Posts Tagged ‘Jane Madden’

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

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

On my most recent trip to the Pee Dee area in South Carolina, my list of exhibits and galleries to visit was larger than usual – so much was happening there in February. After I got back home I posted on Facebook that, “I pulled a Francis Marion today. I was in so many different places in the Pee Dee that if the British were chasing me they wouldn’t know if there was just one of me or hundreds of me roaming in and out of their lines.” And, this time I got all the words right. Making quick posts on Facebook can result in sloppy wording.

My travel list included two commercial galleries, two art spaces, a museum, and a library, but before I was finished I added a visit to an artist’s studio. Unlike other not-so-well planned trips to the Pee Dee, this time I made sure my first stop would be to the Lynda English Gallery-Studio. On two other occasions I had gotten there after they closed and ran out of time before I had to be somewhere else. But not this time.

The Lynda English Gallery-Studio, is located at 403 Second Loop Road in Florence, SC.  The gallery is known as “The Meeting Place for Art in Florence”. They have been there forever – long before Florence started developing an arts district in the downtown area. They feature works by local and regional artists in a variety of media, offer art supplies and teach art classes on a regular basis.

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A corner shot of the gallery, with painting of big flowers by Jackie Wukela.

When I arrived, Jackie Wukela, partner with Lynda English was talking with a possible future art student, English was not there. So I took a few pictures and looked around a bit. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in this space. It was back when I was delivering the printed paper, but we didn’t always include Florence in our deliveries as it was hard at times to get info out of the Florence area as to what was on exhibit there. It was kind of crazy as I was driving right past Florence to get to other areas that I delivered to every month, but in those days every extra stop added time to my already long trips. My feelings were if an area couldn’t bother to inform us about their exhibits – why take the paper there. So, the last time I was inside the gallery there was more gallery than classroom space, but there is still a lot of art on display.

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A selection of ceramic works by Douglas E. Gray, a Professor of Art at Francis Marion University.

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A selection of jewelry by Lynda English.

Once the prospective student was finished and left, Wukela and I dove into a number of subjects: the growth of the visual art community in Florence, ArtFields© in Lake City, and the new Florence County Museum. She knows a lot about what’s going on – her son is the Mayor of Florence. But, before long another customer arrived and I said I better move on – customers always come first. After 36 years in business I know that creed well.

My next stop was not too far away at The Purple House, home of The Earring Lady (Barbara Mellen), at 2717 Second Loop Road, where they were having a Valentine’s Day Colorific Event that weekend featuring works by The Earring Lady and Silks by Jane – Jane Madden that is.

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A selection of silk scarves by Jane Madden.

Madden was the person who called me, now many years ago, asking me to take another look at what was going on in Florence. Back then she was helping to develop the Art Trail Gallery, and eventually running it. Others have taken over but she is still involved in putting out the word on what is happening there. She is also one of our main helpers in getting the word out about Carolina Arts. Madden was also the first person to tip me off as to what was about to happen in Lake City, SC. She is a resource for a wealth of information.  She claims to have a job at Francis Marion University, but I can’t see how that could be true with all she does – don’t get me wrong, she’s putting in a full time work at FMU in a part time job. If the power grid ever goes down in SC – we just need to hook up to Jane.

Unfortunately, Madden had left The Purple House before I got there. I had seen the work of The Earring Lady and Madden’s scarves at various other shows so I didn’t stick around too long and I still had a long list of stops. Good thing Linda, my better half, wasn’t on this trip or we would still be there. If you like earrings and scarves – check this place out. The two artists seem to have a like mind when it comes to colors.

The Second Loop Road runs right into Palmetto Street that takes you right back into the heart of Florence’s developing arts district. My next stop was the Waters Gallery, which is not located in the main building of the Florence County Museum, but in the former location of the first Art Trail Gallery at 135 South Dargan Street. That’s were the 2015 Pee Dee Regional Art Competition exhibition was being presented. The exhibit is sponsored by Chick-fil-A and will be on view through Mar. 29, 2015. The 38 works on display were selected from a total of 172 submissions by Lese Corrigan, of Corrigan Gallery in Charleston, SC.

The space where the Art Trail Gallery used to be has been remodeled and the Waters Gallery pretty much takes up the space that used to be sculptor Alex Palkovich’s studio/gallery space. (I’ll have more on what Palkovich is up to these days in Part II). Corrigan selected what turned out to be an exhibit pretty much representing the college and university faculty of the Pee Dee including: Coker College in Hartsville, SC, Coastal Carolina Unversity in Conway, SC, and Francis Marion University in Florence. A few weeks earlier, after I received a press release about the artists who were selected for awards I called Corrigan to see if she knew what had happened and she asked me back who were the people I was talking about. She is not familiar with much of the Pee Dee visual art community – which made her a good judge for the exhibit.

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Here’s a bronze work by Townsend V. Holt of Florence titled “The Kiss”. I took this to also show a little of the gallery. But I wasn’t having too much luck so I’m showing some of the photos the Florence County Museum provided me.

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“December” by Yvette Cummings of Conway, SC, acrylic collage on canvas.

I would love to see all the works that were entered, but regardless, Corrigan selected a heck of an exhibition. The group selected represented a little over 20% of the group that entered the competition. Having seen a number of shows highlighting the works of the visual artists of the Pee Dee and not seeing a lot of names by some very good artists, just goes to show – the Pee Dee has a lot of talent. And, I agree with some of the people I talked with during this trip that it would have been nice to see a bigger show. The Florence County Museum has more space in that building. But like I always say about juried shows – you’re a winner by just making the cut, any awards after that is a bonus.

One thing I want to say about the exhibition is that Corrigan selected a painting, Sirens I, showing nudity by Jim Boden, who is an art professor at Coker College, for the second place award, and it is on view with all the rest of the works. My hat goes off to the folks at the Florence County Museum, Chick-fil-A,  and the overall Florence community for realizing that nudity in the arts in no big deal. Unfortunately it is in many other cities in SC and in some you wouldn’t think it would be so. I know a lot  of stories about what happens when a juror selects a work with nudity in it or an artist tries to enter a work with nudity in it. It’s a point that is essential for the development of any truly creative community – nudity is and always has been a big part of the arts. Another work in the show by Cat Taylor, who teaches art at Coastal Carolina University, titled The Genesis of Jihad, has religious connotations – a hot topic in today’s world.

Look folks, they’re serious about the arts in the Pee Dee – much more than folks who have had an abundance of it for a long time. I say that to let you know it is worth the trip to go see some of these exhibits. You might see some kinds of art you’re not going to see in your own area.

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“Sirens I” by Jim Boden of Hartsville, SC, oil on canvas.

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“The Genesis of Jihad” by Cat Taylor of Longs, SC, acrylic on canvas.

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“Obeast/GMO” by Mike & Patz Fowle of Hartsville, SC, mixed media encaustic.

