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Arts: Watercolorists use annual exhibit to recruit new talent

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Watercolor Society members wanted to encourage new artists to enter their annual exhibit at the Rice Museum, so in addition to the usual competition the society awarded prizes for those entering for the first time during the opening of the “Holiday Low Country Art Show” Saturday afternoon.

“We’re trying to bring some younger people into the society,” said exhibit chairman Brenda Lawson. “How much time do younger people have to give to their creative side? I didn’t when I was younger. We are opening it to anyone interested in watercolors.”

Lawson has a studio in the Pawleys Island area where she teaches and paints, focusing primarily on landscapes, flowers and candid animal paintings. A professional artist for more than 30 years, she is a signature member of the Salmagundi Club and The National Association of Women Artists in New York City.

“I always say you can’t live here and not be an artist because it’s so beautiful,” she said. “So for me, you just have to paint.”

The category for newcomers may have helped ease the intimidation factor about entering the annual show, but it didn’t change the outcome, according to juror Mike Caiazzio of Shallotte, N.C. Veteran watercolor artist Johnnie Cowan of Litchfield took “Best in Show” with a painting of burning buildings in the 700 block of Front Street. The work was titled simply, “Sept. 25, 2013” and depicted firefighters and equipment in the street with flames beginning to tear through the roofs of the historic buildings. There were other depictions of Front Street in the show. Bobbie Owens entered an acrylic titled “Tragic Memories” that featured the burning buildings beneath a Van Gogh-like “Starry, Starry Night” sky. Paula Robertson entered a view of the “Rainbow Row” block before it burned titled “The Way We Were.”

Owens said she was among local artists who lost paintings to the fire at Harborwalk Books. She had been selling her works there for almost 20 years. “It was a personal loss for me,” she said. “They had put the fence up and it was almost dusk before I got to Front Street. Gerald, my husband, had to pull me away. I just did not want to go.

“I thought I’d combine two things — Van Gogh was a tragic person.”

Kay Langdon’s “Hydrangea” took first place in the show’s open category; Nancy Bourne was second with “Celebrate Fall” and Nancy Murphy third with “Lily Alone.” Honorable mentions were given to Dian Hammett for “Picnic on the Beach,” Kelly Atkinson for “Arrangement — Camellias and Berries” and Gail Joley for “January At the Gym.”

Among first-time exhibitors, Mary Bryan won first place with “Rainy Day Shoppers”; Pat Chipps was second with “Cheerio” and Martha Williams third with “Iris.”

Williams, who moved to Allston Plantation just a few months ago from Lake Murray, said she had dabbled in watercolors but is inspired now. “I was looking for a place to fit in,” she said. “It happened sooner than I expected.”

She could hardly have selected a more venerable group. Joley, who recently prepared a history of the society, said it began 35 years ago when a small group of enthusiastic watercolorists began having regular painting sessions at the Rice Museum. Director Jim Fitch, she said, encouraged the artists and has remained a supporter. Cowan taught lessons to the early group that included Bourne, Doris Athey, Lib Ferdon and Betty Fogel.

After about a year, the artists decided to form a non-profit organization. They named it the Georgetown County Watercolor Society and modeled its bylaws after the South Carolina Watercolor Society that had been formally organized the year before. The original painters were all charter members, and Fitch was named an honorary member.

Alex Powers, a widely recognized artist from Myrtle Beach, painted with the group in the early years and conducted workshops as his national reputation grew. He is also an honorary member.

The society has over 60 active members. One of its major goals is to promote the visual arts, especially watercolor painting in Georgetown County, and to encourage residents to both appreciate and try watercolors.

This year’s exhibit will run through Jan. 4. All artwork in the contest is available for purchase.

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