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Through Their Eyes

Posted On May 26, 2015

Take a look at who we are and where we're from in a new video on Columbia's History through art.

By Rachel Haynie

 Columbia SC Artists

Our information-heavy, fast-paced society insists that we “get the picture” quickly; no wonder multi-tasking is so pervasive! I recognized that we could use a “Cliff Notes” version of Columbia’s history and that we also have a local art scene well worthy of touting called for a simultaneous solution. Why not lay down a concise civic timeline and let art give it visual heft? Voila! A dual effort resulted. 

In the format of a 22-minute DVD, Columbia Wherefore Art? is presented as a question whose answer is: Everywhere; and the art showcased in a brief viewing was created in many styles by several dozen local artists.

Columbia: Wherefore Art - A Brush with Capital City History, Told through Art is the official title for this independent Rachel Haynie production that launched officially at the brand new Hyatt Place Hotel on Gervais Street during Artista Vista 2015.

Our information-heavy, fast-paced society insists that we “get the picture” quickly; no wonder multi-tasking is so pervasive! So, this writer’s recognition that we could use a Cliff Notes version of Columbia’s history and that we also have a local art scene well worthy of touting called for a simultaneous solution. Why not lay down a concise civic timeline and let art give it visual heft? Voila! A dual effort resulted.

In the format of a 22-minute DVD, Columbia Wherefore Art? is presented as a question whose answer is: Everywhere; and the art showcased in a brief viewing was created in many styles by several dozen local artists.

Columbia: Wherefore Art - A Brush with Capital City History, Told through Art is the official title for this independent production, by this writer, that launched officially at the brand new Hyatt Place Hotel on Gervais Street during Artista Vista 2015.

The project’s subtitle explains that it’s an orientation length DVD in which paintings, in many mediums by local artists, along with a few sculptures, parallel how Columbia evolved and what about it resonates with today’s residents and visitors.

Since its role as South Carolina’s capital city is Columbia’s foundational reason for being, a painting of the Capitol was a natural for the DVD cover. Pre-eminent painter Blue Sky allowed his ethereal oil painting, Foggy Dome, to grace the cover. A painting by Meg McLean, Feeding the Pigeons, also shows the State House grounds, this time as a recreational spot for citizens to enjoy.

The storyline reminds viewers that the nation’s first planned capital city also is the first American town named for Christopher Columbus. Art illustrating that historic point is a sculpture, by Sissy Frierson, which can be seen by walkers and joggers along Canal Park.

As Columbia is set in a prong of three rivers, water and bridges always have figured strongly into its development – and also its art scene. From the town’s earliest days, when itinerant artists plied their talent here, scenes of the rivers have filled canvases, and so have versions of the bridges traversing the waters. Creating renditions of the historic bridges inspire artists to seek out new vantage points from which to capture and depict these connectors, giving each painting a new angle. Redolent bridge paintings punctuate the film.

Columbia’s early years as an agricultural market hub are represented through a last-century painting of the farmers’ market by Edmund Yaghjian. Now, well into the 21st century, festivals feting food dot the civic calendar nearly year-round, and on Saturdays, Soda City Market reprises the tradition of bringing harvests and homemade wares to market. Artists are drawn to such scenes, and art lovers are the benefactors.

Since the objective of the project was creating a visual timeline to trace the city’s history, much of the focus was on the capital and surrounding blocks, just as Columbia was laid out originally. Pride in its aesthetic accomplishments has led city fathers (and mothers) to preserve some of its most illustrative buildings, repurposing them for modern life and work. Pete Holland captured two on canvas: the Seibels House and the Big Apple.

Brick gates at the edge of the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe, painted by Al Leitch, remind viewers that education is one of Columbia’s strongholds – and a baseball glove, painted by Keith Tolen, represents Carolina’s back-to-back baseball championships. On Main Street the iconic Sylvan’s clock, painted by Weathers, along with sidewalk-scapes by Rick Wells, are visual notes about years over which development has taken place.

Cityscapes by Donna Rozier juxtapose contemporary architecture with some of downtown’s most enduring architectural examples while vehicles crossing the Lady Street Bridge in Ron Weather’s Heading to Town contrast the new and old in a more mechanical way. Bruce Nellsmith’s muted and abstracted skylines show how Columbia has grown up.

The narrator’s voice on the DVD explains how Columbia quickly outgrew the original blocks that squared off from the capital complex. “Seen from the river’s edge, a jagged skyline suggests a modern city on the rise, yet one in-bound corridor leads through last century’s warehouse district, reclaimed in recent years, as The Vista, a vibrant and eclectic art, dining, shopping and entertainment district. Art crawls throughout the year bring new and seasoned collectors to meet artists and see their latest works.”

Weather usually cooperates for such crawls; in fact, Columbia’s climate rewards event planners of countless festivals, outdoor concerts, street fairs and parades as well as recreation along the river – nearly year ‘round. One visual nod to such events is Marcia Murray’s painting of young dancers at the annual Greek festival.

Next, the narrator bids viewers to take either of two directions out of Columbia, each leading to a popular natural area: Lake Murray and Congaree Swamp. The visual piece denoting waters, first impounded for hydro-electric power and now also a sportsmen’s Mecca, is Nellsmith’s painting of the Lake Murray dam. Southeast of the city, beckoning nature lovers to traverse wooden bridges and boardwalks, entering what likely is the oldest-growth bottomland forest in the country, is Congaree Swamp, captured on an evocative horizontal canvas by Blue Sky.

Even native Columbians who have viewed the DVD have found points of history new to them, and visual delights as well. That was the inspiration, after all.

“I hope Columbians – individuals and businesses – will enjoy Columbia: Wherefore Art themselves and that they also will show it to guests and prospective new residents to our fair city.”

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