Before I left the Museum complex, I went over to the Main building to check on one particular artwork hanging in the Museum’s lobby. And thankfully I found this sign.

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Sign identifying Manning Williams as the artist of the work hanging in the Florence County Museum lobby.

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“Bishop and the Egyptian Roach” by Manning Williams of Charleston, SC, acrylic (house paint) on canvas 12’ x 9’

This work of art has been hanging unidentified since the Museum opened back in Oct. 2014. I’ve complained about that twice in my blog and commentary and I’m very happy to report – as you can see – it is now identified. And, I’ve been told the other signs – or lack of signs identifying objects in the Museum and on its grounds are in the process of being made.

So, I’m happy to say that you should make a visit to the new Florence County Museum, located at 111 West Cheves Street, across the street from the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center. They have two wonderful exhibits on view including: William H. Johnson: New Beginnings, on view through Oct. 5, 2015, which features twenty one works from the life of Florence native, William Henry Johnson (1901-1970) selected from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Florence Museum Board of Trustees, the Johnson Collection, and a private collector in Denmark and Selections-from-the-Wright-Collection-of-Southern-Art, on view through Jan. 1, 2016. This exhibition features thirty works from the Florence County Museum’s recently acquired Wright Collection of Southern Art. At its center is work by noted artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Alfred Hutty, Helen Hyde, Florence native artist, William Henry Johnson, Alice Huger Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Palmer Schoppe, Mary Whyte, and Stephen Scott Young.

The Florence County Museum is a nice new facility – it still has that new car smell and admission is free. I always find plenty of free parking in the area and you can check out the show at the Waters Gallery, just around the corner.

And if you are there during the lunch or dinner time, there is a strip of restaurants on S. Dargan Street, right across from the Museum which offers a nice variety including: the Thia House, The Clay Pot Coffee Shop, 1031 American Grill, The Library, Dolce Vita, and Wholly Smokin BBQ. And if you want to make it an overnight stay, don’t forget that just around the corner on West Evans Street is Hotel Florence and Victor’s Bistro. I’ve stayed at Hotel Florence, thanks to the good folks at Florence Unlocked. It’s a great place to stay and there is plenty of art to see there. A new pizza shop is about to open across from the hotel. Things are opening up all the time in this new arts district.

OK I think this is a good place to stop. We have three more exhibits to talk about and a studio visit in Part II and I don’t want to wear anyone out.

My Second “Photofabulous” Exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

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Linda and I were lucky that we were not under a deadline, and she was off from the second job of taking 911 calls, to be able to attend the opening ofPhotofabulous 2012 at the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC, Friday, Mar. 16, 2012. The exhibit will be on view through Apr. 27, 2012.

We arrived about 45 minutes before the official opening and we were lucky that they let us in the door to have a first look before the crowd moved in and I would begin talking with folks. Look first – talk later is a good policy if you expect to make comments at some point. And, I usually would have posted these comments before now, but I was suffering from a weekend of yard work – not my favorite task in life.

Editor’s Note: I didn’t try to take any photos of the photos on display. That doesn’t work so good with my camera and the gallery’s lighting.

This is apparently the fourth photography exhibit the Art Trail Gallery has presented, but I’ve only seen the last two. My first impression comparing this show to last year’s show, was I felt there were less commercial photographers participating and less photos by children, but the exhibit was more organized by category. I think last year’s show held an edge on quality, but not by much. There are some knock-out images presented this year, but my impression is that last year was better.

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I learned later that one of the reasons for the difference was a loss of some of the display space which was used to present special exhibits within an exhibit last year. The number of entries were also limited and the show organizers didn’t beat the bushes as much as they did last year.

Also, a major factor in Art Trail Gallery exhibits – less photographers from the community stepped forward to help organize the exhibit. But the presentation of the exhibit and reception didn’t suffer with just a few folks doing all the work. Plus, nothing – nothing stops Jane Madden, the Queen of the Art Trail Gallery, from putting on a good show and reception. Great food was arriving from every direction – constantly.

The Art Trail Gallery is an all volunteer operation and each exhibit depends on the committee which comes together to pull it off. It’s one of the great things about this gallery and one of the problem areas.

Also, the Art Trail Gallery gives participants the responsibility to read and follow the instructions of participation or rules – which includes having works ready to hang for the length of the show and having works identified. Some folks had a few images I would have commented about in a very positive manner, but failed to identify themselves on their works. That’s too bad, but that’s what rules are for. That’s never a problem when it comes to a professional or a professionally acting person – they never miss an opportunity to take credit where credit is due and to promote for the future. Making people wonder or do an investigation to find out who made a photograph is never a good practice.

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Organizing the photos by categories was a great improvement. You got to see all the ribbon winners and could make your own judgements as to how you thought the official jurors did in their selections. I hardly ever agree with the judging of any exhibit, which I’m sure was the case with many of the photographers, and their relatives and friends. And, after all this is a free country we are all entitled to our own opinions. But, when it comes to judging a show of artworks I take my hat off to any judge for making the effort and I know the Professional Photographers of South Carolina have set rules for judging images. I also acknowledge that when giving awards they only have the images presented to work with. We can all say we’ve seen better or that we could have done better, but we or the others photographers we’re thinking of – didn’t enter. That’s a fact Jack – you can only make judgements from what is in front of you.

And I also know from my vast years of experience in the photography world in South Carolina – many photographers are the worst people at selecting their best images and many times people put images in the wrong categories, which was the case in this show. There were many images that didn’t win ribbons in the category entered, but would have maybe taken 1st or 2nd in another.

Take the Abstract Category, in my opinion there were only a few real abstracts entered and the best photographic abstract image in the building was a work by Ann Klein which wasn’t in Photofabulous 2012, but could be found in the Art Trail Gallery shop. And the best abstracts in the building are paintings by Jack Dowis in sculptor Alex Palkovich’s section of the building. But there were better abstracts in the exhibit – they just were not entered in the abstract category. My favorite out of the works in the category was Builder’s Choice by Amy Beane, who received a 2nd place ribbon.

I stood staring with a group of other folks at the entries in the Abstract category and we were all scratching our heads wondering how some of these images could be considered an abstract image. One participating photographer even said, “I know what category I’m going to enter next year.”

My history in photography might be considered “old school”. Linda and I ran a custom photo processing lab for 16 years and I grew up in Kodak’s heyday – long gone now, but I had to laugh when I came upon Jeff Smith’s photos in the Portrait category – which he claimed to be “un-retouched” images in an age of Photoshop, a useful method of enhancing images. Photoshopping is a dirty word to “old schoolers”.

