Skyuka Fine Art-Blog
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For Jonathan P. Alcott, collecting "brings order into a world full of chaos".
Jonathan Alcott was introduced to me by Mr. Nowell Guffey (my June interviewee) a few years back. Jon has always had a genuine interest in Tryon and for years he even desired to move here. As of late the idea of purchasing and starting up another home is just too daunting to this remarkable retiree, restaurant entrepreneur, and avid art collector. I do enjoy seeing him pop into the gallery now and then during his visits to our wonderful little town, and I secretly hope that he might just 'find that perfect little place' and default on his resolve.
A recent showing of Mr. Alcott's North Carolina art collection entitled "Scent Of The Pine, You Know How I Feel" is on exhibit at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia until mid-October. The title of the show is a lyric from Tryon's own Nina Simone's song "Feelin' Good" which gives one a glimmer into the talents and achievements of the North Carolinian artists represented in the collection. The exhibition catalogue chronicling Jon's extensive collection is impressive to say the least. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Jon's collection in person, but viewing this catalogue is what prompted me to ask him to be a part of this series. Jon accepted and a luncheon date was scheduled with Mr. Nowell Guffey, Jon, and myself at the new and delightful Lavender Bistro in downtown Tryon.
As we sipped our beverages with menus lying in wait, I was excited to start peppering Mr. Alcott with my questions. I was especially curious about his early beginnings. As it turns out Jon was a young lad from Missouri who hopped on a bus to Santa Barbara with big dreams and $12 in his pocket. He quickly got a couple of part time jobs; washing dishes in a restaurant and "upholstering caskets" (two words I've never put together before!) to scrape by, feed himself and pay for his meager lodging. The restaurant work seemed to suit him more (thankfully) and he began climbing the ladder first as a manager, then district manager, then regional manager, and then Jon became Vice President of a national chain. Eventually he bought his own restaurant chain which he successfully ran for twenty years before selling them just ten months ago, deciding to slow down a bit. But during this rise to success, getting married and raising a family, collecting has always been a constant in Jon's life. I wanted to know more about how he began collecting, but we were so entranced in conversation that our waiter Gabriel had to interrupt to take our order (thank goodness because I had skipped breakfast!).
"Neat old keys", Jon continues after we placed our order, it was his "first collection as a young boy". Other unique items he collects include North Carolina shorebird decoys, North Carolina quilts, French glass paper weights, Ronson cigarette lighters, Tryon Toy Maker's work, Southern pottery, Edgefield pottery, walking sticks, oriental blue and white porcelain, and rare 1st edition-1st print books. Jon then added how it saddened him that "the youth of today doesn't seem to value collecting things like books or art" and he blames our "ever evolving technology".
As we waited patiently for our food I pressed Jon about how he started collecting artwork. He shared that his first step into art collecting was a bit disjointed with two separate focuses; 'Buck's County, Pennsylvania artwork', and simply 'regional" artwork'. But Jon found the regional collection "far too broad" and he was unable to bring his collection to a focus. And the Pennsylvania artwork collection just didn't "resonate" with him. Well known art dealer, museum curator and gallery director Robert B. Mayo of Gloucester, Virginia worked with Jon on building these two collections. As a friend it is he who suggested Jon look into collecting North Carolina art when he realized Jon just wasn't getting what he'd hoped for.
"It was a blessing, it was exactly what I was looking for. The quality, the artists…"
Liking the suggestion, Jon began selling off his first two art collections. He now had a new focus, one that resonated with him. He was going to collect North Carolina artwork that was done by either artists born in North Carolina, or by artists who had visited North Carolina and been inspired by its majestic scenery while here. And collect he did! Gosh he's good at that!
As Jon's North Carolina art collection continues to grow it now totals over 100 pieces. The work is broken up between his two homes, which also means what goes where has been well thought out. In his Raleigh home he has very traditional and representational artwork from 1850-1950, and at his Morehead City beach home he showcases the more contemporary 1950-present works. I knew hitting Mr. Alcott with my "if your house was burning down and you could only save one piece" question was going to be difficult for him, especially since he has two homes, but I was surprised by his answer.
"I would just throw myself into the center of my burning home as there is no way I could choose just one. They all are so special to me."
Wow, I thought. I was a little stunned and I felt badly that something I asked put such an image in our heads. Wanting to move beyond that morbid thought, and still reeling from the image of him delicately affixing fabric into caskets in the springtime of his life, I told him to forget the "burning question"! Instead I asked if he could narrow his favorite down to either one artist, or at least a few pieces by different artists? That seemed to bound life back into our conversation and he was able to answer quickly and with a smile.
"Lawrence Mazzanovich, 'Near Tryon', George C. Aid, 'In the Park', Margaret Moffet Law, 'Going to Market', and Homer Ellertson, 'Tradition'".
Hmm, I think he put some serious thought into that well before our little Bistro date, which actually tickled me. With our salads and crepes arriving I decided to begin my line of questioning methodically for each artwork he named in order. " Why does this piece speak to you, and how did you acquire it?"
"First and foremost I wanted a Lawrence Mazzanovich because I knew he was good. I also wanted a Tryon scene. I bought the piece 'Near Tryon' from Nowell."
Jon met Nowell ten years ago when he began his North Carolina collection and it was in Nowell's Foothills Fine Art gallery that he found his "Mazzy". He was immediately drawn to it for a quality he, at the time, didn't know how to verbalize. It just moved him. It turned out that the quality that sparked Jon was a "haze". I love that ultimately it wasn't a specific subject matter that drove Jon to love the piece but rather an atmospheric depiction that temporarily eluded him to describe just what it was that he loved. So cool. That moment when a piece of artwork makes you feel something and you don't even know why it did it is just priceless. If I could bottle that and sell it…
Jon also had this to say about Mr. Nowell Guffey, "I owe my successful art collection to Nowell who had the best pieces of art. More importantly, Nowell took the time and guided me in the right direction."
