Archive for June, 2014

The 1858 Prize and One Artist’s Perspective

The Fireflies by John Westmark

The Fireflies by John Westmark

The 1858 Prize for Contemporary Art, formally the Factor Prize, is a beacon of light in what can feel like the dark shoals of the philanthropic art world. In 2012, I was fortunate to win the prize and reap the rewards of a cash infusion into my studio practice. The money was great while it lasted, but far greater was the shot of adrenaline to an immeasurable nod of validation.

Over the years, I’ve discussed the legitimacy of art awards in general, and the 1858 Prize in particular, with many colleagues and other artists who have asked my opinion. While I can’t speak to the legitimacy of all the myriad organizations that promote awards for artists, I can say without reservation that the 1858 Prize is the real thing in an era where “the real thing” is a complicated definition. The charge of the 1858 Prize is simple enough: to recognize and help artists who work in, or are from, the American South; and whose work contributes to a new understanding of the South. Two very important aspects of the prize are: one, the artist’s work does not need to reference the South or Southern subjects explicitly; and secondly, the prize is open to any media. All too often, calls to artists are grouped in rigid categories by medium, effectively fragmenting or disallowing outstanding work that bridges multiple disciplines. This is a pluralist time for artists, where material boundaries no longer matter. What the good people at the 1858 Prize are saying is that they are not only open to any form of expression – they are actively seeking it out.

The diverse mix of individuals and invested parties that make the arts an unrivaled ecosystem of expression benefit greatly from arbiters like the Gibbes Museum of Art and the 1858 Prize. So, if you’re an artist from the American South, I urge you to apply to this opportunity; if you’re a patron of the arts, I urge you to get involved with this organization; and if you’re a fan of the arts, I urge you to follow and revel in the discoveries of this organization.

John Westmark, artist and guest blogger

 

John Westmark and family

2012 Prize winner John Westmark with his family at the opening reception of his solo exhibition

John Westmark’s work is currently on exhibit at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Westmark’s work is exhibited widely and is held in collection worldwide. He holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Florida. In 2012, he received the Factor Prize for Southern Art, awarded by the Gibbes Museum. Westmark lives and works in Gainesville, Florida, with his wife and two daughters – the true inspiration behind his work.

The Gibbes Museum of Art and Society 1858 have announced the 2014 Short List of finalists
for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art.

1858 Prize Short List of Finalists

The seven artists selected are Jim Arendt, Sonya Clark, Andre Leon Gray, Jackson Martin, Jason Mitcham, Damian Stamer, and Stacy Lynn Waddell. The artists were selected by a distinguished panel of judges including Charles Ailstock, Society 1858 Board Member; Jamieson Clair, Society 1858 Board Member; Jennifer Dasal, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art; Marilyn Laufer, Director of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University; Frank McCauley, Assistant Director and Curator of the Sumter County Gallery of Art; Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibition at the Gibbes Museum of Art; and John Westmark, artist and 2012 Prize winner.

The winner of the 1858 Prize will be announced on September 18 during an event hosted by Society 1858 and the Gibbes Museum of Art. Artists may submit applications for the 2015 1858 Prize January 1, 2015.

 

 

Summer Camp at the Gibbes!

According to the Arts Education Partnership which was created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education, every young person in America deserves a complete and competitive education that includes the arts. As the country becomes more diverse, the world more interconnected, and the workplace more oriented around technology and creativity, arts education is key to ensuring students’ success in school, work and life.

summer camp masks

Creative and colorful masks!

That’s why art education is central to the mission of the Gibbes Museum of Art. The museum offers a wide variety of educational opportunities throughout the year, and when school is out for the summer, we host six weeks of camp. This is one of my favorite times of the year because the campers are so excited to learn, and watching them engage with the art reminds me of the value of arts education.

Each camp session includes artist demonstrations, hands-on, and take-home projects using many different mediums and materials. This summer the themes include All About Animals, Exploring Nature, and Art Through the Ages for ages 4-12. Local artist Kristen Solecki has taught summer camp sessions for two years and works to impart her expertise to budding artists.

summer camp masks

Creative campers posing with their masks!