Smith’s images were first class portraits. It was easy to see he was a professional, but I think his boast of offering images “un-retouched” diminished his images some and I bet the jurors thought so too, as he only received a 3rd place ribbon. Photographers who want to be considered artists need to get off that soapbox – the final result is all that matters. The final images most people saw by Ansel Adams were highly manipulated to get the final results – perhaps in the darkroom, but if Adams lived to use Photoshop, he would have gone to town with that program. Oh wow, did you hear that crack of lightening!

Speaking of black and white photography, my favorite B&W images were by Lee Benoy, who had five images in the Architecture category. He didn’t win a ribbon, but that’s OK – it’s all subjective. They were some pretty fine B&W’s in my opinion and pretty good architectural images too.

And, while we’re talking old school and Photoshop it’s worth mentioning that Susan Muldrow swept 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Digital category. She really has no competition when it comes to digitally manipulating photographs in the Pee Dee. Last year when I first saw her images I asked – “This is a photograph?” Muldrow takes color images and then uses, I guess Photoshop, to transform those images to look like paintings – loosely abstract paintings. These images can be stunning and last year I commented that they would probably win awards as straight photos, which makes some ask – why do the manipulation? It would take a lot to explain this and I’m not saying this is why Muldrow uses this technique, but painters get more respect than photographers do. And, it really sets your images apart from other photographs.

I think the most images were entered in the Floral category. At least as many as were in the Landscape and Wildlife categories – always the most popular. There were a lot of good floral images here and a few more in the Macro and Still Life categories. My favorite here was an image of a Japanese Magnolia pod by Donna Goodman.

In the Wildlife category the 1st place ribbon winner was a really nice image of a black swan in black water by Jeff McJunkin. It would have been a toss up for 1st for me with an image of a snowy egret by Susanne Sasser. But the surprise was the 2nd place winner, Really Dirty…Martini, by Patz Fowle – the whim of the Pee Dee. Linda and I couldn’t figure it out with out help from Ann Klein, but it was an image of a fish (with the face of a snake), and fish waste at the bottom of a very large Martini glass. You have to keep a close eye on that Patz Fowle – she’ll inject humor in just about every situation. And, we’re all lucky for it.

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The Landscape category produced the Best of Show winner by Anne Baldwin, but it also had some of the most questionable images. Usually good images find a way of standing out among not so good images, but in this case the not so good really muddied the waters for me. There was one image by Dubravka Perry which I would have given an award for Place You Might Want To Live (During The Summer) category.  It was titled,Neuschwanstein, which I guess was in Germany or Austria. A scene of snow capped mountains with a lake in the valley with lush green forest all around. You could almost see Heidi’s grandfather’s cabin there. The image wasn’t anything special, but you’d have to try hard to take a bad picture of such a place, but I know that’s not true. I’ve seen plenty of bad pictures of great places so Perry did a good job of capturing the scene.

That’s my impressions of Photofabulous 2012, but you should go see this show and form your own opinions.

Linda and I had a discussion about looking at photo exhibits and how much photography we have seen in our lives wondering if we could really get excited about seeing anything anymore. I have to admit it takes a lot to get me  really excited or to knock my socks off, but it is possible.  I saw some images which I wish I could say – I took that.

I had a short discussion with a few of the exhibit’s organizers and made a pitch that it might be time to have a truly juried exhibit where just getting into the exhibit would be an accomplishment and then give awards. Yes, this would cut some people out, but it also would give them something to shoot for. When everything that shows up is included, it can make for a show that can make lots of folks happy, but leave them with an empty feeling of what did it mean? When it’s juried for entry – that means something right away. It also may be a reason some better photographers from a year ago didn’t enter this year. But that could have just been a space problem.

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Changes are coming to the Art Trail Gallery. The building has been sold and I hear improvements to the building are being planned. Maybe it’s also time to change the policy of all who come can hang their works on the wall. Some gallery spaces around the Carolinas have a once a year community show where all who show up can hang on the wall – first come, first served. I know the Art Trail Gallery has been focused on building participation, but perhaps it’s time to step it up a notch and be a bit more selective. We all need goals and accomplishments to shoot for to make us better at things. Maybe that time has come for this space – as long as people are willing to come forward and volunteer to make it happen.

It may also be time for the participants of these shows to pay an entry fee – like most of these kinds of exhibits.  Entry fees can also be a good source for cash awards which will also draw the best.

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It’s hard to visit this gallery without viewing the works of Alex Palkovich, here is AHA Moment.

For further information call Jane Madden at 843/673-0729 or visit (www.art-trail-gallery.com).

A Third Trip to See an Exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

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My first trip to the Art Trail Gallery in the heart of Florence, SC’s growing arts district, was earlier this year to see the exhibit, A Celebration of Many Talents: Artisans of the Cotton Trail & the Tobacco Trail, which was an eye opener for me of what this area had to offer, but was being unnoticed for one reason or another. I’ll admit that when we were printing Carolina Artsand distributing copies – we were focused only on those areas where our revenue was coming from, and Florence wasn’t one of those areas. But then we were not the only folks covering the arts in SC ignoring the Pee Dee.

With the online version of Carolina Arts – it is a whole new ball game. Our cost in including areas where we don’t receive support is much lower, but I’m still concentrating on areas which support us. That just makes practical sense. Everyone should always remember we are not a non-profit which gets funding from some government or corporate source to produce this paper. We just look like a non-profit on paper. We’re trying to make a profit. And the Art Trail Gallery soon became a supporter of Carolina Arts.

The second exhibit I attended was Pee Dee Regional Photography Exhibit 2011 – Photofabulous!, a mega show of Pee Dee photographers. If you put the names of these two exhibits in the search window to the right, you’ll find what I wrote about these exhibits.

Last Friday, June 17, 2011, I found myself sort of caught up with work on our July 2011 issue, Linda, my better half, was working at her real job (regular pay and insurance – need I say more) as a 911 dispatcher, so I decided to jump in the car and head to the opening reception to see the exhibit, Visualicious, a survey of 2-D works created by professionals and amateurs alike from the Pee Dee area of SC with over 100 artists participating.

In the back of my mind I was wondering what I would see at this exhibit? Would it be works by the same artists from the first show (no photography for Visualicious) or a new crop of artists. I mean after all – how many different artists could they have in the Pee Dee?

Amazingly, there were a few repeat participants, and at least one who had been an award winner in all three exhibits, (but Patz Fowle is that versatile). But, this was mostly a show of different artists. At least it seemed that way.

Jane Madden, the Queen of the Art Trail Gallery even had work in this show. Wait, a Queen delegates too much work – she’s more like the matriarch of the gallery or better yet, the catalyst behind the gallery. Well, I’m not sure there is a good word for someone who is the Queen bee and worker bee too.

Anyway I got to Florence a little early and stopped in the Target store there and found a great deal on some T-shirts. Anyone who knows me can tell you that my standard uniform is a T-shirt and shorts – almost nine months of the year – even though I was wearing a shirt and long pants for this opening and the two before it. I wanted to give a good impression, before they learn my true nature.

