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Sitting in a room full of Tryon talent

Rich Nelson completed this portrait of Susan McNabb at the Tryon Painters and Sculptors class.

Rich Nelson completed this portrait of Susan McNabb at the Tryon
Painters and Sculptors class.

Wednesday nights are hopping in Tryon. It’s hard to believe how busy one can be in such a small town, but as I’ve noted before, Tryon isn’t just any small town.

When I first moved here, I spent many of my Wednesday nights in Jim Cullen’s pottery class at Tryon Arts and Crafts. Once I changed to some of the day classes, Wednesday became the night Paul and I often saw a movie at the Tryon Theatre, as that night marks the beginning of the week for each new film.

When a small group of women asked me to start a women’s writing workshop—to duplicate the kind of workshop that started my writing six years ago in Los Angeles, I said yes, and we picked Wednesday nights to meet. We started with every other Wednesday, and now meet once a month.

It was on one of those Wednesday nights that Rich Nelson of Skyuka Gallery asked if I’d like to sit for a portrait class at Tryon Painters and Sculptors. I said no and cited my writing workshop as a reason, but agreed to sit the following Wednesday night.

I had sat for artists before, but it had been a long time. I once posed for a fashion drawing class at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. This was sometime in the 80s when I was working as a model. The job involved striking severe fashion poses on a stage with other models for long stretches of time in heels holding a boa constrictor (they’re very heavy and stinky). I felt certain Rich’s class would be less uncomfortable. And smell better.

I had also posed for a sculptor when a mannequin company in California made a mannequin who looked like me. That involved several two-hour sessions over the course of a month or so at which I was mesmerized by a lump of clay that gradually evolved into my silent clone. The result of that gig sits on top of the cabinet in my laundry room. If you’ve got a better idea how to display a mannequin head of your younger self, please feel free to share it.

Rich assured me I could keep my clothes on. Nude models are like gold to artists, but the days I’d consider flashing a room full of people are far behind me.

I arrived at 7 and found my chair in the center of the downstairs studio at Tryon Painters and Sculptors new Trade Street building. There were six artists setting up their easels all around me, choosing their positions carefully.

I knew Rich, of course, and Christine Mariotti and Marie King—artists I’ve admired greatly. I was introduced to the others as we got started. Christine collected money from the group for the use of the studio, plus a tip for me.

I sat as still as I could, finding a fixed point in the room to watch while the artists began to draw. Some chatted while they worked, but it was often quiet in a kind of shared camaraderie that I’ve felt while working in the pottery studio at Tryon Arts and Crafts with my fellow potters.

Rich told me I could take breaks whenever I needed to, so when we decided to stretch our legs, I walked around the room studying the portraits so far. They were fascinating—six completely different styles, different versions of my face, different media. Watercolor, pastels, charcoal. They were all wonderful and completely unique.

I got back into my chair, finding my pose and point in the room to watch, and the time passed quickly as the artists finished their work. Several took a photo of me so they could tweak their portraits at home later, adding their final touches if inspiration followed them home. Several promised to email me photos when their pieces had been completed.

I left with a little money in my pocket, a continued awe and admiration for our local talent, and a sense of how lucky we are to have such an active arts-nurturing community here.

If you find yourself free on a Wednesday evening, you should consider posing for the group. If you’re an artist, you might want to join them. If you’re the model, all you need is a face and a little patience, and you’ll be rewarded with an experience that puts art and artists in a new light. I highly recommend it.