Kudos to Mr. Guffey. He is a wealth of knowledge in the world of Southern artists, and especially artists who spent time in Tryon at the turn of the century. He also happens to rock it out on the tennis court! He's so multi-talented.
Second up on Jon's top four list was George C. Aid's 'In the Park' oil on canvas.
"I saw this piece at an online auction and I just loved it. It was calm, subtle and peaceful. Unfortunately I missed my opportunity to purchase it, so I contacted the auction house. They told me who bought it and luckily it was a dealer who was interested in reselling it. He immediately sold it to me. When I got it I ended up loving it even more in person; the colors, the palette, just fabulous! It really started to round out my collection."
What a relief! Jon loved it, missed his chance at it, but ended up with it anyway! I have to share how often it happens that people fall in love with a piece, but don't buy it, then the regret. Oh, the regret. I've seen it first hand. It's not pretty.
Thirdly we have Margaret Moffet Law's 'Going to Market', goauche on paper.
"I love the subject matter! I walked into Nowell's gallery one day and saw it, and instantly fell in love with it. I even love the signature!"
Instant love. That is so great. And to "love the signature", what a collector! I tip my hat to you Mr. Alcott in admiration for noticing and enjoying the little things. Jon also mentioned that Margaret used a salt technique atop the wet gouache to add a bit of textural quality or what he calls a "fish eye". Margaret Moffet Law, from Spartanburg, SC, also happened to have a niece named after her who lived in Tryon. And who did that niece marry? Homer Ellertson! Ellertson was featured in last month's series, and he is next on Mr. Alcott's top four list.
Last but not least, Homer Ellertson's 'Tradition No. 1', oil on canvas.
"You don't get any better than 'Tradition No.1'. It's perfect; the mountains, the stream, the field, the strong mountain folk. This piece was not for sale, but I was able to pry it out of Nowell's hands with my checkbook!"
I guess there was no option for Mr. Alcott but to add 'Tradition No. 1' to his collection, no matter the cost. From what I understand Mr. Guffey was not easily swayed either! It has to be hard to be an art dealer; parting with certain pieces. I imagine that for much of the artwork that a dealer acquires there has to be some connection for them with the art. And each time they sell off a piece from their inventory it has to hurt at least a little. Ultimately they are making a living, but still-there is an emotional attachment to certain artworks, and to break that connection, no matter the profit, has got to be difficult. It's a good thing Jon and Nowell are friends. Nowell can see his, or formerly his, 'Tradition No.1' whenever he likes.
With our lunch plates cleared and Mr. Alcott quickly picking up the bill (thank you!), we then took a stroll down to our gallery so he and Nowell could say hello to my husband Rich who was working on a portrait. Still engrossed in conversation we headed down to O'Duggan's to enjoy a scoop of his delicious strawberry ice cream. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon; talking about art and why one collects with such an impressive collector and local dealer, while enjoying our great little downtown. I loved learning more about this amazing gentleman and his passion to bring order and focus to his life through collecting beautiful, unusual, rare objects and art. As we said our goodbyes, one thing hit me; how grateful I was that Mr. Alcott never added well upholstered caskets to his list of collectibles!
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Passion for preserving the past. That statement begins to give one a glimmer into the compelling lives of Gary Corn and James Blanton. Residents in the area might know about Gary and James more for purchasing and restoring the Mill Farm Inn on Harmon Field Road than anything else. Their 'labor of love' efforts paid off when they proudly got their inn on the National Historic Registry in 2009. "We would have hated to see this property get torn down and have a McDonald's go up" Gary stated in a video interview for Blue Ridge Now in 2009. But James shared a further interest they had in the property, "There has to be something more than just old age, there has to be something significant" he stated. And there was. The original architect of the home owned a quarry in Polk County where he pulled North Carolina Blue Granite Stone from to build the structure. Significant indeed.
Both Gary and James grew up around Polk County with what they characterize as very "humble beginnings". Unfortunately art was no more a part of their lives than say, champagne dreams and caviar wishes were! But all of that changed in 2006 when they both read local author, business owner, and art guru Michael McCue's book called Paris & Tryon. They got bit. Bit by an art bug. I love those bugs. I wish I could breed them.
Gary and James' first purchase was an etching with no signature. They had high hopes that in their possession was a George C. Aid, as it was similar to images they'd seen in Paris & Tryon. They decided to invite the author Mr. McCue to view the piece and share his thoughts on it. He obliged. Unfortunately the piece was not what they'd hoped for. However the encounter sparked a friendship and quickly set Gary and James on what would become a passion for collecting art that is 'old or significant', just as their Mill Farm is. Over the next 8 years they collected everything from Philip Dusenbury's "The Incredible Cow" sculpture, to a highly prized John Sylvan Brown painting, to multiple Tryon Toy Maker's pieces. Their collection is unique in that it represents not only historical artists and art from this area but also living artists throughout Polk County.
When I asked Gary and James if I could interview them for this series I knew they had some wonderful works of art, but I wasn't really sure what to expect overall. After entering their lovely Mill Farm and being offered a refreshing glass of wine (thank you!) we began what would soon become an unforgettable tour. I'd like to insert here one adjective that doesn't often go along with art collections or collectors in this area; brave. Besides their astounding collection, with the variety, the history, and the high levels of talent exhibited, one piece really stood out for me; hanging in their master suite is a very large, very fabulous and very Andy Warhol-esque Jeanne Parker self portrait (local artist, recently deceased). What a conversation piece! Although I already greatly admired this dynamic art collecting duo, now I would be forever in love with them, their aesthetics, and above all their bravery.
