The Thrill of the Choice

Posted On September 7, 2017

Art that is locally sourced has cache comparable to locally sourcing your nutrition. 

By Rachel Haynie

Being offered choices, especially regarding something as personal as art, adds greatly to the aesthetic appeal of collecting.

Fortunately, Columbia’s art scene offers many such choices, and by exercising those choices, beginning and experienced collectors find numerous ways to acquire new works while engaging in some of the community’s most anticipated seasonal events. 

Venues that offer local art in collecting-favorable settings range from well-known to sleepers.

Adding a new work of art as part of the South Carolina State Fair experience is a fall tradition among a growing number of Columbians. Ride the rides, walk the midway, devour an elephant ear, then peruse the art aisles at the Cantey Building and choose a new painting to represent that year’s trip to the fair. 

Prices are favorable – to both purchaser and artists as the State Fair takes no commission, thus a mid-step is eliminated.

Award-winning watercolorist Anne Hightower Patterson White, who began submitting work to the State Fair while she was still in college, has frequently taken home top prizes – and had her State Fair pieces purchased by a patron.

“Artists consider this show an opportunity to have their work seen by more people, and a broader demographic of people than any other art show in our state.” White said the State Fair Art Show also awards the most prizes and has a purse that makes entry an incentive to artists. 

Trahern Cook feels fortunate to have placed in the State Fair competition four out of the five times he submitted. “What I love about the State Fair exhibit is the accessibility to an audience that generally does not walk into an art gallery, for whatever reason.” The popular Columbia artist says choosing art at the fair is as “common as stopping off for an elephant ear.” 

Choices will be visible in fresh new ways this year as art at the State Fair will be displayed in a setting that will make it easier for prospective buyers to appreciate the works, compare styles and quality as well as texture and color. 

Craig Houston, Superintendent of the South Carolina State Fair Art Show, encourages this fall’s fair goers to note updates to the exhibit spaces. “We’ve painted all the gallery spaces, so the art is going to pop even better this year.” Houston said visitors will note other improvements to the display area as well. 

Adding to prospective purchasers’ choices, ceramics and pottery will comprise a separate category for the 2017 event. 

When this issue of Columbia Living went to press, hundreds of artists from throughout the state already had turned in their submissions for this year’s fair, October 11 to 22. As you read these pages, highly-qualified jurors are choosing which works will be exhibited. Next chosen? Which pieces will receive top awards.

This fall tradition, art and the fair, have a long and distinguished history. The State Fair had an art component even before the Civil War. Dr. Rodger Stroup, writing the history of the South Carolina State Fair, to be released by the University of South Carolina Press in time for the beloved event’s forthcoming anniversary, has the evidence. 

“I have references – particularly newspaper articles – to paintings and sculpture on exhibit between 1856 and 1861 when the predecessor organization to the current Society was running the fair.” 

Stroup explained the earlier organization was the State Agricultural Society. “They sponsored fairs from 1840-1845 (on the State House grounds,) and from 1856 to 1861 on the fairgrounds on Elmwood Avenue.” 

Two works that Stroup found were exhibited during those early years were by Columbia artist Eugene Dovilliers. “They were painted somewhere between 1855 and 1860. One is a view of downtown Columbia from across the river  – really neat. The other is Young's Mill (a grist mill, I believe) that was on the river near where I-126 now crosses.”

Stroup said those two paintings are now with the South Carolina State Museum. The museum staff’s attempts to identify the location of the mill were unsuccessful until Stroup’s research for the forthcoming history of the fair discovered an article published November 17, 1856.

“It was in the Charleston Courier and contained a detailed description of the painting on exhibit at the State Fair.”

Another seasonal tradition anticipated by Columbia’s collectors of local art is the annual art auction hosted by the art department at the University of South Carolina. 

“The auction last spring was the 62nd annual, so this is a long-standing tradition here,” said Peter Chametzky, department chair, School of Visual Art and Design. 

“The auction included original works in a variety of mediums: sculpture, printmaking, photography, drawing, painting and ceramics.” Chametzky said the pieces auctioned in late March were made by faculty, current students and alumni as well as artists within the community. 

“The process has been refined over these six decades. The auction was in McMaster Gallery, starting with a Preview Party 30 minutes ahead of the actual auction, but the works went up for public viewing early afternoon on the day of the auction.”

He said organizers have now even worked out a way for those who cannot attend to fill out an absentee form to participate.

Purchasers go home with their choices of new works, and proceeds from the auction are divided between the artists and the university’s art scholarship and gallery fund, Chamatzky said.

It’s possible that only members of Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR) are fully aware of a third way to add to personal art collections, although word is getting out to the community. 

Time for Art is just one of many initiatives that characterize the still-young, volunteer-driven organization. This program directly enables COR members to accumulate points by providing a wide variety of community services. Those points become currency to “spend” on the acquisition of a piece of art work donated by a local artist.

Andrew Saleeby, COR board chair, said Time for Art “connects our members to the community in ways they want to be involved, helping create stakeholders in the Midlands.”

Saleeby noted: “Art is a factor in our community’s rich history and culture, and we believe connecting members to our local art scene while getting them involved in the community to volunteer their time furthers our mission and brings us one step closer to our vision of a connected Midlands, and developing and retaining some of the best talent in the world!"

COR formed in 2005 through a collaborative partnership between the City of Columbia and an impassioned group of young leaders seeking ways to make positive change in the fabric of Columbia – its social, civic, and professional strands. 

Many other community organizations include art as incentive to participate, thereby encouraging acquisition of local art. Silent auctions often are components of galas and fundraisers.

As White said regarding collecting local art: “It’s not unusual for a patron to buy one piece of an artist’s work – at the State Fair or another community event - and then go on to collect more pieces by that artist.”