So why mention this? That will become more apparent later on.

I got to the gallery right at 5:30pm, found a good parking space – always an important factor, and when I entered, there was already a good crowd on hand, but with over 100 participating artists – that was expected. You have to figure they’ll come see their own exhibit – right. Anyway, during the last show I saw here I came early and got a good look ahead of the crowd – this time I was fighting for space and the crowd kept getting bigger and the noise level higher. In fact, I got lost in the crowd so much so that I was there an hour before I ran into someone I knew and a few people were looking for me.

I also decided not to bother taking any photos this night. The gallery is not an easy place to get good shots with my camera, one crowd shot is the same as the next one, and works I might have wanted to get would either be too high up, in bad lighting, or be behind reflective glass. I’d rather have no images than bad images of artworks. Besides, you need to go see the exhibit yourself.

I usually like to get a first look before I really start looking, but about a third of the way through I realized I better start taking notes while I could. I have found that I always learn something at these Art Trail Gallery exhibits. There is always so much work in different mediums and styles that I’m bound to run into something I don’t have much experience with. That happened when I came across some acrylic paintings by Heath Starnes that looked just like the marbled fabric I had just looked at and read about the technique used by Ellen Tisdale and Jane Madden who recently attended a workshop on marbling with fabric. This couldn’t be the same technique – could it? Later in the evening, once I had a chance to talk with Madden and Starnes, I learned that the two processes had little in common – other than the resulting look. The marbling on fabric is done with chemicals and some random acts and Starnes’ was painting that same look in fine painstaking detail. In both types of work – the designs looked fluid. Go look for yourself to see it they both don’t have the same look. Man imitating chemicals – go figure.

I next came across a small exhibit, within an exhibit by Chelsea Kean, a nine year old. She had won a First Place ribbon in the Children’s division. The display was impressive for a nine year old. Her drawing skills still need improvement, but there were some mixed media works that stood out, before I turned the corner and found what was obviously her mother’s works in the same style, but even then, she had to go through the same steps to get the results and by the time I finished looking at all the other children’s works – Chelsea Kean’s display still deserved the blue ribbon. She’s learning from mom and who knows where she will go on her own with such a good head start. Of course when boys enter the picture – art could go out the window. Her mother, Michele Caporaso’s work was pretty outstanding too, but I didn’t notice a ribbon, Mom. But I’m sure a mother’s pride will get her over that situation.

Then I came upon one of my favorites from this exhibit, Late Lite on Porches III, an abstract oil painting by Jackie Wukela – which only had a 2nd Place ribbon on it. Was this judge blind or what? Just joking. In full disclosure, Wukela belongs to a gallery that had a full page ad in our May issue, but my price for praise is much higher – if you want to try and buy it, but I think Wukela put her money on a trip to Europe this Spring – a much better investment.

I like my abstracts – you know that, but this brings me to the judging of this exhibit. It’s not that I disagreed with any of it, it was just hard to see where the judge was going – what they were thinking. The judging for awards was done by Dr. Lorne Mason. Mason gave multiple First Place awards in the same categories. If the judge liked your work – you got a blue ribbon. And there was one category called, Now For Something Different, that really made no sense in that most works put in this category were pretty normal abstract works or mixed media works.

A First Place winner in this category was a work by Tiffany Thomas, which was a nice portrait done over different strips of wood – connected as a canvas. The work was a little 3-D, but just a normal mixed media work with a little more texture than normal, but Mike Fowle had works that were just as mixed media and 3-D. Another abstracted mixed media works by Stephen McCrea was also in this category of “Something Different”, but his works are not really different – they’re pretty normal works. They might be different from most paintings, but they are not really that different from a lot of work being done these days.

Now, during the previous exhibit, Pee Dee Regional Photography Exhibit 2011 – Photofabulous!, I’ll agree I felt Nathan Hasenjaeger’s photos were different – mostly because of the violence implied, but they really were not that different. They may have stood out in Florence, but they would be mild in some photography exhibits. And, here again, I don’t think the works having that tag placed on them were that different. Maybe they need to come up with a category called, Now For Something Different From the Pee Dee, but are artists that different in the Pee Dee? I’m sure more of them could let their darker or wild side out – if they wanted to or had a need to. Hasenjaeger had some fairly normal works in this exhibit – maybe still not normal for Florence, but pretty tame for the art world in general. But, he gets your attention and that’s what all artists want.

Judging this many works is always a challenge – and I sure wouldn’t want to do it. Even when I say what my favorites were here, if I were the judge it may have turned out differently – I might have felt I couldn’t pick what I liked – just because I liked it – I might have to justify my selections based on other reasons. And, as an artist, if you get too hung up on the results of the judging – before you know it you’ll be too afraid to enter situations where you might be judged – you just can’t take the chance. I know very good artists who will never put themselves in that situation because of their fear of not winning the top award. They can’t ever be seen to not be one of the best. Don’t let yourself get too hung up on a judge’s opinion – good, bad or indifferent.

An interesting thing about this exhibit is that it had a fair bit of “comic book” art in it. You can also think of it as illustration or sequential art. My favorite of these works, and the judge’s, were works by Chris McJunkin – a First Place ribbon winner. He had a nice poster image entitled, Honor, Valor, Justice – with three comic book super heros done in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster of Hope. Fairey sampled the photographer who took candidate Barack Obama’s photo to make his poster, so I guess it’s only fair that McJunkin sample Fairey’s poster style. What goes around comes around. Hey, Fairey’s all for fair use appropriation in creating art.

Some other works that caught my attention included a piece calledSnacktime, a fabric piece by Martha Herbert. There was also a small mixed media piece by Patz Fowle, that got a First Place ribbon, and three very different works by Molly Symons – one was a batik piece, another a very simple drawing and the third a collage titled, 2 Worlds Apart – Japan & Canada, which had a color photo of some mountains in Canada (I think) and shredded strips of paper with Japanese printing on it. That was my second favorite of the show.

Another difference about this exhibit was that for the first time the Art Trail Gallery had an awards sponsor, which meant that many ribbon holders would also be taking home some money. The owners of the Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet, who have two locations in Florence, stepped forward to provide the ribbons and cash prizes for this show.

These people didn’t represent a big corporation or a government agency using taxpayer dollars – they’re a small business – like millions across America which many people in the arts don’t think of as someone who could contribute to the arts. They’re contribution might not have been big bucks, but they were important bucks and those bucks meant a lot to the people who received them that evening.

The art community can use the help of a lot more small businesses these days. And I hope everyone – artists, friends & family of artists, and those who just like looking at art remember this contribution. I know I will.

I spent my last 20 minutes talking with some folks, getting some more background info and nibbling on a few of the quickly disappearing munchies provided – then it was head for home time.