Even though the Jeanne Parker piece may have been my favorite at Mill Farm, James had another painting he was delighted to turn my attention to; "Finale" a circus themed watercolor by Homer Ellertson circa 1930. I asked James why from their expansive collection did it stand out as their favorite, especially since hanging right below it was yet another Ellertson. James had this to say. "'Finale' is a cubist style work, reflective of a Picasso, whose work we admire. I love the depiction of the circus characters, and this was when he was painting in Charleston. Ellertson paintings are fun, they catch your eye and you start looking for all the different nuances he has incorporated. The still life 'Poinsettias In Cruet' was purchased from a family who lived near Ellertson. The painting was used in The Ellertson Show held at the Tryon Fine Arts Center in 2000, curated by Sylvia Moore and Betty Knopp. Mike McCue authored the publication for the show and the design was done by Carolie Bartol."
It's no wonder Gary and James' favorite piece is a Homer Ellertson; he happens to be one of Tryon's most famous artists. He was born in 1892 and he traveled Europe as an art student on a scholarship and painted in France and Spain. Upon returning to America he graduated and worked as a very successful textile artist in Manhattan, but gave that up in 1920 to focus on producing fine art. Like many artists of this era, Ellertson was drawn to Tryon's growing artist's colony, so he moved here and bought property to build his dream home and studio and he even designed much of his furniture himself. Michael McCue writes, "This triumph of Twenties design, which he named 'El Taarn' was inspired by picturesque old structures he had seen in his travels by the Mediterranean. Its features and appointments were designed with great originality and sophisticated taste. It earned national attention for Ellertson and for Tryon." Ellertson then married Tryonite Margaret Law and went back to Europe for an extended honeymoon, where he "produced some of his most beautiful and animated paintings" McCue writes. Homer and his new wife returned to Tryon and 'El Taarn', but sadly his life was cut too short; he died in 1935 at the young age of 42 of a heart attack. In his lifetime his works were wildly popular; he showed in museums, won awards, sold through dealers, held active membership in artists organizations, and was often featured in national art publications. Gary and James call Ellertson a "renaissance man".
I was very curious as to how Gary and James came to acquire "The Finale". Surprisingly, it was donated in 2011 to a benefit for the Red Cross here in Polk County. Sadly it had a bit of damage, a tear in the center as well as 'foxing' which simply means spots that are more than likely a form of mold. Gary and James couldn't be there for the actual auction as they were out of town, so they sent a friend to bid for them with a maximum price they were willing to pay. The Red Cross knew what they had and they had a high reserve price because of it. But at auction time, the reserve was not met. I imagine with the obvious damage, not many are willing to invest in a piece when the restoration costs could be high with no guarantee of success. It was a gamble. But their savvy friend approached the auctioneer afterwards and made an offer on behalf of Gary and James that was eventually accepted. Gary was especially proud of their acquisition and had this to say about it, "It was nice to know that this piece would become part of our collection and would stay here in Tryon." Luckily the restoring was a success; "Muir Fine Art restored the painting in Brevard, NC. They were recommended by Mike McCue as it is hard to find someone who restores water colors. After the painting was returned to us, it was amazing to see the vivid colors come back to life. The matting and re-framing were done by Ryan/Boyle of Saluda, NC" says James. Boy did that gamble pay off!
Gary and James are so invested in their artistic passion that on a recent trip to Paris they couldn't help but seek out a location mentioned in McCue's Paris & Tryon book. Gary says, "We thought we might try to find the place where the artist George C. Aid lived. We emailed Michael to ask for the address and he responded. Luckily, it was just a short walk from our hotel near Luxembourg Garden. When we arrived, we found the plaque in front of the building referencing the art history on that street. " There's that art bug again, biting and biting!
I found Gary and James' collection to be thrilling to say the least. I wondered how it made them feel? "A sense of accomplishment comes to mind. A reminder that hard work and perseverance can bring you to a different place in life. Who would think two people from humble beginnings would be Art Collectors?" says James. And when I asked what this collection represented to them they had this to say, "It is an important group of objects telling the history of this community. We would like the collection to stay together and we are working on plans to make that happen."
Gary Corn and James Blanton are such a gift to this community, I want to thank them for inviting me into Mill Farm Inn to view their collection and chat with me about their art. I loved every moment and I look forward to seeing how their collection continues to grow. Clearly their passion for preserving the past is being executed brilliantly. Gary and James, you are so significant!
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When I dreamed up this art series my main goal was to get people talking about art, and especially talking about the art that they love and then try to share the experience through the written word. I imagined if there were to be personal benefits, at best they might simply be to enjoy viewing new artwork I hadn't seen as of yet and engage with art lovers and maybe make a new friend or two. After only four short months, the benefits I have received have far surpassed this initial prediction! I'm continuously surprised and delighted when people tell me how much they are enjoying the articles. But more than that, the knowledge I am gaining in this process is priceless! And, remarkably, this month's featured artwork and collector's story behind it is truly why I am so honored to be doing what I am doing.
When I asked Shields and Frances Flynn to meet with me and see if we could narrow down a piece from their 20th Century modern art collection they didn't hesitate to accept my request, and Shields shared that they had the perfect piece that they had just acquired called "The Vikings". This actually made me nervous that they had a bit of a 'new purchase glow' and they were zeroing in on it because of that. Boy was I wrong.
