Actual Aiken Standard news articles
AIKEN ARTISTS GUILD.....A RETROSPECTIVE
Four Part Series (text below)
Written by Dot Holladay, AAG Secretary
(The information below is from a variety of sources: old AAG scrapbooks, filled with articles and photos from the AIKEN STANDARD, various newsletters, and finally, interviews with members of long standing, as well as newer additions to our organization. If it is important to understand our beginning and to grasp the life-long dedication of so many, it is good to see where we are today, and our plans for tomorrow. We plan to continue exhibiting the work of local artists to an appreciative Aiken, and also to benefit future generations, by providing scholarship funds.)
Forty one years ago, a small group of visionaries formed the AIKEN ARTIST GUILD. The artists, natives of Aiken and transplants, wanted to provide the town with "well regulated exhibits" of original art. The purpose of the organization was "not social, but rather cultural; aspiring to instill in the community an appreciation of original artistic efforts."
The bylaws, quoted above, also mandated a board of Governors to preside over the 25 members, and to provide the community 4 exhibits a year! The first members of the board, serving in 1967 were: "Mrs. R.W. Yancey, Mrs. Aylett Wood, Mrs. Austin Van Zile, Mrs. Floyd Cantrell, Mrs. J.L.E. Cheetham and Mrs. G.L.Toole III." Dues were $5.00 a year.
The first show, on October 20-24, 1967 was a huge success! Art work was displayed in the South Carolina National Bank and judged by Donald D. Crawford, assistant director of the Columbia Museum of Art, who was lavish with his praise! "OUTSTANDING" designation was awarded to: Pat Cantrell, Margo Ewing and Mary Toole for pastels; to Louise Yancey, Bobby Cheetham and Jean Van Zile for watercolors, for oil paintings, Duncan McDonald, M.Neagle Smoland, and Marilyn Brown; Ken Willis for a collage.
Spring of 1968 marked the opening of the Aiken Artist Guild's second exhibit. Hosted by the Farmer's and Merchants Bank in downtown Aiken, a critique was given by David Jones of the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Augusta. Proud recipients of the "OUTSTANDING" designation were Isabel Vandevere, Millie Ogletree, Aylette Wood, William Colgate, Jo Bartram, Marge Dessauer, H.O. Leman, Susan Waterhouse and Louise Yancey.
Aiken was coming of age in the art world! Gilmer Petroff, nationally known artist, living in Columbia, pronounced a show, "As fine a show as presented by an artist guild anywhere in the state." A newspaper headline announced, "Ten Aikenites BLUE RIBBON WINNERS at USC."
By 1969, AAG had grown to 47 members and bylaws were modifies a bit, but annual dues remained at $5.00. The Guild continued to produce excellent art shows, on schedule. Members' works were also featured, according to the Aiken Standard of May 6, 1969, in the Summer Arts Festival. Mary Toole's "Montmorenci" was voted favorite by the fans... Elsa Lundborg's work was judged "Best of the show" out of 300 paintings.
Aiken Standard's WOMEN page of November 5, 1969, announced the annual fall show at the Pine Room of the COMMERCIAL HOTEL as open to the public 24 hours daily. The judge, Freeman Schoolcraft of Augusta noted: "I want to sense the mood of the artist without knowing the title of the work. Detail is incidental; I look for texture and vitality and especially a mood." He praised Elsa Lundborg's oil painting of daffodils, "as a kaleidoscopic design, almost a mosaic of nature." An acrylic painting by Carol Ryder featured 3 bicycles, "IN AN ARABESQUE OF ORDINARY OBJECTS." (Wow-heady stuff!)
It was hard to believe the AAG had been in existence only 3 short years when Mary Smoland, Secretary, sent out a newsletter (typed and mimeographed-remember that word?) beginning: "Your pictures are in demand. Several more buildings in town are anxious to display local artists' work. The Aiken Museum is being established in "the old jail building" on Whiskey Road and would be grateful for art, as well as the Easter Seal Building for the vestibule. The new Social Security bldg. on Chesterfield would also appreciate your work."
At the 1970 fall show, Judge Clay Hagewood, of USC, praised 3 adventurous artists for working in the NEW ACRYLIC medium. Bobby Cheetham, Marion Smoland and Duncan McDonald received accolades: "I like to see artists using the new products- an artist must be willing to experiment and grow." Many new art forms were receiving special attention at the new ROSE HILL ART CENTER.