On my drive out of Florence heading south on Hwy. 52 back to Bonneau, I stopped to fill up on gas. The price was 12 cents cheaper than what it was in our area and I passed one of the Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet locations – which was packed. I noticed that their price for lunch buffet was a dollar less than the place in Moncks Corner. Including the T-shirts I purchased earlier I was beginning to realize – things are cheaper in Florence.

The next time I come back to Florence, probably to see another exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery, I’m going to bring an empty tank of gas and have lunch at the Hibachi Grill. Now that’s what builds tourism – interesting things to see and cheap prices while visiting. That’s a win win situation in my book. I hope city leaders are paying attention.

While at the Art Trail Gallery I picked up a flyer called Artastic (Summer 2011), offering info on festivals, exhibitions and performances celebrated in northeastern South Carolina, produced by the Florence CVB, in conjunction with the Arts Councils of the Pee Dee Regional Arts Summit. I don’t know what or who this Regional Arts Summit was, but the info provided about exhibits came up short of what was really going on in this area. And, not one exhibit was listed taking place in Sumter, SC, an area offering a lot of arts. In fact, only four of the twelve counties included in the area were represented, so I figure the others didn’t put up money to be included. That’s not very inclusive or informative – if taxpayer money was used. And, I’m sure some money came from SC’s PRT, but that’s the way things go most of the time – you pay or you don’t play. And, when it comes to printed materials – that’s the reality – to include everything you know can be expensive. Printing cost are high. But, still it’s hard to think that the other eight counties had nothing to offer. I know Sumter did, but maybe they didn’t make the deadline? Who knows?

Unfortunately the web and Facebook links didn’t offer much more info. I guess if you want to know more about exhibits, you’ll have to rely on Carolina Arts, but we don’t know what people don’t tell us either. We do seem to know more than these people are offering – even in the areas included. And, it helps to know what’s going on before you go someplace.

Go see this exhibit and have lunch or dinner at the Hibachi Grill in Florence.

A March Through SC’s Pee Dee Area – Viewing Exhibits Here, There, and Everywhere – Part Two

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

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Well, after the rush of the day, Linda and I arrive in Florence, SC, fairly early – long before the 5:30pm reception for the Pee Dee Regional Photography Exhibit 2011 – Photofabulous! at the Art Trail Gallery. So, we end up taking a driving tour of Florence, exploring areas where I have never been before. Florence is a pretty big city and it has spread out in all directions.

After we find the Sonic we head to the Art Trail Gallery to see if we could get in early to start viewing the massive photography exhibit. Linda is hooked on the ice Sonic puts in their drinks. And it happened to be the right time for 1/2 price happy hour on drinks (2-4pm daily). Linda’s also an ice chewer. One day she’s going to chip a tooth. And, I’ll be there to say – Aah Ha!

I figured that going early also might secure us a good parking space as I knew this reception was going to be big. We got a spot right out in front of the gallery. When we went to the door we could see a beehive of activity going on inside. A man came to the door, who looked like he could have been the head of security and said, “Jane doesn’t let anyone in early!” I believed him, but said I’m Tom Starland from Carolina Arts and I was wondering if I could get in early to start looking before it got too crowded to see anything. He said, “Carolina Arts, I don’t have to ask Jane – I’m letting you in.”

Man, I’m going to have to try that the next time we get an opportunity to go to Outback Steak House. Jane Madden, the head of the Art Trail Gallery soon came up as she noticed protocol was being broken, but soon gave us the A-OK. Which was a good thing, as I doubt I would have been able to see it all – at least three times and get some inside info on what was going on with some of the images. Once 5pm came (a half-hour early) – the crowd just kept growing, as did the volume inside the building.

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I think this was the crowd before 5:30.

The guy at the door was Benjamin Watford of F & F Photography in Florence – one of the photographers in the show. His partner is TJ McKay, also with works in the show. Watford is a disabled veteran from Iraq who is using photography as a tool to look at the brighter and better things in life. A veteran from Iraq – that explained the take charge attitude.

For the next couple of hours, Watford became the go to guy whenever I had a question about what I was looking at. He didn’t stop working – nobody stopped working in Madden’s work crew – from the minute we arrived to the minute we finally left. From time to time I sought him out. I thanked him for his assistance, but unfortunately it will prevent me from mentioning his works. But, from what I heard, F & F Photography will do just fine in the photography world.

At this point I’m going to state our background in photography. Both Linda and I have worked in camera stores, owned and operated a custom black & white photo processing lab; taught photography; owned and operated a photography gallery (with a few friends); organized the SC Photographer’s Guild; and were both active photographers – before we got in the publishing business.

We have known some of the most talented photographers in SC – both commercial and fine art photographers. Some of our best friends are photographers – if you can believe that.

We’re old school photography, yet I appreciate all of the technological advances that have taken place since we got out of it. So, I’m not an old school snob.

I also will include that I personally made the decision to stop trying to be a fine art photographer soon after arriving in Charleston – over 30 years ago due to the abundance of really great photographers I found there. And, I think I was pretty good. I decided to serve the photography community as best I could – in short I became a photography pimp.

The coming future of digital photography and frustrations about photography’s acceptance into the art world led us into publishing an arts newspaper. This latter factor is still a problem, but not as bad as it was 15 – 20 years ago.

With that said, I also want to add that I have seen a lot of fantastic photography – in years past and in doing Carolina Arts – so it takes a lot to get me excited when looking at photography and it doesn’t happen that often. It’s not a matter of being good – really good photography – it’s more a matter of seeing something really different – that hasn’t been done before and is done really well. At this point in my life I see all art through that frame.

I also thank my lucky stars I was not asked to be a judge for this show and hope I never will, and I tip my hat to those who did that job – Beth Anderson, Geoff Hughes, and Brian Nolan, who had an immense and difficult task in awarding the prizes in this show. Better them than me, as there was so much good work in this exhibit to choose from. I heard someone say there were 1,000 images on display. I didn’t take a count.

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Good thing I had already finished looking by now.

So here’s some things that captured my attention.

First, I found the coolest name for a photographer – Missy Davis Jones. She took a Second Place ribbon in the Portrait category. I liked Jones’ camera perspective and how she framed her subjects – sometimes from unexpected angles. Jones is not making cookie-cutter portraits. She also presented her works very well.

It should be noted that the photographers hung their own works in this show.

As I mentioned in Part One, I was taken by the “photographs” of Suzanne Muldrow – which don’t look like photographs in any way I was familiar with. I know about Photoshop and what it can do, but this seemed to be a step beyond, but probably not that uncommon these days. My favorite of her works was Liquid Silk, an image of a vase of colorful flowers which I bet would have looked good as a straight image, but this blurring (liquid) technique gave the image a nice effect. The technique, whatever she calls it doesn’t always work in my opinion, but it did for Liquid Silk.

I could write volumes on how the public loves photographs that don’t look like photographs, but I’ll spare you all that tirade.