As it turns out "The Vikings" happens to be Shields' brother Ligon Flynn's artwork from the 1950's. Ligon had an amazing career as an award winning and highly recognized architect in the area, as well as the Eastern part of North Carolina. He is celebrated for his numerous residential homes (many of which are on Figure Eight Island off the coast of Wilmington, NC), commercial and institutional buildings, two museums, his own office, and a hospice facility. Many of his designs can be seen on the North Carolina Modernist Homes website (ncmodernist.org/flynn.htm) where you can also learn much more about his architectural career. Holland Brady (ncmodernist.org/brady.htm), who was also Shields' and Ligon's brother-in-law, collaborated with him on many local residential homes, as well as a student housing project at the Brevard Music School for which they won an architectural award. Sadly Ligon passed away in 2010, and Holland passed in 2013.
As I viewed this beautiful watercolor, not only was I delighted to learn that this architect had produced two-dimensional artwork in his lifetime, but I was also very perplexed as to how it was that they had "recently acquired" such an older piece well after Ligon's passing. I felt like Sherlock Holmes excitedly bombarding the Flynns with questions while gathering my clues!
First off I didn't understand the timeline in which this piece was created and how Shields didn't acquire it then? "Ligon was at NC State or in the army from 1949 until 1959. In other words he left school to serve as an engineer in the army, and then returned to NC State where he then completed his architectural degree and taught art for a period of time", Shields answered.
Shields then went on to share that this piece was done in 1955, which places Ligon at NC State, very far away from a much younger Shields at that time. To add to the mystery, Ligon only produced a few works in this style, making them very rare. Over time Shields has located approximately ten from this series, but most are "coveted by other family members, and rarely became available", bemoaned Shields.
OK, so the backdrop has been set; the when and the where answered. Now connect the dots please Mr. Flynn; how did you and Frances come to acquire "The Vikings"? "Ligon became good friends with a past Tryon resident, George Dusenbury, who was very interested in art and the work Ligon was doing during the 1950’s. At some point he purchased the painting named “The Vikings”. This painting was passed down to other family members after the tragic death of George Dusenbury, and eventually ended up in the possession of Philip Dusenbury who recently passed away. It was Randy Grobe, of Frog and Swan Antiques in Tryon who was handling the estate of Philip that recognized that it was a painting by Ligon and notified us that it would be coming up for sale. Needless to say we were thrilled to have the opportunity to acquire one of Ligon’s paintings from this period." Ah-ha! Elementary my dear readers! But the game is still afoot! There were two more very interesting aspects to this painting that needed investigation. As Sherlock states: "Data! Data! Data! I can not make bricks without clay."
The first curiosity was in the form of a label affixed to the back of the piece with an interesting notation that clearly stated "Painting of the Year"! Shields investigated and learned this: "One of Ligon’s first instructors was Duncan R. Stuart, a co-founder of the NC State School of Design. Stuart had paintings displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Chicago Art Institute. One of his greatest achievements was teaching and he was Ligon’s first painting instructor. It was the practice of Duncan to encourage his students to enter paintings in shows at the School of Design, and it was "The Vikings" that won Painting of the Year in one of these shows in the 1950's."
Secondly, and of greater interest, is the frame. Shields had this to say about it: "Upon seeing the painting I also recognized that the frame, which is quite unusual, was made by my father, Tryon's postmaster Broadus Flynn, whose hobby was woodworking. I have now discovered at least three of Ligon’s paintings where the frame was made by my father. Most of the frames for Ligon’s paintings were made by Ligon himself or friends at NC State" according to Shields.
Does anyone else find it as remarkable as I do that the piece that finally ended up in Shields' and Frances' possession happens to be a Painting of the Year winner? And, but even more astonishing, is the fact that it is hand framed by Flynn's own father? But wait, there's more! Hold onto your pipe Sherlock! Our own Tryonite, Will Behrends (world renowned sculptor), happened to take a design course that was taught by Ligon in 1964 at NC State! But then Will transferred to UNC Chapel Hill where he was in the same class as Philip Dusenbury whose father was the original purchaser of "The Vikings"! And at some point, Will ended up living in a house that Ligon had designed for his own parents' retirement in Country Club Heights! I just love it when so many dots connect, and these beautiful dots all connect and swing back to Tryon! Isn't that just magical? Where is my deerstalker? I simply must fetch it.
Ligon Flynn ended up producing more two-dimensional artwork but his style changed from modernist, to abstract impressionism as a result of his friendship with George Bireline; also a well known North Carolina painter in his own right. Ligon's works add up to about 40 pieces, all owned by family members or close associates. It is rumored that the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh has two of Ligon's paintings, but this has not been confirmed. Interestingly Ligon also added photographer and author to his illustrious career in his later years as well. Sheesh! Is there anything he didn't do?
Shields had this to share about his brother's later photographic accomplishments: "In 1993 Ligon won the prestigious Kamphoefer (who was the first Dean of the NC State College School of Design) Prize that was worth $10,000, established by Kamphoefner in 1988. As stated by Kamphoefner:
“The selection committee for this award believes that the chosen architect has demonstrated a consistent integrity and devotion over an acceptable period of time to further the development of the modern movement in architecture without yielding to any of the undesirable current cliches, neomodernistic mannerisms or artless historicism that have flawed the building culture of today.” Henry Kamphoefner
Ligon used some of the proceeds to purchase a medium format Hasselblad camera and to construct a darkroom so he could process his own photographs much in the style of Ansel Adams. Ligon produced a photographic exhibit of tobacco curing barns, which he felt were rapidly disappearing from the landscape. He wanted to document and preserve this architectural style. He documented more than 250 barns throughout the state. The exhibit of large format black-and-white photographs traveled to several art institutes in North Carolina, and he later produced a book documenting this project."
