not wanting to ask for directions.

In my defense I wasn’t getting much help from Lake City, which I would described as sign-challenged. One of the complaints I heard from many people attending ArtFields was how hard it was to find locations. And although Moore Farms Botanical Garden is a few miles outside of Lake City, I would expect that there would be signs helping visitors locate it, but I learned about that later. Not much was open in Lake City, but I eventually went to the Lake City Post Office and got the directions I needed.

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Grass and steel sculpture by Herb Parker

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Moore Farms Botanical Garden was the location of one of the invited installations presented during ArtFields so I assumed that it would be one of the attractions drawing folks to Lake City, but I’m not sure. When I got there one of the first things I asked was what their normal hours were and the person responded they are only open four times a year for special occasions like ArtFields and May Days, which was today. That’s too bad, as it would definitely be a draw to Lake City, but I later heard one of the staff tell someone that if they got together ten folks for a tour – they would open for them. This was a little hard to understand. If they will open for a group of ten, why not stay open, promote the place and perhaps see hundreds of folks during a weekend?

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Tourism is a bitch – be careful what you wish for, but if you want it you have to cater to it.

Moore Farms Botanical Garden is a great place, but the main problem might be that it is also one of Darla Moore’s homes. Not many people want to live inside an attraction. But you can learn more about what they offer to the public and how to book a tour for 10 on their website (http://www.moorefarmsbg.org/). I’ll let some photos do the rest of my talking.

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A side view of The Greenhouse – not where they grow plants, but a green building

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This is on the roof of The Green House

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Honoring the Swamp Fox in Johnsonville, SC

I did do my homework on Johnsonville, as I had never been there before and didn’t want to end up in Myrtle Beach, SC, before I realized I missed it or end up in the middle of some swamp – like the British.

I first learned about this statue of Francis Marion back in Jan. 2011, during one of my visits to the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC, in a conversation with Alex Palkovich, the sculptor who shared space with the gallery and still does today in their new location. He told me a story about a small town in SC doing a big thing by honoring General Francis Marion with a statue at the site where he received his commission to lead the Williamsburgh Militia during the Revolutionary War at what was then called Witherspoon’s Ferry on the Lynches River.

You can read my first post about this project at this link.

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But today (May 18, 2013) was the long awaited dedication day. It was the main reason I was on this tour. You see, I really like Francis Marion, he’s a true American hero of the Revolutionary War – a war South Carolina should pay more attention to than one that didn’t turn out so well.

That’s Yankee talk to most here in the South, but as I’ve stated before, my ancestors didn’t have a stake in that war – they were too busy running from their English or Prussian overlords.

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Revolutionary War encampment

Besides, I had received an official invite to attend this event by Johnsonville Mayor Steve Dukes, who had come across my blog post about Palkovich and the Francis Marion statue. He was looking for someone outside of the Pee Dee to come to the event without much luck. You see, the media and most folks in the bigger cities in SC don’t care about much that isn’t going on it their cities. I was already planning on going so I was an easy invite.

May 18, 2013 was also the 100th anniversary of Johnsonville, so like many other small towns it was going to be a big event – to scale. Plus many of the folks who still live in the area are kin to the men who followed Marion through the swamps of the region giving the British nightmares.

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A project like this had a lot of help from a lot of groups and organizations so there were a lot of folks to thank and politicians on hand to give speeches on a hot day. Unfortunately or fortunately, part of the festivities included free helicopter rides which kept flying over the area about every 5 minutes and a train went by – just 100 yards away – so we didn’t have to hear much of what was being said by the politicians. Most people there, like me, wanted to see the Swamp Fox.

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Alex Palkovich with some of the re-enactors

The New Art Trail Gallery

From Johnsonville I headed to Florence, SC, on Hwy. 51 through another area I’ve never been to – going through Pamplico, SC. I’ve seen that name on highway signs many a time, but never had a reason to go there. It looked like a nice small southern town.

Florence is a town I’ve been to a lot. It’s just two hours away and I’ve passed through it or near it many a time going into North Carolina to deliver papers. Over the last two or three years I’ve been traveling to the Art Trail Gallery to see shows by regional artists. During the last year they moved to a new location which I had not been to, but that would end on this day. Unfortunately, they were getting ready to display a new exhibit,Photolicious, which is on view now through June 15, 2013. Many of the works were stacked up on the floor, so I did get to see most of what would be that exhibit. There are a lot of talented photographers in the Pee Dee.

This new space on West Evans Street is smaller than their first location on Dargan Street, but it’s still in an area which will be the growing arts district in Florence. Francis Marion University has a performing arts center in the area, a new Florence Museum is being built, and many buildings in the area are being redone, but walking on West Evans I smelled East Bay Street in Charleston, SC. It had that same old musty smell that East Bay had 35-40 years ago. Now it’s one of the hottest spots in Charleston. But, it’s going to take awhile before that smell disappears on West Evans. Some might say it’s the smell of revitalization.

