Don't miss out on Beaufort's ever-changing art scene

lisa@eatgoodbread.comJuly 3, 2014 

Walk down West Street in downtown Beaufort, and you'll see paintings in the windows of Elena Madden's studio, Old Bull Tavern's "This Is Our Sign" sign, the doorway to Atelier on Bay's wide wooden staircase, and a menagerie of paint tubes in the window of Coastal Art Supply's new location.

"Seeing the park and the river from the front door makes us feel more a part of the community," Jennifer Kassing Bradley said. She moved the shop from around the corner on Port Republic Street. It's a short distance but a long change for the artist-shopkeeper who is still adapting her inventory and routine to the smaller space.

"We managed to sneak in everything but the kiln. Change for us was good. We've cleaned up and are reorganizing so artists can find the supplies they need."

A long-standing program that Bradley decided not to alter is making room for other artists. Nearly half the shop is dedicated to tables for workshops and drop-in sessions. Bradley teaches drops-in because "to grow you have to change. As an artist you can't stay in a rut. Follow the thread. With my art I have to keep going. I change my color palettes and get accustomed to new products." She's happy with her switch to M. Graham paints. "The pigments are brighter and don't dry lighter." One of Bradley's talents is mixing colors. She's even matched a garden gnome that a customer brought in.

Art supplies are alchemical; artists consider ingredients and combine them. They practice with tools to get an effect. This is the most teachable part of art, a controllable way of changing and a stable way of being creative. For many artists, the change they seek is simply to improve their techniques while working around a table with their fellow artists.

One regular drop-in artist is 13-year-old Helene Marshall. Her sketchbook was open to a beautiful watercolor of her sister in ballet class.

"First I didn't know about watercolors. I know more about techniques now," she said. "I have gotten better as an artist, at drawing and painting."

Betty Slesinger, who is retired from teaching, said "She's my protege. I am watching her grow." Slesinger was painting two pieces from the same photograph, one realistic and one abstract, forming a deliberate exercise in change. "I'm not too much into pretty flowers," she said. "I cleaned my palette for the first time in two years because we moved into this space. It's a fresh start," she said, holding up the multichambered plastic tray smeared with fresh colors.

"Me too!" said Rosemary Hunt said. She was across the long table working on a portrait of a wisteria bower.

Cindy Guldin, a member of the Beaufort Art Association, was brushing up a soft water scene in watercolor, to which she adapted after having an allergic reaction to oils. "I just took a Sumi class with Jennifer because Japanese brushstrokes are about containing water and ink, so it's helping me with my watercolor techniques."

Mac Swinsick, down at the end of the third table, is also BAA member who switched from oils to watercolors. He noted that BAA's move to central Bay Street has also been beneficial. "Now I wish people would get out and enjoy the art more," he said.

He's got a point; if you're not browsing and enjoying gallery openings and art walks, the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, progress of Beaufort's art scene can be overlooked.

"Change: acknowledge, anticipate, adapt" is the theme for the South Carolina Arts Commission's statewide conference in September in Columbia. Why is the arts commission thinking about change now?

"Change is a constant. This could be a theme in any year," said Ken May, the SCAC executive director. "But the conversation started with us because a good number of organizations are in transition. 'Change' ties in a lot of things we want to talk about, changing audiences, how the arts play a key role in arts changing cities. We work with artists who are trying to change their position in the world and find satisfying, sustainable lives." The arts commission's intention is to get people to think carefully and be prepared. "Change is going to happen. It's everywhere, and it's good to stop and focus on that. People have a lot to talk about how they've dealt and adapted."

And artists have the supplies and techniques to show it too.

Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives and writes in Beaufort.

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