Finding inspiration in the work of artists

Published 9:39 am Thursday, October 5, 2017

By Joel McNeece

Hanging on the wall in our bedroom is a painting by Susan Patton of Bruce of my late Border Collie King. It’s a stunning, priceless piece that captures him perfectly. Every black and white hair, his dog tag, his piercing eyes, she captured it all. I stare at it often and wonder, how did she do that?

Susan, like her mother Dot Courson, is a fabulous artist who will be among those displaying works at the Skuna River Art Festival in Bruce this weekend.

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I’ve visited Susan at her home studio a couple of times and always love looking through her collection of works, many still unfinished. She points out imperfections she sees and wants to correct while I stare admirably at every brush stroke, trying to imagine the incredible amount of time, concentration, patience and talent she gracefully applies to every canvas.

I’ve always been fascinated by all forms of artistry – painting, music, pottery, woodworking, all of it, perhaps because I can’t do it, at least not do it well. The process of creating something from scratch by carving, sculpting, painting or simply picking up a guitar or sitting at a piano amazes me.

Watching local artists such as Lynn Dobbs, Bridget Ramage, Kim Burt, Bridget Fulton, Vonda Keon, Susan and many more pick up a paintbrush and apply it to a blank canvas, transforming it into something beautiful leaves me very envious.

I’ve tried painting on occasion with little to no success. My one “successful” venture was a Walter Anderson print I bought in Ocean Springs many years ago. It was simply the drawing, so I took the watercolors to it and turned the four-foot wide “hawk” into a Golden Eagle to hang in my office with my other Southern Miss memorabilia. I was simply painting colors inside the lines, Anderson had done the skillful work on the piece.

I should say, however, one of my proudest moments was when I went to Ruth Cole’s to pick it up after she framed it for me and she said she had a few customers express interest in buying it.

I’ve stopped in Derma a few times through the years and watched Glenn Smith transform a tree stump into a bald eagle with a chainsaw. I’ve had more experience with a chainsaw in my life that I really desired, but never has it produced any artistry. More often the result is some unevenly cut firewood, if I could keep the chain from jumping off the bar.

I remember the late Mitchell Turner demonstrating his pottery skills for me years ago in Pittsboro. He took a lump of clay, spun it on a wheel, gently started molding it with his giant hands and a beautiful pitcher came to life.

I can make some letters out of Play-Doh with the granddaughters, but that’s as far as my talents reach in that medium.

I’m a big fan of Andrew Bryant’s music. The Pittsboro native has produced several original albums and I’ve seen him perform numerous times. I always leave motivated to pick up a guitar and see if I can do more than the few measly chords I can strum. It never works out.

The same can be said for watching Eddie Bollinger pick anything with strings. That’s art.

I think about Andy Davis of Ellard and his ability to carve bows and arrows out of an old piece of hickory. Steve Norwood of Banner making his own fiddles. I remember my amazement at watching the late Jimmy Moorhead of Bruce recreate the USS Chicago that he served on by carving on a big block of wood while sitting in his den.

Tommy Lynn Reedy’s magic work with a knife and Ernest Sherrill and his stunning collection of carvings when I met him in Derma many years ago were equally marvelous.

It’s all inspiring, but painting something on a blank canvas is what really catches my eye. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the best art museums in the world and when you see a world class work of art, it locks you in to the point that it’s hard to look away. The more you look, the more you see.

Some fantastic artists are scheduled to display their works this Saturday in the Bruce Museum. I’ll be there to take it all in and perhaps leave with some new inspiration to go pick up that brush again.

Joel McNeese is the publisher of the Calhoun County Journal.