Over the years my tastes in art has moved towards abstract art. I don’t know why, but it happened and macro photography lends itself to the abstract. The short depth of field (depth of the focus) causes things in the background of whatever the photographer is trying to capture – up close – in exacting detail, to be blurred – creating abstract backgrounds.

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Flower Candelabra by Linda Borek

This effect captured my attention in several images, one being Linda Borek’s Flower Candelabra, and Sandra Anderson’s Blue Dragonfly. In Borek’s image it was the purple anthers of a flower against a fuzzy yellow background – the petal walls. And, in Anderson’s, it was the sharp image of a blue dragonfly against another fuzzy yellow background. There were several other images of dragonflies in the exhibit, but it was the background that made this image stand out. Selective, controlled focus is the key in macro photography.

Ann Klein had an image of a pink flower against a black background which used some of these same techniques of a sharp image against a solid background, but in her image it was the perspective that made the difference – she gave us a look at the back of the flower and the rest of the image was dark space. It made the image. I liked the image when we used it in the paper, but I really liked it up close in person.

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Image by Ann Klein. I didn’t get the name as she came up just as I was writing notes.

When it came to black and white images, Linda and I agreed on this – something that doesn’t happen that often, but in this case it was easy. Jimmy Gordy’s infrared image titled, Galivant’s Ferry was our favorite. I was glad to see that some people are still doing black and white photography. I’m grateful that there are still people in this world who see the beauty in a black and white world. I know to some folks using infrared film is thought of as a trick, but again Gordy’s image would have been good as a straight image. The effects of the infrared just added the right touch.

In the artsy category, one of my own making, I liked the image calledHands Relaxed, by Renee Fitch Smith – dark hands in motion against a dark blue background. It’s a simple image, but it rivaled Flower Candelabraas my favorite in the show. Boy, that’s got to tell you something about my taste in photography – for those who saw this exhibit. But, not really. Each viewing of a collection of images is different – a moment in time – never to be repeated – much like the official judging of this competition. We could all return a month later and pick totally different images as our favorites or category winners in the judges’ case.

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Hands Relaxed by Renee Fitch Smith

Look, this show wasn’t juried. There was no making the cut, but it was judged after the fact and anyone who has the guts to put their images on public display – open to public comments and a judge (three in this case) – is a winner. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve or learn from others. I would advise the photographers in this show to not get too concerned about whether you received a ribbon or not – for all you know, your unrecognized image was someone’s favorite. And, it might not even have been your mother. There’s always another competition just around the corner and the results can be totally different – even if the works were the same. I’ve seen it happen.

So which image was my favorite? You noticed how I strayed away from that subject. In this country our vote is a private thing. I cast my ballot for the People’s Choice award and like all elections – I’m willing to accept the results. I might bitch about it later, but that’s the American way.

There were a lot of interesting portraits in this exhibit. You could tell a lot of these folks were in business – professionals. I’d have to say David Childers was my favorite, but not by much. I also was drawn to Nathan Hasenjaeger’s portraits, which was a little disturbing. I guess he was in a category called “That’s Different”. You got that right! After the third viewing I heard my inner voice saying, “Luke – come back to the Force. Pay no attention to the Dark Side. You don’t need to look at Mr. Hasenjaeger’s photos anymore.”

But, like I said in Part One – as an artist, he should be happy. He captured my attention and got me thinking. And, his images are locked in my brain with all the others that did the same.

There were images in the exhibit that were made by children. Now I don’t know what the age cutoff was to be considered a “youth” image. They were marked with blue tape, but some would have passed without it. I always like the perspective young people have. They see things totally different than we adults do.

Photographer Jeff Smith showed how to tell a story with photography with his “Tobacco Tales,” presentation celebrating the life of the tobacco farmer. The images were strong enough to stand alone, but as a group were even stronger. I didn’t like the fact that his tags were directly on his photos, but it’s a lesson all photographers can pay heed in any opportunity to show several of your works. Unless you’re trying to make sales or gain customers – it’s not always best to show your “greatest hits”. Images presented with a similar theme are stronger. It gets people thinking about exhibits.

Which brings me to Brian Dawson’s works. I think he had top honors in my book for the most consistent presentation of his works. It was like a museum exhibit – with mats and frames all alike – it only left the images to look at.

Presentation is always important – in all aspects of exhibiting your work. No detail shouldn’t be considered.

OK – I’m out on this little tree limb far enough. I enjoyed the show, and I enjoyed the reception. What a joy to see so many people interested in photography. My only wish and it’s easy for me to make it is – I hope that one day – not too far off, the powers that be behind the Art Trail Gallery invest in some better lighting.

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People were still streaming in as I took this parting shot.

Jane Madden and her crew are doing a heck of a job in presenting art to the Florence community and beyond – with the new Florence Museum coming next door – it might be time to make an investment in the future. Lighting is everything when it comes to art.

Oh yeah, the food was great and Jane Madden was still re-loading food on tables when we left. They had a ton of food and apparently from what I heard – Florence ate it all.

A big finale for Photofabulous! FDDC’s first Florence After 5 event will be held Friday, Apr. 29, 2011, from 5:30 – 8pm – the last day of the exhibit. There will be food vendors, live music with Midway Blue and lots of friendly, happy people.

The Art Trail Gallery is located at 135 S. Dargan Street in downtown Florence, SC.  Hours are: Tue.-Thur., 11:30am-2:30pm & Fri., 5:30-8pm.

For further info contact Jane Madden at 843/673-0729 or visit (www.art-trail-gallery.com).

So You Ask – How Are the Website Numbers Doing for Carolina Arts in February Compared to January?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Last month on Jan. 14, 2011, I posted an entry here about how well our new electronic version of Carolina Arts was doing – which at the time I thought was doing well. On that day we had 3,880 visitors to our website who had downloaded the entire 49 page PDF of our Jan. 2011 issue ofCarolina Arts.

We used the PDF download number as a solid number that we know for sure from our server’s data, although we knew at the time more people were seeing the paper – one way or another. By the end of the month, by the time I had to write my commentary, my best estimate was that we would see 9,000 downloads for the month of January. The final number was 8,929 – not a bad guess.

This was a good showing for a first time effort compared to the 10,000 copies we had printed each month knowing that we distributed 90-95% of those papers – never knowing really how many people actually picked up a copy of the paper and read it.

I was happy and I hope our supporters and advertisers were too.

From the start some people told me I was underestimating those figures as they knew that PDFs of the paper were being distributed by e-mail and other forms of social media. I felt I had to stick with the solid numbers from the server.

So, Linda and I put together our Feb. 2011 issue which is 51 pages and we did the same things we did last month – sending notices out by e-mail, on our two blogs and Facebook – letting them know the paper was up on our site and asking folks who saw that notice to spread the word to help as many people see the paper as possible. And then we waited.

