Blending Literature and the Visual Arts

Posted On January 5, 2018

A Richland Library exhibit showcases just how passionate we Columbians are about literature and the visual arts.

by Rachel Haynie

At a winter wedding that marries paintings and books in a backdrop of thousands of volumes, guests on both sides of the aisle – art aficionados and book lovers - toast the union.

Thus it is for “The Art of Reading,” a Richland Library exhibition for which Art Librarian Ashley Warthen chose paintings, drawings, charcoals, and lithographs by a baker’s dozen of Columbia’s top artists for an exhibition on Level Two. Art? Yes. Books? Yes. Subjects in all the artworks are reading – something.

Opening just ahead of Deckle Edge Literary Festival scheduled for Saturday, March 3, “The Art of Reading” can be viewed as a visual prologue.

To launch this concise exhibit, Dr. Thomas L. Johnson, who distinguished himself and retired as Caroliniana field archivist in 2002 after 28 years’ service, will present examples of art from his own collection, “A World of Readers,” at 3 p.m., Sunday, February 25, at Richland Library, 1431 Assembly Street. His presentation is free and open to the public.

Johnson was inspired to begin collecting art works in which subjects were reading after he organized a sweeping exhibition entitled “People Reading” for the Spartanburg Art Museum in 2008. The 60 pieces of art, representing a broad range of media, were on loan from the private collection of Donald and Patricia Oresman. The New York couple struck upon this theme once they realized they had chosen two works on the same topic. Their entire collection, spanning more than four decades, then numbered more than 1,300 pieces. 

As guest curator of that exhibition, Johnson noted in 2008 the only other venues in which works from the Oresman’s collection had appeared were in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and in a New York exhibition earlier in the 21st century.

Last year, Johnson showed works and presented anecdotes from “A World of Reading,” at Spartanburg Day School. This February will be the first time works from his collection will be shown in Columbia, and then only during this presentation. 

Columbia artists concur with Johnson: people reading make fetching subjects for paintings. 

Claire Farrell’s oil painting, “Curled Up with a Good Book,” won top honors at the 2015 South Carolina Book Festival. Later, Farrell created a new painting of her granddaughter Martha who also is reading.

Other artists whose works were selected for this exhibition also chose family members as their models. Meg McLean’s daughter is the subject for “Melanie Reflections.” 

Carey Weathers of Viridian Gallery took reference photographs of her daughter studying a new language while the family was on a European vacation; the resulting painting is ““Learning Italian.” Another daughter is reading a magazine in “Looking at LIFE.”

Barbara Yongue depicted her then-young son Webb as he read a children’s book. For a different painting, she posed her children as figures reading King Arthur’s Tales. For this show Yongue captured in oil on canvas a friend in a sentimental mood, reading a book her late husband had given as a gift in “A Life on Review.” 

Trahern Cook envisioned a future astrophysicist reading as a lad in Greenville, S.C.; Cook’s painting is among his vibrant illustrations for the Palmetto Young Readers’ book published through University of South Carolina Press. “First, You Explore: The Story of the Young Charles Townes,” was written by this author.

Stephen Chesley’s oil painting of a subject sneak-reading a few pages between sales is entitled, “Ticket Taker.” 

Bonnie Goldberg abstracted a female who is seen “Always with a Book in Her Hand.”

Rob Shaw of Havens Gallery found his subject “Reading in the Light.”

Pete Holland captured the essence of downtown reading, adjacent to one of the “Little Free Library” boxes.  This one is located near Tapp’s.

“Reading on the High Seas” is a watercolor from WWII by the late Columbia artist and teacher Reuben Gambrell, and is on view courtesy of the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation.

Cherie Holmes created the lithograph, “The Evening News,” during her years as a student of J. Boyd Saunders at the University of South Carolina. It is on loan from the Department of Visual Art and Design. 

And from the print maker emeritus comes “Reading a Christmas Story,” a limited edition print and oversized Christmas card from Boyd Saunders and his family some years back. 

“The Art of Reading” will remain on view through mid-March.