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Eyes on the prize

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Lake City has been known as a market for tobacco and strawberries. At one time it was the world’s green bean capitol, as a museum in town attests.

But the art world is getting ready to beat a path to this Florence County crossroads for a show and competition with $100,000 in prize money, the most of any in the Southeast. The buzz in the art world is deafening.

The little town is thinking big with its first ArtFields festival and competition April 19-28. The work of 400 artists from 12 states will be displayed in 37 venues, from a hair salon to a Mexican restaurant. Between choosing who wins the People’s Choice Award and its $25,000 purse, festival-goers will also enjoy concerts, food trucks, lectures, a block party, and the two-day portrait battle, in which 48 artists compete in two-hour rounds, painting portraits of live models.

Scott Jacob, executive director of the Cultural Council of Georgetown County, said the size and scope of ArtFields would be impressive in a big city. “This is really an outstanding turnout, off the charts,” he said.

The $100,000 prize money makes it difficult to replicate the show here but it’s something to strive for, he said.

“What a way to keep art in the public’s mind and in the forefront,” he said. “To have that much participation is impressive.”

It’s easy to see the hand of millionaire financier and Lake City native Darla Moore behind this idea to make the town a destination, but the prize money was raised privately and the town is all-in.

Jim Fields, a consultant with the Lake City Partnership Council, said the event with “put Lake City on the map.”

The idea is not original. Grand Rapids, Mich., staged a similar 10-day event called Artsprize with $500,000 in prize money a few years ago.

See “Artists,” Page 22

From Second Front

Lake City picked the name ArtsField as a tip of the cap to its agricultural heritage, but the real goal is the town’s economic development and getting citizens involved.

Among the 400 artists selected for the juried show are four from the Waccamaw Neck: Maura Kenny and Chris Thomas of the Pawleys Island area and Lindsay Huggins and Phyllis Tannerfrye of Murrells Inlet.

Maura Kenny, an art professor at Coastal Carolina University, said she got word of ArtFields from a student who lives near Lake City. “She was all excited about this months before I saw any print on it,” Kenny said.

Her painting “Homage to Joan of Arc” is a mixed media watercolor. She was inspired by a limestone figurative sculpture of the woman warrior by Karl Bitter at Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.

Kenny’s painting will hang in Lake City’s IH3 Wellness Center, a rehab facility. “All the works,” Kenny said, “will be displayed in a business or office or public building. Hopefully, it will get people into Lake City and all over town to see the whole show.”

Kenny is on “scholarly reassignment” this semester to work on a painting project at Hobcaw Barony. She and husband Paul, a marine biologist at the Bell Baruch Marine Lab, have lived on Rybolt Road in the Pawleys Island area since 1992.

Kenny’s Joan of Arc incorporates a number of ideas. She is juxtaposed with contemporary warriors represented by toy army men. Circling crows symbolize the divine voices that reportedly led Joan into battle. One of the crows is stitched into the canvas. In the bottom right corner is a tiny detail from Hans Memling’s black-winged “Angel Musicians” and in other corners are details of angels from Botticelli’s “The Mystic Nativity”. Kenny covered Joan’s armor in lace and spray painted over it to exhibit strength and femininity.

“It was like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” Kenny said, “to come up with a painting that did her some honor yet brought her into a 20th century comparison with soldiers and medieval armor. It’s fun to be part of it. I don’t expect to win money — $100,000 is pretty impressive — but artists are always seeking ways to have their work seen.”

Lindsay Huggins of Murrells Inlet, an art teacher at Georgetown High School, will enter a watercolor and chalk pastel painting titled “Car in Field.” It will be exhibited at LaBomba, a Mexican restaurant.

Huggins, a native of Florence, graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design before she decided to teach art. She got a master’s degree from Coastal Carolina University.

She likes to incorporate nature and older objects in her paintings. Her ArtFields entry depicts a dark and stormy sky with a rusted blue car in a field. She said the chalk blended with the watercolor and allowed her to build the dimension of the painting.

“It was really fun to make,” she said. “I made it for a friend, so it was special to me and special to another person.”

Huggins said she was flattered to be selected and wants to see what happens in Lake City during the show. “It’s a great way to revive the area,” she said. “Art draws different people and different crowds. It sounds like they have it all together.”

Chris Thomas of Pawleys Island is going about the contest in his own way: He’s campaigning for the $25,000 People’s Choice Award for his Crutches Cathedral Birdhouse made from what he calls “Plunderware.”

Thomas has designed a rack card with the location of his sculpture: the Hub in the ROB Building. He took a photo of an old barn with “See Rock City” painted on its roof and altered it to say “See Lake City”. Contest officials liked it so much they adopted it as part of their own publicity campaign.

There is a method to Thomas’s madness. He wants to use the $25,000 prize to open a facility called “Plunder Alley” with a business storefront, a shop, an artists’ studio, a gallery and a loading dock for people to drop off unwanted household items that could be converted into artwork.

“People take things to the dump and feel terrible,” Thomas said. “This will help with the recycling effort if I could get a building that combines an art gallery, studio and a Salvation Army or Goodwill Store. I want to have people who can come and donate their time. It would be a non-profit to raise money for other non-profits.”

Thomas began exploring “Plunderware” after his mother, father and mother-in-law died and left him boxes and boxes of stuff that he didn’t really want but couldn’t throw away. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and put his sculpture talent to work assembling things.

“I do commercial art to make a living,” he said. “This is for fun.”

He began his show piece by turning a pair of crutches upside down and kept adding elements.

He called ArtFields an unbelievable campaign. “The whole town is in the loop,” he said. “Everybody there wants to be a part of it.”

Phyllis Tannerfrye says she’s no photographer, but a photo of her 86-year-old mother was accepted into the ArtFields show. She finds it delightful that her photo will hang in the Hub along with a painting by her brother, Johnny Tanner.

Tannerfrye said her sister Janice talked her into entering.

“The photo I took of my mom was at a low spot in her life,” Tannerfrye said. “She had been ill and would sit on a porch swing for air. It was a moment of surrender for her. I grabbed the camera and shot.”

The photo shows the forlorn woman in a rectangle of light with the dark hallway as a frame.

Tannerfrye said she filled out the entry blank without telling her mother but had to ask her forgiveness once the photo was accepted into the show.

“She’s much better now,” Tannerfrye said, “and she’s OK with it.”

Tannerfrye is much better known locally for her singing and song writing. She was a member of the original Mullets and has been in “two or three” other bands with her brother Johnny. She does some graphic design for cards and posters that she calls “Phyllisophical Photographs” and has been working on a song for five years.

As for ArtFields, “I’m incredibly honored,” she said.

For more information go to artfieldssc.org.

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