What a fantastic journey this artwork has taken me on, and I wish to thank the Flynns for allowing me to do so. What a remarkable story about how this piece ended up in the hands of the brother of the artist who created it, and in the hands of someone who most desired it. I truly believe that artwork continues to give and give well after it is created, and in ways that its creator never could have imagined its full impact well after they are gone from this earth. To quote Sherlock once more: "What one man can invent, another can discover". On to the next adventure Watson...
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I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing Mr. Nowell Guffey for years, and I've been honored to have worked with him on numerous occasion; showing and selling some of his work here at Skyuka Fine Art. Nowell is a local art dealer who describes his business as "buying and selling American art with a special emphasis on art related to the Southern states.
Tryon is lucky to have had this Hendersonville native move here in 1972. After starting out in his hometown working at an auto parts store (a "real job" as Nowell calls it), two short years later Nowell was offered a management position working here in Tryon at American Parts System. Within 6 months at this position and after falling in love with our area he relocated his family here. For the next 24 years he managed that store and his wife Diane became a teacher at Tryon Elementary School (she happened to be our oldest son's first grade teacher).
Growing up in Hendersonville, shockingly, Nowell was never exposed to the arts in any way. This of course crushed me to learn of this, and saddens me to realize there are probably plenty of children out there still not being exposed to the arts in some way. This must be remedied. But I digress. Interestingly though, in his teens Nowell had refinished a few antiques at his mother's request, and this sparked an interest in older historical pieces with him. Later, and in his spare time when he managed the auto parts store in Tryon, Nowell would frequent antique shops, flea markets, household sales, and auctions. "Art started catching my eye" Nowell says, and he had quite an eye indeed! He seemed to have a natural gift for spotting quality amidst clutter. Soon he found his first piece; an American still life that, "looked real, like you could reach out and touch it", circa 1880. Due to its quality, beauty and price, it ended up being Nowell's first art purchase. He spent $50 on the painting, and the next day a dealer saw it and offered him $900! "It took me a couple of weeks to earn $900 in those days so selling it was a no brainer" said Nowell. Over the years Nowell continued in his hobby and quickly realized he enjoyed the research and learning about the works he purchased almost as much as he enjoyed the artwork itself. He enjoyed it so much that eventually he realized that being an art dealer was his calling, so "I quit my really real job" he said, and from what I can see- he never looked back!
Although as a collector and dealer Nowell does focus on Southern Artists, in particular Tryon artists and especially work from the Tryon's Artists' Colony, this has never stopped him from acquiring something he feels is of quality. "I am interested in quality professional work from all states and even have a few European things". But being from the South, and living in Tryon where there is such a rich arts centered history, he was naturally drawn to those particular artists. "I was intrigued by the Tryon unique history in regard to quality artists and other talented and sometimes famous residents. I admired the historic Tryon art that I would see at the Lanier Library, the Fine Arts Center, churches and local homes."
This brief biography of Mr. Nowell Guffey's interesting path into the world of arts fascinates me. How remarkable that a child who was never exposed to the arts ended up falling in love with, and under no guidance whatsoever, making his own career with the visual arts? And furthermore, how remarkable is it that he ended up moving to Tryon where he could best put that (as of yet untapped) passion to its best work? I think it was all kismet.
Mr. Guffey's collection is vast, ever changing, and for lack of better words-simply stunning. When I asked Nowell if I could interview him for this article I believe I set a bit of panic to him. "Relax," I said, "this is fun, there is no right or wrong."
"How could I possibly narrow it down to just one work?" he asked. He mentioned his extensive collection of southern pottery, and of course there are the works by Emile Gruppe, and many many other artists in his collection. I was forced to capitulate and allow him to settle on one artist as opposed to one piece. This seemed to calm Mr. Guffey and eventually he came to a decision; Lawrence Mazzanovich (1872-1959). Or 'Mazzy' as he affectionately calls him.
Mr. Guffey, why is Lawrence Mazzanovich your favorite artist? "I consider Mazzy to be a perfect example of the painters who came to the Tryon Artist Colony which actually started in the early 1890s. He came to Tryon in 1923 from Connecticut, originally from California, and had already developed a reputation for quality work. He obviously loved the community and was involved in a variety of ways as was his wife, Muriel, who taught music to many locals and was instrumental in the success of Nina Simone."
From a dealer/collector perspective that all makes practical sense, but what about his work draws you in personally? "He painted in a variety of styles and I appreciate them all. His early Connecticut works are more impressionistic and his Tryon works are generally more tonal. Tonal to me means almost "emotional feeling" and generally when I feel a painting like that, I am very much drawn to it. Most (works) are rather colorful, both Connecticut and Tryon."
Being that Mr. Mazzanovich moved here from Connecticut in 1923 and lived here until his death in 1959, are there any stories about him you can share? "I have talked to a couple of Mrs. Mazzy's music students who took lessons as children at the Mazzanovich home. They all relayed similar stories of how they could see him painting in the open studio above where their music lessons were taking place and that he was stern, businesslike, focused and that they were afraid of him. Focus is important if we expect to do things to the best of our abilities." Well said Mr. Guffey! Focus is so important if we expect to succeed at anything, heck- even if we frighten people!
Nowell happens to have 4 paintings by Mr. Mazzanovich in his collection at this time. In the past he has acquired and sold upwards near 10. Each of the works he now has were purchased from either a private owner (Texas and California), dealer (Connecticut), or at auction (New York). Three have come back to Tryon (they are Tryon landscapes), and one is from Connecticut. Nowell's first Mazzanovich was purchased from a collector in Boston. He was delighted to add it to his collection and he didn't care if he sold it or not. However the Asheville Art Museum ended up purchasing it which made Mr. Guffey immensely proud to have had a hand in that acquisition for the museum.