Various art classes, leather, metal work and much more, were offered at the Center. Converted from a carriage house and stable at Rose hill, one of Aiken's most lovely winter estates, the project was developed by Nancy Wilds and Pat Koelker, both Aiken artists. USCA art classes were held there, and because of Nancy's intent to upgrade the public's image of crafts to a higher art form, various unique crafts were offered. She was the niece of Miss Claudia Phelps, owner of Rose Hill.
These two members of the AAG worked tirelessly to provide a fitting place to learn, to work, to produce works of art, and to display them, in abundance, to Aiken. (More on this in part 2.)
Donald Crawford was back to judge the third year's spring show, and gave the Aiken Standard his reviews for special recognition, "Your group has improved tremendously. This show compares favorably with any in the state and Aiken must be proud to have such active, obviously dedicated artists working here."
Artist Bobbie Cheetham's name has frequently appeared here, and I found a particularly poignant article about her in the Aiken Standard's June, 1971 series on WOMEN'S CAREERS... "even though she was not employed outside the home," as the paper gently added.
As she reminisced about her first job after college, during World War II, at Bellanca Aircraft in New Castle, Delaware, we get a wonderful vignette of the times: "The company was building an Army Trainer, and I was a production illustrator, which meant I worked from blueprints and produced 3 dimensional drawings of installations that were to be made into a plane. The drawings were posted, so workers who were not able to read blueprints, could follow the instructions. If I had trouble with the blueprint, I would go out to the hangar and crawl into the plane to make a drawing of that particular part." That artistic career ended when the war was over in 1945!
She married Pete Cheetham in 1946, and in 1952 his job with DuPont brought the couple to Aiken, S.C. for work at SRP (now SRS).
The article concludes, "Bobbie's art studio is still her kitchen. Sometimes the work counter and sometimes the washing machine serve as her easel. She can brew tea, load the dryer, but her mind is apt to be on the landscape she is painting with a view over a fence."
The AIKEN ARTIST GUILD was established in 1967 and continued to thrive and grow! Under the leadership of the first president, Everett Sullivan, the artists maintained a strong desire to enhance their talents and regularly display works of art to an appreciative community. Leadership had also been provided by Mary Toole, Louise Yancey, Bobbie Cheetham, Nancy Church, Gus Lehman, and Jeanne Thomas, and others in the active group.
A Junior Artist Guild was formed to promote the art and education of junior and senior high school students. The young artists would also exhibit their work and receive critiques. Winning blue ribbons at one of the earlier shows in a wide variation of moods were: Janie Donnan with, "EVERLASTING TORTURE" and" OWL", an oil painting, by Cathy Ryder. Grant Chittenden won the purchase award for the new Aiken Public Library. (Now, Banksia.)
Numerous exhibits, both AAG and Junior AAG were held at Rose Hill Art Center. Aiken Artist Guild members, Pat Koelker and Nancy Wilds were true visionaries of what our art community could become! The ROSE HILL ART CENTER was converted from the stables and carriage house of the winter estate of Nancy's aunt, Claudia Phelps. Through vision, determination and hard work, the idea of what "could be" grew to a flourishing center for developing new skills and displaying the finished products. Wood carving, batik, decoupage, engraving and leather works were added to the plethora of drawing and painting classes. Future plans included: tole painting, contemporary stained glass, even chair caning and antique restoration! Increasing the level of respect in the art world for crafts was very important to Nancy. Pat wanted to reserve a portion of the center for a permanent gallery for local artists. She did exactly that.
(Today, we know the ROSE HILL ART CENTER later evolved into the AIKEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS. We mourn the recent passing of Pat Koelker, who lived 90 full years, and brought so much to Aiken. The gifts she gave will continue to give.)
In a statement to the Aiken Standard: "It is incredible the isolated talent in Aiken," Mrs. Koelker said. "There are loads of people that do great things here. The center will give people a place to work where they will be stimulated by others in their field." Mrs. Wilds added, "we hope that here, craftsmen will be able to further develop their skills and help to erase the line between fine art and crafts."
The Aiken Artist Guild was holding regular meetings at the center. Mrs. H.T.Smoland, president, announced an upcoming framing class by Pat Koelker, plus films, lectures and demonstrations to be held throughout the year. Visiting judges continued to heap praise and blue ribbons on our artists. Louise Yancey was honored by having Governor and Mrs. Robert McNair choose one of her watercolors to hang in the Governor's mansion!
