McCue presents lecture at Skyuka Fine Art

Published 12:09 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

McCue speaks at Skyuka Fine Art. (photo submitted)

Noted local art historian Michael McCue recently gave Skyuka Fine Art’s first lecture. His topic was “A History of Selling Art in Tryon- Patrons, Artists and Venues.”

McCue not only lived in Tryon for years, but also ran his own commercial art gallery, PhotoGraphia. He is a graduate of Harvard College where he received his MBA and studied art history.

McCue’s home in Tryon happened to be the former cottage of author and artist Margaret Morley (1858-1923). McCue has curated numerous shows in Western North Carolina galleries and museums. He has authored exhibition catalogs and articles for publications on the arts, and has also written and published two books centered around Tryon artists. McCue touched on mainly local venues and the artists that showed in them, focusing on how the artists represented themselves and ultimately sold their art. He also discussed what made Tryon the magnet that it was for artists.

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According to McCue, it started with Emma Payne Erskine (1854-1924), who was an artist, as well as the daughter of a famous artist in Chicago. She sold her art to help benefit the building of the Lanier Library, which soon became a venue for showing artwork as well. Lois Wilcox (1889-1958), another prominent female artist and a Tryon native, was quite talented. Her father ran the Mimosa Inn. She moved to New York and became associated with the Woodstock Colony. She also had a one-person show at the Detroit Institute of Arts when she was a teenager, where over 20 of her paintings were landscapes of Tryon. These paintings piqued the interest of other artists, drawing them to the area.

Other artists of note included, Louis Rowell (1870-1928), Amelia Watson (1856-1934), Lawrence Mazzanovich (1871-1959), George C. Aid (1872-1938), Homer Ellertson (1892-1935), Amelia Van Buren (1856-1942), Jean Stansbury Holden (1842-1934) and Charles Quest (1904-1993).

Local venues that represented and supported the arts were The Mountain Industries, the Blue Ridge Weavers in the 20s, 30s and 40s and the Rock House Art Gallery. As far as McCue said he could tell, the Rock House Art Gallery was the only commercial gallery dedicated to fine art in the entire state of North Carolina during the Depression. The Episcopal Church Parish House was also a venue for local artists.

About halfway through the lecture a guest spoke up and mentioned that she happened to bring in a piece of artwork that had been in her aunt’s closet for years. It was a piece called “A Breezy Day,” by Mrs. B. King Couper, sold from the Rock House Art Gallery in 1935 for $300. It even had the descriptive label affixed onto the back. The painting was of a cottage home surrounded by rocks and natural landscaping. McCue was visibly tickled by the surprise entry into the lecture and suggested the participants go home and look in closets for more.

McCue continued his subject of venues with The Upstairs Gallery, which came about in the 70s. It was developed as a non-profit, which was also a first in this region. The Tryon Fine Arts Center was built completely by the community in the 1960s, with no public money at all. Tryon Arts and Crafts and Tryon Painters and Sculptors eventually became umbrellaed under TFAC as well, cementing Tryon’s art impact in the area. Trade Street Gallery was also opened in the 1970s.

– article submitted by Kim Nelson