Within a few days we were hearing from folks that they liked the Feb. issue and were really liking the new electronic format. We also were getting some more suggestions on how to improve the paper – which we will be adapting in the presenting the next issue. And we got an e-mail from Jane Madden who heads up the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC, that she was going to be sending out an e-mail blast to several of her e-mail lists – totaling about 1,500 people who are interested in the visual arts. Artists showing at the Art Trail Gallery were featured on our Feb. cover (http://www.carolinaarts.com/211/211carolinaarts-pg1.pdf).

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Madden wanted the folks interested in the visual arts in the Florence area to see the attention Florence was getting in Carolina Arts. She also wanted to promote our paper – which we thank her for that. After all, everyone who is involved with each issue of Carolina Arts should feel the same – it’s in their best interest to get as many people to see them featured there.

One of the reasons why many people have said they like the new version is that it is easy to distribute by e-mail or in social media.

A few more days into Feb. and I couldn’t wait to take a peek at the stats. I have to tell you I was a little concerned.

I pulled up the page that tells you individual page counts, and I took a quick glance and saw that the PDF downloads was just under 2,000 – not bad for 6 days, but I was concerned that February was a short month and perhaps the novelty of our first issue would wear off. As I’m staring at the numbers I realize that the figure I’m looking at is for the Jan. PDF page. What?

Fairly soon I find the listing for the Feb. PDF page – up at the very top and it was 12,000 something. I hate to say it but my first reaction was – that’s not right. What’s going on? Just under that figure was another listing which is the (other) count which was also 12,000. I’ve never known what (other) meant.

The next day I made a call to our server to see if anything was wrong and what the (other) meant. They told me nothing was wrong – the numbers are correct and that the (other) means it represents a number of different ways people found pages on our website from different sources – other than going directly to our website. And, there is no way to say what pages they are – that’s why that number is not directly linked to the page the count is for. Well, that answered that question, but it still took some time for it to settle in that in six days 12,000 and maybe even many more, people had viewed the paper. Also, that 2,000 more had downloaded the Jan. issue to look at it.

This was new territory for us.

A few days later we were able to make a head to head ten day comparison of the Jan. issue to the Feb. issue. By ten days in Jan. 3,185 people downloaded the Jan. issue. By ten days in Feb, 15,722 people downloaded the Feb, issue. It also showed that by ten days in Feb. there were 17,199 (other). Last month we had 47,320 (other). I’m a little blown away.

And, we know that many of those people are discovering our paper with the help of our friends who are sending that PDF link to their friends and their friends who are passing it along to others. It’s a snowball effect.

Before I saw the 12,000 figure I had made a joke to Jane Madden – if only we had ten more like her. And, in an effort to deflect credit she assured me that we must have others, as that number couldn’t be all from her e-mailing. But, I have no other knowledge that others are doing what I suggested and that is – to spread it around. She also suggested that others may even be e-mailing the entire PDF download to others, that won’t be counted in my server’s stats, but I hope people are not doing too much of that as some get pretty mad when they receive such a big file in an e-mail. It’s not really that big, but some people just don’t like anything that doesn’t open instantly.

Throughout our 23 years of doing an arts newspaper we have always told the people who supply us with content and those who help support the paper with advertising that we are all in this venture together – in partnership. None of us could do it without the others. That doesn’t always  work, but many make it their practice.

Over the years there is nothing more disappointing than walking into a gallery that is included in our paper on a regular basis in one way or another and I find the paper hidden from the public’s sight or sometimes I couldn’t find the paper on display at all. I never could figure how they thought the  paper worked – if people couldn’t find it. It’s refreshing to discover instances where people feel the same as I do about getting as many as possible to see how wonderful our visual arts community is in the Carolinas and how active it is.

I’m excited by several things. One, to see how far this thing goes and two, to see how many people will end up viewing last month’s paper during the month of Feb. and even into Mar. I don’t think our papers ever had that kind of afterlife. Which means all of the articles, images and ads have a new afterlife too.

This is the link people are sending around the Carolinas and the world –Note that if you click the link it will take a few minutes to download – if you just want to copy it – copy it like you would anything else with your computer. (http://www.carolinaarts.com/211/211carolinaarts.pdf)

Thank you all that have helped spread this around and to you who will in the future.

A Trip to Columbia, SC’s First Thursday on Main – Feb. 3, 2011

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

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On a cold Thursday afternoon when the weather people were calling for 80% rain, Linda and I headed to Columbia, SC, to visit One Eared Cow Glass and the First Thursday on Main event.

One Eared Cow Glass was having one of their 20th Anniversary celebration events introducing a new line of glass jewelry – just in time for Valentines’ day. That’s when Linda signed on for the trip to Columbia. I can’t say too much more about the One Eared Cow Glass anniversary events – all I can say is you need to go there and sign up to be on their e-mail list.

I’ve been wanting to go to one of the First Thursday on Main events for some time as it seemed like it was becoming quite an art event. I also wanted to see the inside of the Tapp’s Center for the Arts project and hopefully meet up with Susan Lenz, who had another window display there.

Activities on Main Street in downtown Columbia started a few years ago when Mark Plessinger of Frame of Mind started displaying area artists’ work in his shop on Main Street across from the Columbia Museum of Art. Info about those events kind of came and then fizzled. During that time other art related groups moved to Main Street and then by last fall we began to receive info about the First Thursday on Main events which seemed to be organized by the City Center Partnership, Inc., but we’re not hearing from them on a regular basis either. The only person I’m hearing from on a regular basis is Brenda Schwarz Miller who is spearheading up the effort to turn the old Tapp’s on Main department store at 1644 Main Street, at the corner of Main and Blanding, into the Tapp’s Center for the Arts.

I guess the City Center Partnership is interested more in having all parties on Main participate in trying to get folks in the Columbia area to come back to Main Street during the evening hours with the First Thursday events, but I’m more interested in the visual art groups there which now include Frame of Mind, S&S Art Supply, FreeTimes, Anastasia & Friends, Columbia Museum of Art, the Arcade Artists, and Tapp’s Center for the Arts.

From our front door at the headquarters of Shoestring Publishing in Bonneau, SC, we can be in downtown Columbia in two hours. It takes an hour to drive to Charleston, SC, so it’s not much of an effort to go to Columbia, but the two hour return trip does determine how long you can stay.

We spent almost two hours at One Eared Cow Glass, and again, all I’ll say besides I love watching the cowboys work, is that Linda and I got our 20th Anniversary T-Shirts while there, which will pay off throughout the year’s celebrations. My lips are sealed.

Once we weaved our way over to Main Street during Columbia’s rush hour traffic, we arrived at the Tapp’s building just about 5pm. We looked at a few of the outside window displays, but it didn’t take long for the damp 40 degree temps to rush us inside. No real rain yet.