Mr. Guffey was so kind to spend the time showing me his Mazzys, and answering all of my questions. In typical fashion, as my husband can attest, I did 'press the issue' to Nowell on that one piece. But as I've learned in my older years; patience is key. I gave Nowell some time to think about it. "The Connecticut scene" he eventually replied. It's no wonder, at 32 x 40 it is absolutely stunning. Mr. Guffey also mentioned the pallete of this work to be of particular enjoyment for him. I concur with Nowell, and I'll add that I am especially fond of the reflection in the water, and the feeling in the air; it's almost hazy but a better word I think would be ethereal. I'm so glad it is his favorite, because it is mine as well! I was hoping he'd say that!
I want to thank Mr. Nowell Guffey for welcoming me into his home and gallery. And especially for taking the time to answer my questions, and for letting me 'press him', all for the sake of art. Hey, what can I say, I was focused! (but hopefully not frightening!)
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What's On Your Wall? Or, in this case, Pedestal?
I really love having friends that invite me over for lunch! But what I love even more is when I'm surrounded by fantastic art during that wonderful lunch.
Michael McCue is a well known business man, historian, author, art lover and collector, curator, and archivist. Little did I know he makes a great soup and salad combo to quell the mid-day munchies as well. As we nibbled our treats I quickly realized Mr. McCue had to be my next featured art collector. When I asked him the "big" question, I didn't get the response I was expecting-which made things even more interesting for conversation.
When I asked Mr. McCue what his favorite piece of artwork was, it really brought up some wonderful stories and got us both thinking. He shared with me that although he is a collector of art, he is also a "collector of collections". Furthermore, not every piece he owns is a personal favorite per say, but as a whole he admires each collection for all of its parts. Also, sometimes he acquires a piece of artwork for posterity rather than emotional investment which is extremely interesting to me.
However, when I finally pressed Mr. McCue for "that one special piece" he did finally zero in on his Dusenbury sculpture entitled 'Birthday Boy'. "This piece has special meaning for me because for a long time I wanted to own a quality example of this important sculptor’s work. Because art means a lot to me, and because I really care about it, I didn’t want to 'just acquire' something, but to wait for the right one for me to live with. There’s a lot of art I appreciate and admire, but I don’t necessarily want to live with it. Because I have so much art already, I’m pretty choosy about what I buy to add to the collections." Interesting! So as a collector Mr. McCue had the desire to acquire, but he was patient for the right piece; a piece that would speak to him. I discussed this in my previous article and I'm finding it to have more and more validity. Every piece is just out there waiting for their owner to come and take them home where they belong.
In 2005 that conversation Mr. McCue was waiting for finally happened. Attending an opening reception for a major sculpture exhibit at The Upstairs Artspace, he walked in and saw it and it spoke to him. "I instantly knew it was the right Dusenbury for me. It had fine color, beautiful modeling, Philip’s wonderful dry humor, and the imagery resonated with me personally. My father, who’d just passed, used to watch Groucho Marx on TV with me, and this made me remember Groucho. So it’s a memory of my father, for me personally as I interpret it, as well as my way of honoring Philip Dusenbury who is undoubtedly one of the finest artists who ever has inhabited Tryon." Bam! There it was; the art work spoke, and Mr. McCue listened.
The delivery of the piece was also something special for Mr. McCue. Philip Dusenbury was a bit famous in his hometown for his VW white convertible, and for being a bit of a recluse. "It was a memorable occasion, and we both knew that. Philip and I installed the sculpture, then he sat down and we had a quite long conversation. People who knew this artist for years know that he wasn’t garrulous. I felt honored he stayed and talked. For the life of me, I have no recollection what we talked about, just that we did. Over the years I visited his studio, I chatted with him on a number of occasions, but for some strange reason I can’t remember ever what we talked about. I do remember we never talked art philosophy, or what he was trying to say, or why I bought this piece and why I thought it great, or anything like that. We had the unspoken common ground it’s stupid to talk about those things, between a sophisticated artist and an experienced collector." How wonderful! Clearly they enjoyed each other's company and what brought them together never needed to be the topic of future conversations. They both had more interesting things to communicate with each other beyond that initial conversation Mr. McCue and the "Birthday Boy" had. A friendship had formed and art was at the heart of it. I love that! Art can do such amazing things, things you wouldn't normally expect. Clearly artistic creations just keep on giving and creating; creating moments of enjoyment, reflection, friendship, inspiration, and so much more.
Finally being that I had Mr. Michael McCue answering so many of my questions so willingly, I thought I'd better take advantage of it and ask him something more on the analytical end: "Being that you have written two books on historic Tryon artists, and are in the process of writing a third on the historical architecture in the area, do you have any thoughts you'd like to share on the current cultural life here and specifically the living artists in Tryon?" Mr. McCue had this to say: "Something we’re all aware of is how the competition is so much harder than it’s ever been before, everywhere. There’s such a prodigious quantity of art produced, so much exhibited and for sale, than ever before. The collector audience, or let’s say people who have confidence to actually buy it, hasn’t grown so fast. I know for a fact that in the old days living artists were more easily able to support themselves by their work, because there simply wasn’t so much out there offered for people to acquire. Plus, the old art comes on the secondary market a lot. So even famous living artists now see their works sold a second, third, fourth time in their lifetimes and this cuts into their sales of new output. It’s a tough economics problem for the whole scene."