But you could see work going on all over the area. A new  small park was there and people were working on another small landscaped area – dressing up the area. I took a few pictures.

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Some people ask me, “What’s with all this attention you’ve been giving the Pee Dee?” I’m sure the folks in the Pee Dee see it another way – more like what took someone so long to notice us, but in SC, traditionally there are only three cities – Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville/Spartanburg (which are two distinctly different cities). Not much else matters to most others who live in SC. But there’s a lot more to SC than meets most people’s eyes and ears.

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Soon to be the new Florence Museum

To me, the Pee Dee is the next growth area for the arts in South Carolina. It’s got a long way to go, but a lot of good folks are working hard to make it a place – you should go see. They’re hungry for respect and the recognition they haven’t been given for generations. And, it’s kind of in my backyard. Over the last 26 years I’ve seen lots of the other three areas of the State – my eye is looking for new areas to discover and promote.

So, keep an eye on Carolina Arts and we’ll let you know how things are going in the Pee Dee, and with luck it won’t be as hard as the British looking for the old Swamp Fox.

Florence, SC, Sculptor Alex Palkovich Keeps Legend of The Swamp Fox Alive

Friday, January 21st, 2011

One of my encounters last Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, during the opening reception of 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, SC, was with Alex Palkovich. He is a sculptor who has a studio which shares space with the Art Trail Gallery in the old Kimbrell’s building at 135 South Dargan Street.

We talked about his friend Jack Dowis’ wonderful paintings that fill the walls of his studio, various projects he is involved in and the upcoming installation of a very large statue of Francis Marion and his horse “Ball” soon to be found at Venters Landing, just north of Johnsonville, SC, which is the historical site where Marion received his commission to lead the Williamsburgh Militia during the Revolutionary War at what was then called Witherspoon’s Ferry on the Lynches River.

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The statue will be 10.5 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall, just less than 3 times life size, placed on an 11ft. tall pedestal. We don’t have the exact date for the installation, but we’ll let you know when we know.

Apparently Palkovich is a big fan of The Swamp Fox and so am I.

My first knowledge of Francis Marion came in my youth through watching TV back in Michigan – the Walt Disney TV Series The Swamp Fox, played by none other than Leslie Nielsen. Set during the American Revolution, the show relates the exploits of Francis Marion (Disney style), an American general nicknamed “The Swamp Fox,” as he attempts to thwart British advances in the South with his loyal band of rebel soldiers. In this series his men called him Fran. And, one of his sidekicks was Sergeant Jasper. Leave it to Disney to run fast and loose with history.

Days after one of the episodes would air the kids around my neighborhood would be singing, “Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, Tail on his hat, nobody knows where the Swamp Fox is at…” that’s about all we could remember of the song, but we’d sing it for hours trampling through a patch of woods near our neighborhood – acting like it was a dangerous swamp – full of “gaders”, snakes and red coats.

Now, I live in Berkeley County where the real Francis Marion is buried.

I’ve never been to Johnsonville. My travels have never taken me in that direction. It’s in another one of those parts of South Carolina – not many people know about – because it’s not located near one of the major highways. But, I’m going to go there when this statue is installed. Palkovich says you’ll be able to see it from two miles away as you approach the landing where it will be placed.

Now, I know a lot of folks will be wondering, “Why place such an important statue way out in the middle of nowhere?” But that’s the beauty of it all. Way out in the middle of nowhere is where The Swamp Fox took the British troops chasing him – so he could pick them off – one by one. Before long, there was a big part of South Carolina’s back country where the British didn’t dare go. The Swamp Fox and his men broke down the British supply lines and communications.

Of course the folks in Johnsonville, who raised the $100,000 for this project are hoping a lot of folks will be coming to their community to see The Swamp Fox to learn more about one of the pivotal characters of the Americans winning the Revolutionary War. Marion and his band of militia tied up the British in South Carolina for so long it gave General Washington time to reorganize the American army. And, any town that can raise $100,000 for a statue of Francis Marion is not “nowhere” in my book.

In real life Francis Marion was no Disney character – no way close. Leslie Nielsen, cut a handsome figure of a man – 6ft. plus. Marion was 5ft. tall and I’ve never heard the word handsome used to describe him, but he did the job. Of course now years later it’s hard for me to get a picture of Leslie Nielsen in my head without it being one from one of his later – less heroic movies. And, I just have to laugh.

There are no pictures of Francis Marion, but Palkovich has given him a face we can believe in – a face of a hero riding a fierce looking steed – a horse Marion stole from a Tory rival.

You can see more of Alex Palkovich’s works at his website (http://www.alexpalkovich.com/) and installed around the Florence, SC, area.

Hey, maybe one of Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s relatives can come and finally find The Swamp Fox when he’s stuck up on a pedestal.

A Trip to Florence, SC, to See Several Exhibits on Jan. 14, 2011

Monday, January 17th, 2011

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.