As we entered a side door on Blanding, right off we see a little window display of jewelry by Susan Shrader, which stops Linda in her tracks. We’ve dealt with Shrader throughout the years as she was helping to promote a Columbia gem show. She’s one of the hundreds of people we have talked to over the years but never met.

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Jewelry and fused glass works by Susan Shrader

We got to scratch her off our never met list once we set foot inside the massive Tapp’s building. Right away I was reminded of my recent visit to the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, SC, which was another massive building in a city which is now used to show off art – helping to revise a once thriving downtown shopping district.

Linda said she used to come to Tapp’s when she was visiting her older sister who attended USC – a long time ago, back when her family would travel from small Myrtle Beach to SC’s capital city.

While Linda talked with Shrader and looked at jewelry, I looked around the building’s maze of rooms on two levels. Downstairs I saw John Sharpe giving a demonstration on a pottery wheel. The building has a lot of potential for many things.

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Once upstairs again, Linda and I enjoyed a bit of food and drink, I took a few photos and then we asked someone to point out Brenda Schwarz Miller. She is another person we have talked on the phone with and exchanged many e-mails with over activities and events of the Artist Round Table group in Columbia and now Tapp’s.

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Listening by Sandra Carr

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Inside Out by Sandra Carr

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Detail of Inside Out by Sandra Carr

It is my experience that projects like this are usually the dream of one dynamic individual with the help of a few others. Tapp’s is definitely Miller’s baby. Again, I was reminded of the Art Trail Gallery in Florence where Jane Madden has made the project happen by sheer will and persistence in dealing with red tape – in both cases, business and city leaders.

Columbia has already had some experience with similar projects like Vista Studios and 701 Center for the Arts, but it has also had experience with fellows like Jack Gerstner – who first had a strangle hold on the 701 building and used it for personal gain. Miller is 180 degrees on the opposite end of Gerstner. So, I hope city leaders in Columbia soon help her make her dream and that of many artists in Columbia – come true. It will be good for Main Street in the long run.

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Miller told us she has received lots of help from the building’s owner who also hopes for success of the Tapp’s project as he owns other buildings in downtown Columbia. There’s no problem in working in your own self interest while benefiting others. Too bad the SC Arts Commission doesn’t see that – unless they are dealing with folks shopping for Verner Awards through donations to the SC Arts Foundation. Otherwise we’re all greedy commercial enterprises – unworthy of a seat at the big arts table. They prefer creating a system of art welfare where arts groups become dependent on them for continued existence. How’s that working?

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Burnt Offerings by Kara M. Gunter

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Detail of Burnt Offerings by Kara M. Gunter

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A real close detail of Burnt Offerings by Kara M. Gunter

I was hoping to run into Susan Lenz at Tapp’s but she never showed while we were there so we decided to go explore some of the other locations.

Outside we got a look at the window displays at the front of the building – which are very interesting, but hard to photograph as there was still some daylight lingering causing reflections.

One complaint or suggestion I have for First Thursday on Main organizers – whoever they are or will be is – they need a map of participating locations on Main Street available at all locations. If you’re hoping to attract people back to a downtown area they haven’t been to in years – don’t expect them to know where everything is – especially if they’re coming from out of town. I know the area pretty well, but not everything.

We went up Main toward the Capital building looking for a parking space – apparently the event was working. We saw where a few of the participating places were (except the Arcade), but no parking spaces were opening up – so we did the Charleston shuffle – driving around and around hoping someone would leave their space. On one of the rounds I spotted Susan Lenz in the window talking with folks at FreeTimes. And as luck would have it after a few trips around the block a space opened up.

Once we squeezed into the building and got close to Lenz we had managed to scratch another person off our never-met list. The place was packed with the who’s who of Columbia’s art community, very noisy, but there wasn’t really that many people there compared to the folks at the Tapp’s building. The illusion of a small packed room can throw you off, but it was a case of who was there. And as in many situations like this I saw folks I would have liked to say hey to, but never got the chance. Toni Elkins was working the room like a humming bird, and Jeffrey Day was there – not sure what that conversation would have been like. But, I did have a few friendly words with Ken May – head of the SC Arts Commission.

May called me his nemesis – which I thought was a little over-blown. He might have meant it as a compliment, but I later thought it didn’t really fit. It would be like calling Cuba America’s nemesis. A nemesis is usually an unbeatable rival or a source of harm or destruction. I don’t think I’m having that effect and his label gives me too much credit. I fit the description of a gadfly – which I was called once by an Arts Commission supporter. As May asked – “what would I write about without the Arts Commission?” I flashed back to a scene from Richard Nixon stating that we (the media) wouldn’t have him to kick around anymore. But then there was George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Fox News. There’s always someone being unfair or doing and saying silly things. So I’m not worried about losing the Arts Commission – one way or another. It may be a case of the last man standing in both our cases.

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Ding on a Dong by Diane Gilbert – shot from the hip at FreeTimes

But, all in all, I was happy to talk with Susan Lenz, a human dynamo of the art world about a few of her current projects and past issues. But before long she needed to move on to Tapp’s  and said she still had work to do that night. We made a slow circle of the room – not able to see much of the art and headed for the door. It was now raining. (It hasn’t stopped raining since.)

Back at Tapp’s Linda had heard a few folks talking about sleet and not knowing what the temps were going down to we decided to get out of Columbia while the getting was good. Besides, this is an event which is taking place every month and is just picking up steam. We can always come back.

I highly recommend the trip, especially for folks from the Lowcountry. Columbia’s visual art community is much different from that of Charleston’s. I’ve always enjoyed going to Columbia to visit Artista Vista orVista Lights to get a different view of what artists are creating in South Carolina.

But, I think Columbia planners have a basic problem in attracting out of town visitors to come on Thursday evenings. It asks travelers to take a day off of work or make extended return travel plans. A four hour round trip is nothing for me, but others don’t see that as attractive. If these events were moved to a Friday or even a Saturday – they might attract more out of town visitors even though it would compete with other cities which present first Friday art walks, but what’s wrong with a little competition?

But, if the plan is to just attract locals to the downtown on a weekday – this just might work and before long it could include the Vista and Five Points area too. Why not have all of the city’s artists putting on a show. That’s what happened in Charleston.

As far as the Tapp’s Center for the Arts goes – here’s some of the plans. The space could supply 16 juried studios on the main level and 20 non-juried single and shared studios in the lower level. There are plans for three galleries, including a Cafe Gallery in the lower level. The facility would also include a frame shop, photography studio, print shop, wood workshop and clay studio. And, the good  part of the plan is that it is planned to be self-supporting. All they need is some start-up support to get the project going. If you would like more info about this project contact Brenda Schwarz Miller at 803/609-3479 or e-mail her at (brenda@realworldartisans.com).

After looking at the photos I took – at least those usable – I seemed to be interested in sculptural works at the First Thursday event.

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.