Mr. McCue continued with some very sound advice for artists, "Paradoxically, the solution for artists isn’t to cut back their output. The more prolific an artist, the more she or he exhibits, the more familiar audiences are with the works and the more likely collectors to recognize it and buy. Philip was a true professional, very hardworking. He understood the scene very well. He made a lot of good sculpture, he got it exhibited in the right places. Leading collectors valued his oeuvre, his consistent high quality and distinctive esthetic. Collectors saw Dusenbury in the “right” purchasers’ houses and the “right” galleries and it gave them a lot of confidence during his successful career. This sculpture cost more money than I’d spent on a sculpture before, but I felt fine about it. I don’t buy for investment purposes, but I do feel a lot of today’s art is over-priced for what it is. Artists just need to be realistic about what their reputation justifies in pricing, or they’re not going to get far. I’ve sometimes seen art at student graduation shows at colleges priced at thousands of dollars! No! I’ve seen some amazing student graduation art at a hundred or a few hundred, so I’ve bought, yes!" Very sound advice for artists from someone they should listen to, a collector!
I've really enjoyed these conversations I've started with fellow art lovers. I think they have mutually gotten both parties to stop and think about things we weren't expecting, creating new moments for us to dig deep for answers-and deeper questions. Again, that's art for you; it's always creating.
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Art is so much a part of our lives; whether you realize it or not, whether you collect it or not, whether you like it or not. It surrounds us. We live amidst multitudes of creative decisions that have been made by artists. Decisions that have been made yesterday, today, and hundreds of years ago. Paintings, illustrations, sculpture, architecture, advertising, landscaping, websites, television, music, automobiles, books, clothing… I could go on and on! And right now creativity is sparking in someone's imagination that you don't even know which will impact you at some point in the future. Isn't that crazy? I know! I love art!
Because of this amazingly creative nook of the world we live in and call home, I have had a spark of creativity myself! My goal is to interview people about what their own favorite piece of artwork is. Now this could be as grand as your Mother's portrait which hangs in your living room, or as simple as little Johnny's crayon drawing he did for your birthday when he was 3. I want to know what speaks to you and why. And in sharing that with the community, I hope to enrich or spark a bit a creativity in others as a result.
When thinking of my first interviewee, one person popped into my mind instantly and I'm such a lucky girl, he said yes. Lee Stockdale has been an avid art collector for much of his life. In his home he surrounds himself with things he loves; his family, a lot of artwork, and spectacular photographs that spark many conversations. Lee is an amazing writer and as of late an award-winning poet. Lee is also a blues musician. He plays harmonica, sings and writes songs. He is very active in our community with Tryon Writers, and emcees literary readings at the Upstairs Artspace. When I asked Lee what his favorite piece is he didn't hesitate. A painting called "Proof" by local artist Margaret Curtis was his immediate answer. An oil painting on board, spanning 7 feet wide and 3.5 feet tall, it is something to behold. "I can’t tell you how honored I feel to have it in our home," Lee beamed.
When I asked Lee why it was his favorite painting he had many reasons. "First, the woman in the middle of the painting is beautiful. She seems to be in her own world and she’s just incredibly strong and confident there. She’s the centerpiece. Everyone else revolves around her. All these other people, who I quickly understood to be family members related to the woman in the center, are all in various stages of delight or disapproval at her and what she’s wearing and her attitude. Margaret captured each one of the nine individuals in such a way that they could all be on different planets. There’s so much psychological information being conveyed. That’s what fascinates me. But then it’s just so colorful and detailed. The people are so alive you can almost hear their thoughts. I find myself standing and looking at it. I don’t do that with any other painting we have." I love how much Lee shared with me when I asked him this question. He really thought about it, dug deep, and verbalized thoughts and feelings he hadn't before.
When probed about what the artist's actual goal was (aka the "Artists' Statement") on this piece, Lee had this to share: "I think she was trying to show how different these family members were, on what different wavelengths they were. This piece, to me, says ‘heart.’The figure standing in the center is the heart of the painting. It is, in fact, Margaret’s mother. Margaret appears to me to be acknowledging her mother as the center, the heart, of this very 'diverse' family, notwithstanding that some may be on Jupiter and some on Saturn. I also know that Margaret in fact used herself as the model for her mother. So it may be that she was drawing similarities between herself and her mother. I think the painting is a huge ‘I love you’ to her mother."
But beyond that goal of the artist, Lee feels that the painting speaks volumes more. "The mother figure could be 'every mother.' She certainly reminds me of my own mother, right down to the cigarette. But I think anyone could look at this painting and see their own family in it; a woman at the beating center of the heart of the family and everyone arrayed around her in various stages of acceptance, love, denial, understanding, misunderstanding, ridiculousness. It’s got this great heart, but also this terrific absurdist sense of humor."
Analyzing the painting and what it says to each person is always interesting, but for me I always have another burning question; what moved you to buy it? "I knew I had to have it," Lee said. "When I saw it in person I immediately called my wife, Gail, and said 'It’s huge and it’s unbelievable.' It was like, oh, Lord, I know these people because it’s my family, that archetypal quality. So it wasn’t like we purchased a painting, it was like we opened the door and let the family in." Wow! So Lee found a painting that he felt was his family, even though it wasn't, and needed it to come home with him. That connection fascinates me. That's just awesome! I do believe that art speaks to people and that each piece is just waiting for its owner to come along and say “There you are, come home now.”
Interestingly, this isn't even what Lee thought to be his favorite style of work; he typically prefers abstract and impressionistic pieces as Picasso is his favorite historical artist. I love that this piece spoke to him so profoundly, that what he thought he enjoyed didn't even matter. He also feels that "Margaret is moving in a direction in which she’s creating her own unique style. This is what great artists do. No one else is doing what she’s doing."