Louise had lamented about another show, "I can't show nudes in Aiken!" Relating the experience of coming into a local show and finding a blue ribbon winner (from a juried show) turned to the wall! "I turned it over and sometime later came back, and it was turned over again!" Being a winner, it was supposed to hang in a downtown business, but Mrs. Yancey was asked to come get her painting! (She continued to collect blue ribbons and sell to appreciative collectors.)
One of the many articles from the Aiken Standard, (which has been the source for much of this retrospective), featured Aylett Woods. A September, 1974, page shows her still life paintings as well as enormous portraits. Commenting on a favorite, done in Portugal, "I wanted what I thought was a typical peasant woman holding a child in one hand and a fish in the other. I bought her the fish, and when we were done, she took it home and cooked it for supper."
Mrs. Woods met some of her models on the streets and beaches. "One day, I saw a dirty little girl in raggedy clothes; I asked her to come to my studio the next day as I intended to paint her as a little gypsy. However, when the child arrived, she had been scrubbed clean and wore her best church-going dress!" Mrs. Woods had to quickly change her plans. "The resulting portrait shows a prim, proper child with no trace of street urchin." (Did I tell you artists are versatile?)
Throughout the years, AAG members were honored by winning the prestigious GUS LEHMANN MEMORIAL TREE AWARD. This was a ribbon and monetary prize given at each Guild show to the work best celebrating the beauty of trees.
Mr. Lehmann, a former Guild president and avid artist, worked with trees in his engineering profession before retiring in Aiken. He is also remembered for planting hundreds of daffodils in the parkways on Laurens Street and for the Gus Lehmann memorial fountain at Laurens and Richland Ave. He "discovered" Aiken on his way to check on retirement possibilities in Florida, and was happy to move here, instead!
In a 1971 clipping, Gus explained his original interest in art, "Several years before retiring, I began to realize I didn't have any interest other than work. I began traveling, covering Europe, Scandinavia, etc." While trying to photograph a mountain on a foggy day, he finally resorted to a sketch instead, and said that was his first artistic venture. He continued to learn, and added much to the Guild and the community over the years.
In November 1971, Gus displayed 27 pieces at a USCA show, including paintings and drawings plus sculpture from copper tubing that formed Japanese bonsai- type trees. The trees were mounted on South Carolina rose quartz and hematite. It would appear Mr. Lehmann found a few interests other than "work".
Many of us found our way to Aiken by circuitious routes; many stayed here because we found new interests, or met people who inspired us. Many, like Gus Lehmann., a widower, found that creating almost anything is a pleasurable experience, and can fill your days and nights with such satisfaction that you wonder how you ever had time to "work". When you are fortunate enough to share that joy with like-minded people, you probably don't leave...why would you?
In the 1977-1990 scrapbook of the AIKEN ARTIST GUILD, membership has tripled since its beginning in1967. Many names are familiar now, having appeared frequently in the preceding 10 years' history that I have been privileged to study and relate. This has been a unique discovery for me; the dedication and prolific work of so many artists in Aiken shows how they are bound together by their love of art and their desire to share their work with the community. Artists are always learning and improving, seeing things just a little bit differently, then hoping to have the good fortune to show YOU what they see! This is why an art exhibit is such a precious opportunity for all of us.
Throughout the newspaper articles, there is a recurring question of, "Why are there so many artists here?" "Southern Mystique"? So much beauty in the old, magnificent oaks, dripping with Spanish moss, that you just can't resist the urge to grab a brush or pencil? Who knows? I have my own theory: that with the arrival of so many technical people to the area, their wives, (who are using "the other side of their brains"...as in OPPOSITES ATTRACT), clustered together. I am happy to be in that group myself! Add to that theory, the graciousness of born and bred Aikenites, who welcomed us with that fabulous Southern hospitality. How can you not love a place with such magical, soft, almost musical names... you can find a house at Eulalie Salley's, get a great hair cut at Cleada's, and dine at Malia's. You just know your paintings are going to be fun whether you paint that Spanish moss or not! But why not paint it, when it looks so mysterious and dreamy? Southern painters have been painting it for hundreds of years.
The artists here were continuing in the tradition of famous painters of the Charleston Renaissance, (1915-1940). The Gibbes Museum in Charleston features work by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, and Anna Heyward Taylor. Locally, at the Morris Museum, in Augusta, "Southern Impressionist Painters" has been a fascinating exhibit, featuring art from the south reflecting French impressionist influence.
