Lowcountry collage artist, 76, an overnight Southern superstar

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 1, 2012 

The Hilton Head Island-based artist that is known as Aldwyth is listed among the New Superstars of Southern Art in the new edition of Oxford American magazine. Photo by jerrysiegel.com.


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At 76, Aldwyth finds it humorous to be listed among "The New Superstars of Southern Art."

The reclusive Hilton Head Island artist who goes by a single name and won't allow her face to be photographed is by far the senior member of the 100 "most talented and thrilling up-and-coming artists in the South" in the Oxford American magazine out this week.

"It's about time," she said. "It's very nice."

The news comes to her circular, 900-square-foot "treehouse" on Deer Island, a quiet marshfront neighborhood in the woods near Harbour Town.

She didn't always feel like a superstar while wading through tide after tide of life: child of an often-moved U.S. Navy chaplain; bad marriage; raising three sons; living aboard a 87-foot boat at Palmetto Bay Marina in the 1960s; and a 13-year trek to a degree in fine arts from the University of South Carolina.

She worked a number of jobs to make ends meet on Hilton Head -- filing clerk, electric-meter reader, dental assistant, office manager. She worked at Islander Magazine. She cleaned villas. She cleaned the Red Piano art gallery and hung its shows.

She found acceptance -- and encouragement -- at the weekly Artist Round Table discussions at the Red Piano, where a handful of great illustrators and other artists who migrated to a pretty empty island discussed art.

She would drive overnight to Washington and New York City to linger in museums and get art supplies. Fellow artists Betsy Chaffin and Louanne LaRoche fed her inspiration. She and LaRoche traveled into the destruction after Hurricane Hugo hit the Lowcountry, and Aldwyth's art went three-dimensional with the "junk" she brought home from their trips to deliver supplies to artists.

"Aldwyth has been making work in relative obscurity for more than 30 years," writes Mark Sloan, director and senior curator at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. He nominated Aldwyth for the Oxford American list. In 2010, he organized the first major solo exhibition of her work.

"Her artworks, consisting primarily of collage and assemblage, are richly layered meditations on the nature of human nature," he writes. "Made up of re-combinations of the detritus of our past, at once strange and familiar, these intricate works probe our collective memories and offer a window through which to once again experience a sense of wonder. Infused with hard-earned wisdom, art historical references, and a subtle humor, Aldwyth's intimate art transcends nostalgia and takes the viewer into a realm of pure imagination."

As the magazine hits the streets, Aldwyth is busy in her "treehouse," clipping, cataloguing and filing images from art and architecture magazines. Somehow they'll fit into the dozen concepts for collages swirling around in her mind. The up-and-coming superstar has a deadline to meet: a show next spring in Rock Hill.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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