DECEMBER 21, 2011 2:33 p.m. (0)
They are the diners sitting at the next table, the next person in line at the grocery store.
They are neighbors, co-workers and the teachers at the school down the street.
They are artists.
Those who have shaped – and continue to shape – Spartanburg’s visual arts scene are as diverse in their backgrounds as they are in their talents.
And some of their stories – and their art – are the subject of a new book being released by Hub City Press.
“Artists Among Us: 100 Faces of Art in Spartanburg” is a coffee-table book that spotlights 100 contemporary artists who have made contributions to Spartanburg through the visual arts.
The book started as a project by Ed Emory, operator of the Carolina Gallery, after a conversation three years ago about Santa Fe, N.M. Santa Fe has become one of the country’s top art towns – known for its artists and its galleries. The city has become one of the country’s leading arts destinations.
But Spartanburg’s artistic talent equals Santa Fe’s, Emory said.
And the arts play an important part in making a community vibrant.
“The caliber of Spartanburg artists is equal to or greater than any community in the country,” he said. “But often communities take what they have for granted. Something always seems better if it’s from somewhere else rather than your community.”
He enlisted photographer Stephen Stinson to take portraits of some of Spartanburg’s leading citizen-artists whose civic spirit has helped build the city’s visual arts community.
Stinson started exhibiting the portraits at some of the first Spartanburg Art Walks, an event Emory helped begin.
At one of the first Art Walks, Emory said a woman thanked him for starting the Artists Among Us project and said she had several pieces of original Spartanburg art in her home that she bought without knowing who the artists were.
One of the artists lived just down the street from her.
She had waved at the woman frequently as she passed by on the way home, but didn’t know she was the woman who had created one of the pieces of art she loved so dearly, Emory said.
“Artists put a little bit of their soul in every work and then they put it up on the wall for everybody to critique,” he said. “While great art has been produced in this community for more than 100 years, it is often taken for granted.”
Stinson, a Spartanburg native, said he didn’t realize how many artists lived in or had strong ties to Spartanburg’s art community.
“We’re talking about a lot of people with a lot of talent,” he said. “It’s almost overwhelming.”
While the book was limited to 100 artists, Stinson said there could have easily been three times that number. Emory said the 100 artists were picked because of their involvement, not just their art.
“They contribute day-in and day-out,” he said.
Betsy Teter, Hub City executive director, said the idea of a book about artists had been tossed about for years.
“What’s startling about this group of artists is how widespread their backgrounds are, how far-flung they are,” she said.
One, Marie-Christine Maitre de Tarragon, was born in France at her family’s historical estate; another, Rosa Eugene, was born in the Colored People’s Hospital in Spartanburg.
Maitre de Tarragon, a sculptor, was exposed at an early age to antiquities, art and the best museums in Europe. Her great-grandfather, the Marquis de Valdahon, was a renowned eighteenth century painter. Her grandmother, the Countess Marie de Tarragon studied art under the master Redoute.
Eugene, on the other hand, has no formal art education. She became interested in clay in 1996 because of her love for her husband, potter Wilton Eugene, and a desire to help him in their pottery business.
Carolyn Fulmer Alexander was five when she drew crayon pictures on the wall of the hallway of her house. When her mother showed her father the “mural,” he quietly said, “That’s the prettiest picture I have ever seen.” She now works in pastels, watercolors, colored pencil, oils and acrylics.
Trey Finney spent 15 years as an animator with Walt Disney Feature Animation. He contributed to “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and “Pocahontas.” He now paints.
Gaffney A. Jarrell was meant to be an artist. Her father is a jazz drummer who has an art gallery and frame shop, her mother a television personality and actress. But the self-taught artist realized for an actor, once the show has ended, the performance becomes a memory whereas visual art can be enjoyed for more than a weekend run.
On Nov. 17 during the city’s regular Art Walk, more than 90 of the artists will hold book signings at eight galleries across the city – The Showroom, Carolina Gallery, West Main Artists’ Co-op, Spartanburg Art Museum, the Guild Gallery, Gallery East, Art Lounge and Wet Paint Syndrome.
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