That is all theory, this is fact: The Guild has always encouraged new artists, has given them venues to explore a new medium, offered regular critiques of works in progress, and critiques by visiting judges as they award prizes. The Aiken Artist Guild has done a lot of things RIGHT in their 41 years and I am glad to be a part of it.
The AAG officers in 1977 and ‘78 were listed as: Nancy Porter, president, Catherine Donovan as V.P., Cecile Cothran as secretary and treasurers were Dot Dyches and Peggy Jo Lambert. An experimental project offered by the Chamber of Commerce, to exhibit art work, was called, AIKEN'S MAKIN' and opinions differed on the feasibility of that project! Dues were still $5.00. Many AAG members participated in "Painting in the Park" show when a young painter, Scott Dilendik, 20, was awarded, "Best of Show," out of more than 60 entries.
Judging the Spring Show was Clint Carter, of Atlanta. Awards went to: Anne Lattimore, Vera Owensby, Molly Barrett, Mike Tice, Mary D. Toole, Aylette Wood and Doris Sofge. Regularly scheduled shows were held in the spring and fall, with others planned as circumstances allowed. Through all those years, we were grateful to The Aiken Standard for covering our events. A special thanks to them for giving in-depth information on what constitutes a "good" show: comments from the judges and profiles of the artists.
("What were they thinking?" takes on a whole new meaning when you delve into the mind of an artist!)
In 1979 inflation caught up with AAG when, after 12 years, dues were finally doubled to $10.00. Categories in the shows were now: Oils and Acrylics, Watercolor, Drawing and Graphics, plus Mixed Media. Questions about forming an artists' co-op were explored. The Artists' Attic Sale was eliminated due to expenses of advertising and lack of interest, but spring and fall shows continued with great enthusiasm. Prof. Al Beyer, USCA, gave a painting demonstration that fascinated and inspired.
1981 Prize winners included Mary Toole, Bobbie Cheetham, Mary Durban, Dot Dyches, Marion Smoland, Scott Dilendik and Jean Huntoon. Louise Yancey won Best in the Show with her painting, "Clam Shells."
Doris Sofge, often featured in the Aiken Standard, standing next to her prize winning paintings, continued to show with the AAG, in addition to one woman shows in the South East. Walter Greer, of Hilton Head, who judged Doris' acrylic as Best of Show, praised it as, "a masterful performance of draftsmanship, design, texture and light. The artist moves the eye effectively within the frame of the painting." One of Sofge's Blue Ribbon winners, "Castaways," was an unusual geometric composition of beer can tabs against a dark background! (Don't you love how artists see things, often really simple things, and decide to let you see what they see?)
Twenty years after founding the AAG with a small group of fellow painters, Bobbie Cheetham was still consistently winning awards. She now had her husband along as a painting companion. After his retirement, he also painted watercolors, so they began traveling together to "very paintable locations," as she explained in 1988.
"I always paint from something that strikes me as exciting. I love the process of painting! I had a wonderful art professor at Smith College who gave this advice: if a picture doesn't have a good abstract design, no matter how realistic it is, it won't be a good painting."
The shows continued. One listed accolades received by: Nancy Kay Porter, for an oil, "Reflection Pool at Hopelands.", Bobbie Cheetham's, "Walkway at Pauleys" and Mary Toole's pastel, "Red Fishing Sails". A traveling show to visit various locations in Aiken County was begun. Southside Gallery was showing work by Guild members.
In 1990, the AAG fall show at USCA, designated Wilma Becker as winner of "Best Of Show". Her work, called, "Magical Realities," was a photographic process print.
Artist and president of the Aiken Artist Guild, George Kierspe, was painting at last! Always a student, always excited about learning, he gave much of himself to the Guild and is an active member still. A bold headline proclaimed, "KIERSPE RETURNS TO PAINTING-- 4 CHILDREN, 25 YEARS LATER". It seems George bought a how-to-paint- book in England, when he was 25 and working as chief engineer on a cargo-passenger ship, which started his love affair with art. He finally got a chance to pick up his paints again, 27 years later, after raising his family and retirement from DuPont at SRP.
(The ship-board drawing exercise that intrigued him then, is still a classic today: Put white eggs in a white bowl, on white paper, with a good source of light from the side, and precede to draw shapes, shadows, highlights, half tones, etc. George had double the challenge with a rolling ship and sliding eggs, which he remedied with a generous supply of glue. Art + Engineering + creativity =success.)