“This week at camp was all about animals! We learned about animal structure and anatomy as well as how to sketch and create our own animals. We started off the week with relief printmaking. We learned about printing editions, types of ink, and the effects of various types of mark making. On Tuesday, we created large scale 16×20 inch animal paintings on watercolor paper using acrylic paints and charcoal. We learned about drawing with gesture and the detail that goes into large scale work. On Wednesday, we started a two day project: sculpting animals using air dry clay. We learned about the coil method and how to stabilize this medium using different tools. On Friday, we are learning about the sgrafico method. We painted wood birch panels and coated them using oil pastels. We used stylus to scratch away our drawings,” explains Solecki.

summer campers

Summer campers deep in concentration!

Campers visit the museum galleries at least once during the week to learn about artwork from both the permanent collection, and the special exhibitions John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Parents are invited to an art show every Friday to view the camper’s collection of work from the week and are encouraged to visit the museum at their leisure. Camp will end August 8, and currently that is the only week remaining with a few openings!

Rebecca Sailor, Curator of Education

To register, please visit gibbesmuseum.org/events or call Rebecca Sailor at 843.722.2706 x41

Reflections on Art and Healing

On June 2, artist John Westmark participated in a program at the Gibbes called Art of Healing. Over the past two years, the museum has hosted a number of programs that focus on the many ways that art connects with healing and wellness. This particular program entailed in depth discussions of several paintings on view in the exhibition John Westmark: Narratives, including a large-scale canvas titled Sisters.

SISTERS by John Westmark

Sisters, by John Westmark

For me, Sisters is a particularly powerful painting. The work depicts two women standing hand-in-hand, bound together by red string. They appear strong, resolute, and ready to take on the world. I connect with the painting because I am fortunate to have a sister who has been my lifelong best friend. In January 2013, my sister Angie was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. It was a devastating diagnosis, but I knew she would fight with every ounce of her being. It may sound cliché, but she is a warrior in every sense of the word, and has been since we were kids.

Angie's first day of kinder

Pam Wall and her big sister Angie

Shortly after Angie’s diagnosis, I began working on John’s exhibition. Sisters was one of the first paintings added to the object list. I worried about Angie constantly, but Sisters gave me a measure of reassurance. It reminded me that Angie was every bit as strong as the women in the painting, and I needed to be just as strong to help her through this battle. The red string held particular significance. Blood cancer was the enemy, but family bloodlines were ultimately what saved Angie’s life. In May 2013, she received a lifesaving stem cell transplant from our brother Chip.

I am thrilled that Angie’s story is now one of healing. She recently hit the one-year anniversary of her transplant, and life is slowly returning to normal. Whenever Angie is on my mind, I take a few minutes in the gallery with Sisters. The painting has helped me to cope over the past year and half, and reminds me of all I am thankful for. And as I raise two daughters of my own, I hope they will stand together like the sisters in John’s painting, ready to face the triumphs and challenges life has in store.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions

The Art Tells the Story

Q & A with Rice & Ducks author Virginia Christian Beach

Virginia Beach with Jonathan Green

Virginia Beach with Jonathan Green whose painting Rice Morning Harvest is featured in Chapter 9 of Rice & Ducks.

Q: What was the inspiration for this book?

Many people don’t know that Lowcountry South Carolina is considered a leader in land conservation in the United States.  We have more land permanently protected in our coastal plain—1.2 million acres—than any other East Coast state.  We are also extremely rich in wetlands and forestlands, two vital habitats for innumerable species of flora and fauna.  The story of how we came to be a national model in land conservation is unique, largely due to the fact that it is predicated on the grand and tragic and complex history of the rice culture, and the convergence and interaction between northerners and southerners after the Civil War.  What evolved here in the Lowcountry, what we today enjoy from a cultural and environmental standpoint, is unlike anywhere else.  We felt this was an important and interesting story, worthy of a beautiful book.

Q. Rice & Ducks includes interviews with experts and scholars in the fields of rice cultivation and plantation history, African-American studies, wetland and waterfowl biology, and wildlife and habitat conservation. Tell us about your experience conducting and sifting through these interviews-the research sounds extensive!

The project took three full years, from inception to publication.  I traveled up and down the rice coast of South Carolina, from the Pee Dee River down to the Savannah, with a digital recorder in one hand, pen and paper in the other, and a pair of binoculars around my neck.  I sought out landowners who had been active in the land conservation movement in their respective river basins, most of whom had already permanently protected their property with conservation easements, and whose families had either been here for many generations, or had arrived with the “second northern invasion” in the 1910s, 20s and 30s.