Lee has been a lifetime art lover, and he can regale such a great story. When I asked him the following question I was tickled that he had such an in-depth answer: "Has there ever been a show or exhibit that you have seen in your lifetime that you can still recall and if so, why has it stuck with you?" Lee answered, "Picasso’s Guernica, at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, about 1974. My mother had just married this fellow named Ted and we were getting to know each other. I more wary than he. One night we were talking and Ted started railing against Guernica, he thought it was very bad. He told me to go see it, so I did. Although it’s a very famous piece, I did agree with Ted that it’s not Picasso’s best work. The piece has stuck with me because I was thrilled that my mother would marry a man who had such passionate feelings about Picasso one way or the other. I thought: we’re going to be good friends. We were." I think it's remarkable that a hearty debate over a painting gave Lee a premonition that came to fruition. Art does unusual things for people.
Along the same lines of exhibits that have touched Lee, I wanted to know if any galleries or museums have ever struck a special chord with him? "Yes, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Seven floors. Edgy, colorful, historical, fascinating. Gail and I spent 3 or 4 hours there. I could spend every day for a month. I think I’m not kidding." There you have it. I know I will have to get to Pittsburgh and test out his recommendation, and compare notes with Lee on how long I trail the halls and walls of Warhol.
As I wrapped up my questions with Lee I did have one final query about educating our youth in the arts, and how important he feels that is? "We have an enormous responsibility to recognize talent and nurture young artists in both our schools and in our families. I feel a personal responsibility to educate kids regarding poetry. I’m trying to figure out how to do that, because poetry has the power to cut through so much and get to the heart of things kids are going through. We all have to do what we can." I agree with Lee wholeheartedly. Being more visual arts centered, I hadn't really thought of poetry being an outlet for our youth either. Great insight Lee!
I want to thank Lee Stockdale for being my first interviewee. His answers to my questions more than exceeded my expectations for my initial article. Shockingly, there were many more questions and great answers, but I tried to keep this short (ha!), so they will stay with me. I hope this interview has enlightened, inspired, and sparked something creative in us all. I hope it makes us look a little more deeply into the art that surrounds us and think about what we enjoy, or even dislike about it. After all, anything art can do for us is a gift.
Skyuka Fine Art "Big Blooms" Dave Capalungan
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Skyuka Fine Art is proudly displays "Big Blooms" featuring the recent works of Detroit illustrator turned fine artist Dave Capalungan. Capalungan is an accomplished artist who creates works of painterly realism. His subjects have often included still life as well as portraiture. However, in this new series Dave uses bold colors and focuses on the contrast between light and shadow, employing brush strokes ranging from detailed to loose to depict gorgeous and lush larger-than-life florals. The result of these fresh blooming floral pieces, often being blown up five times their size, is stunning . "I have always been an artist; with stops in advertising, digital work, and architectural renderings over the years. Now as a painter, I want to share my impression of the beauty of everyday life with paint, canvas and brush." Capalungan hails from Detroit and studied at College For Creative Studies.
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Tonight we are hosting an opening reception for artists Gary Cooley and Michael McNamara. Both of them went to CCS (then Center for Creative Studies, now College of Creative Studies) with my husband, Richard Christian Nelson and all of them were trained as illustrators and worked for years in commercial art. And all three of them became fine artists as well. In fact they are all out in downtown Tryon painting the views so many of us are very fond of, Morris the Horse, our movie theater, the old drug store Misseldines, and all with the familiar and moving Foothills as a back drop.
It is amazing to me how moving a streetscape painting can be of a location that is familiar to me. Michael McNamara has brought numerous stunning paintings done on sight of fantasitic scenes from New York. They exhibit unusual lighting, a gritty urban feel, as well as extreme and unusual perspective. But he is also from my hometown; the Motor City. From his time spent there over this past winter he produced a few familiar scenes. Corktown, a Northville frozen over lake, and of course downtown Detroit scenes featuring what I used to call "The Ren-Cen" which is now GM Headquarters. GM happens to hold a few of Rich's portraits of their former chairmen, but it also holds memories for me. As a teenager my girlfriends and I would go there to shop on their lower concorse level, and have lunch at Olga's, and usually end up chasing some boys, or have them chase us. Good times. These paintings take me right back to a certain Christmas break, a fresh snowfall on the ground and my friend's mom, Mrs. Smith driving us down Jefferson to drop us off for a care-free day of fun. I can still smell Mrs. Smith's perfume, which I loved, and now wear myself, feel my new high top tennis shoes I got for Christmas that year which were the height of fashion, and hear my friends giggle about how much fun we were going to have. I miss those days, and these paintings make me feel like a kid again. This is what great art can do; stir us.
Speaking of stirring, Gary Cooley's jazz and blues portraits do just that. Nina Simone, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke and Jimmy Yancy faces are so engaging, so well done, you can feel their rhythm and sense their souls just as they are about to belt one out for us. The expressions he has captured, as well as the lighting and color on these pieces, well, they are just stunning.
Then, Mr. Cooley thows you a curve ball; vintage ray guns. I-love-these. So fun. So wacky. Floating in mid air with a great color splash of draped fabric behind them, they almost look like they are in an anti-gravity chamber on Buck Rogers space ship! They get any sci-fi nerd (me!) geeked!
I'm looking forward to spending time with these paintings and enjoying them in our gallery. You should too. Come on by. The show will be up until the end of May, 2012. May 12th is another Tryon Gallery Trot here in downtown Tryon where 13 galleries, businesses and restaurants stay open late from 5-8pm with new shows, opening receptions and entertainment. The Tryon Fine Art Center's "Art in Bloom" is that day too, so it should really be a fine day to be in Tryon. But then again, it always is.