We have all been enriched by his countless hours of work for the guild, his appreciation of the fundamentals of good art and his desire to share his knowledge. He regularly participates in meetings, shows, and the Thursday morning critiques at Hitchcock. Recently, when I asked for some memories, he rolled his eyes, recollecting one of the early outside shows, featuring "clothesline art"! "What a disaster THAT was," as he succinctly put it.... Can't you just see the paintings waving in the breeze, glass breaking, loud crashes, and artists scrambling?
Dr. Tom Mack, in his column, "Cultural Affairs" wrote about many Guild exhibits over the years. In addition to naming the winners, he gave insight to the process of judging the art work. When describing the process that Suzy Farrell used at a show in the Etherredge Center, he carefully addressed her personal determination not to be prejudiced in favor of watercolors, her medium of choice. She then began the assessment of each piece according to three basic criteria: idea, design and technical proficiency. OR: "heart, head and hand."
After walking by all the pieces slowly, several times, and making some (helpful) comments about unfortunate choices in mats or frames, she began to put "temporary" pieces of paper next to each that matched the criteria listed above. "Yet she kept looking at the rest, giving other works whose qualities were more subtle a chance to emerge," The next process was to differentiate merit into the two specialized prizes and three levels of achievement.
She awarded a pen and ink, by Lorraine Minton, as Best of Show. Farrell called George Kierspe's "Tones and Textures" a smart painting.... This won the William Colgate Aiken Scene Award, and she praised it for its color and surface interest. Kierspe, himself, later confessed he had followed the dictum that a work of art needs to get the viewer's attention from a distance, lure him to the canvas, and then present him with something to look at upon closer examination."
Dr.Mack concludes, "Hence, in this piece, he used a pie-shaped wedge of light on the façade of the new Aiken Library building to attract the eye and then presented the viewer with unexpected surface texture upon close up examination."
Other winners were Barbara Cheetham, Jill Dutton, Amy Blivens, Marie Hennings, and Mary Toole, who's "Jessica's Summer", was called "stunning," by Judge Farrell.
As the 80's turned into the 90's, the standards of fine art remained high in the Aiken Artist Guild, and judges continued to be impressed not only by the quality, but also the diversity of the work. More attention was given to photography, printmaking, etchings, s
.It has been a joy to share a glimpse into the lives, thoughts and growth of Guild members. In the next column I hope to bring you up to date with news of current shows, plans for our future, and how we can best serve the community of Aiken with our talents, hard work, and appreciation of our many blessings. We welcome new members. We embrace learning. We share our knowledge and salute creativity in all its forms.
Contact us at www.aikenartistguild.org or pick up a brochure at the Aiken Center for the Arts.
This is the final article in a series covering 44 years of artists and their work in Aiken , South Carolina . The small group that originally decided to promote its work to the community would be proud of us today and definitely amazed at the changes in Aiken! Fortunately, Guild members have been faithful to the core goals that survived passing trends, area growth and membership changes. Art is still one person speaking to you and inviting you to see what he sees. We have embraced technology but hold true to fundamentals that are as old as art, itself.
As a non-profit organization, we are now able to increases our scholarship funds and awards. We continue to meet ten months a year and to hold monthly critiques of our works in progress. This is an informal meeting on the second Thursday of the month at 9:30 a.m. in the Hitchcock Rehabilitation Center . It is fun, free, informative, open to all members and anchored by Anne Nielsen. Anne does a great job and offers thoughtful, but kind, critiques.
The Hitchcock Rehabilitation Center and The Aiken Artists Guild room at the Center for the Arts features our work on a continual basis featuring a different artist each month. Also, our members participate in countless national shows and Galleries.
We are always inviting new members to join us. We continue to urge all members to volunteer for various duties. Like many organizations, most of the work is done by a few committed members. ??All Board members, past and present, have deserved our gratitude. Making this organization work for FORTY FOUR YEARS is no small feat, and the number of details involved in the presentation of an exhibit, requires unusual patience and grace under pressure.??We want to encourage Aiken to see our work. We invite you to join our group, or to encourage someone you know who "has always wanted to paint when they retire," to see us! We invite you to consider establishing an Annual Memorial Award in the name of a loved one.
Thank you again, Aiken Standard, for 44 years of coverage and pictures. Very special thanks to Mike Gibbons for his patience and enthusiasm.