I also interviewed slave descendants, hunting guides and land managers, as well as field biologists, foresters and ornithologists — the people living and working closest to the land. RICE & DUCKS is as much a land use history, as it is a land conservation history.  One of many highlights included multiple conversations with a landowner, now in his 90s, whose great uncle had been a founding member of one of the earliest northern hunting clubs in the Lowcountry—the Okeetee Club in Jasper County—and who had wonderful memories of hunting here in the 1920s as a boy.  Another highlight was walking the slave street at Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown County, where First Lady Michelle Obama’s great-great grandfather was born and raised.  And lastly, walking the old rice field dikes of the Ashepoo River at dusk and watching thousands of waterfowl settling in for the night.  These are just a few of the many memorable experiences of my field research.

Q. Now to the art and how “The Art Tells a Story.” Tell us how you chose the images to accompany these stories. How and why was the Gibbes’ permanent collection important to this book?

After completing my research and the manuscript, I was tasked with curating the images for RICE & DUCKS, with the help of a Curatorial Committee that included Angela Mack, Executive Director of the Gibbes, who was an invaluable guide as you might imagine. During that first year of researching the text, I also made detailed notes of artwork, maps, and visuals that I was encountering along the way, which I thought would complement and enhance the RICE & DUCKS story visually.  When it came time to convene the Curatorial Committee, I created a master list of all the images I had noted, organized by chapter, and called it “A Working List of Potential Visuals.”  It was over 20 pages long!

Thankfully, Angela and Steve Gavel (another member of our committee) came up with the idea of choosing a work of art for the beginning of each of the 9 chapters — giving it a full page of its own —  that was representative of the overall theme of each chapter and was of the corresponding time period. This helped bring into focus and reinforce the major themes of RICE &DUCKS.

The Reserve in Summer

The Reserve in Summer by Alice R. H. Smith

The images serve both a historical purpose and an artistic and thematic purpose.  The adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly holds true for the images in RICE & DUCKS.  In many instances, we simply did not have room to include sidebars and additional text on many important topics.  One good example of how a painting can convey so much more information than the written word is “The Old Plantation,” lent to us by Colonial Williamsburg.  With that one painting, we were able to convey much more about the history and uniqueness of the Gullah culture.  Similarly, Anna Heyward Taylor’s linoleum block print from the Gibbes collection, entitled “Sowing Rice,” powerfully illustrates the African roots of rice cultivation in the Lowcountry.  At the same time, Charles Fraser’s portrait miniature of Nathaniel Heyward, as well as Benjamin West’s portrait of Thomas Middleton — also from the Gibbes collection — beautifully express the aspirations and authority of the New World landed aristocracy.

Sowing Rice by Anna Heyward Taylor

Sowing Rice by Anna Heyward Taylor

Q. The proceeds from this book go toward protection of the northern breeding grounds and protection of migratory bird habitat in the Carolina Lowcountry. Can you tell us about this effort and why it is important?

You’ve heard the expression “the canary in the coal mine?”  Well, migratory birds — whether they be waterfowl (e.g.ducks and geese), wading birds (e.g. egrets and herons), shorebirds or warblers— are huge barometers of the health of our overall environment, since they rely on a multitude of habitats along their ancient, amazingly long flyways.  They are the great “connectors”—between continents, between nations, between habitats — breaking down political and cultural barriers as they embark on their transcontinental, cross-cultural journeys year after year after year.  For example, take the little sanderlings that you see on South Carolina beaches each spring and fall.  They nest in the high Arctic tundra and migrate through the Lowcountry every year, traveling thousands of miles on their annual migration between North and South America.  Many of these species absolutely depend on the healthy habitat of the South Carolina Lowcountry for their survival along the way.  And much of our wetlands are used by both waterfowl and wading birds and shorebirds.  Saving their habitat is good for them and good for us; nourishing humankind both physically and spiritually.

Virginia C. Beach, Author and Guest Blogger

The Art Tells the Story book signing and discussion with Virginia Christian Beach
Thursday, June 12, 12noon
$15 per person
You may pre-purchase books at the Museum Store
To purchase tickets please visit gibbesmuseum.org/events or call 843.722.2706 x21