What’s on your wall?

Published 3:33 pm Thursday, June 25, 2015

Susan McNabb is pictured with the watercolor painted by her father, Gerald McNabb.

Susan McNabb is pictured with the watercolor painted by her father, Gerald McNabb.

By Kim Nelson
Photographs submitted by Susan McNabb
Life in Our Foothills, February 2015

This month’s art interview couldn’t be more perfect if I’d planned it!

Susan McNabb had resigned herself to being single in her middle-aged years until love happened to strike, and I can safely say art might have had a little something to do with that. Or dare I say, a lot to do with it!

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Previously I have shared how art gives and gives in many unexpected ways, but truthfully I never imagined it could be an agent for love. See? February…love! Ahhh art, our world would be passionless without you.

Susan McNabb, Tryon resident, author of the Tryon Diary columns in the Tryon Daily Bulletin and a book of collected columns recently released, pottery artist, volunteer, animal activist, and former model and actress, has been married to Paul McMinn for ten years. Although both are originally from Asheville, Susan and Paul knew each other years ago but had gone their separate ways after high school. They found each other again when she was living in Los Angeles and he was in Atlanta. Paul had contacted her via classmates.com looking for a mutual friend and eight short months later they were married!

Paul, owner of his own business consulting company, happened to start collecting art in college and had it in his home as well as his office. He actively sought out select pieces from artists that he admired as well as adding to his collection via auctions.

Susan, having moved to California to further her modeling career, would pick up the occasional piece of art at flea markets, garage sales and “prop sales.”

A prop sale, she explained, as the term was one  I hadn’t heard before, was when “prop houses would need to clear out their  inventory and make way for loads of new props for current projects.”

Susan had bought herself a house in Los Angeles and she loved it. Over the years she decorated it “just so,” filling it with art she enjoyed and her always growing collection of tole trays (painted metal serving trays), roosters, and pyrex dishes from the 50s and 60s. “I was happy,” she stated. Susan dated but over the years she realized that the men she dated “had either no taste or bad taste! One guy even had his work out equipment in the center of his living room!” Oh my, that would have been the first and last date for me, too.

When Susan visited Paul for the first time in Atlanta she was pleasantly surprised. She thought to herself, “Well, I like his stuff! This is different. He had art and nice furniture. For the first time I really opened my eyes to the idea about marrying someone!”

As we chatted more I learned that “sparks of passion flew and those sparks quickly grew into a deep love,” Susan shared with a glint in her eye.

“It wasn’t just his possessions that threw me into his arms!” But I can see Susan’s point; sparks don’t often fly in a room where sweat has been dripped down on the carpet and the only place to recline is a bench press!

“Blended eclectic” is how both Susan and Paul described their art collection to me. Being that they both had homes at the time they married, they each had quite a few years of acquisitions to make decisions about. But this didn’t stop them from looking at and buying new art together. They also made it a tradition to pick up artwork when vacationing. So their “married” collection began to grow as well. For seven years Paul and Susan made plans to leave Los Angeles and move back to North Carolina.

Once they settled on Tryon they came upon an opportunity to purchase a charming 1930s home near  downtown. They later learned that it had once been owned by Tryon Colony artist, George C. Aid. As they settled in they soon discovered that their collection was a bit more than their new walls could handle. Recently they’ve begun taking fellow collectors’ and friends’ (and previous “What’s on Your Wall” interviewees), Gary Corn and James Blanton’s advice to hang “salon style.”

But they still have paintings, prints, lithographs, and photographs tucked away in storage all around their home that they are slowly making decisions about. If having more art than one knows what to do with is even possible, I suppose Paul and Susan might have that wonderful problem.

Supporting their local art scene is, thankfully, something important to this art-loving couple. These local pieces take front and center in their home with “prime wall real estate” placement! Upon entering their lovely “Waller Cottage” from the grand front porch is a beautiful water lily painting by my husband, Richard Christian Nelson.

I remember when I first met Paul and Susan in our home for Art Trek. They had toured our entire home including Rich’s studio and they had fallen in love with this piece. I too was smitten with this painting and I was delighted that it was going home with them and staying in Tryon.

Moving across the living room as you enter the dining room is a mesmerizing Bonnie Bardos. You can get lost in her dreamlike landscapes and this one, strong in green hues, is no exception. A delightful miniature Carol Beth Icard encaustic piece hangs at the entry to the kitchen. An intriguing Catherine Gurri “Dictionary Painting” of a sheep sits on a tabletop easel on their mantle.

An artist herself, Susan’s pottery dots tables and shelves around their home finding their place nicely next to other potters’ works. Susan’s ability is not surprising, as she happens to have artists in her family. Susan’s father is a watercolorist, and her grandmother painted in oils and she also designed and made hand hooked rugs. Paul and Susan have many pieces hanging in their collection from both.

As we toured their beautiful home, sipped a glass of wine by their fireplace, enjoyed gentle music softly playing in the background and chatted about art (did I mention how much I enjoy interviewing art collectors?), I finally hit them with my scary question: “If your home were in peril, what might you save?”

Susan had an immediate answer because unfortunately their home was recently in the line of looming potential peril! They had a tree that had begun to dramatically lean and loosen its stable rooting just feet away from their home. Had it gone down, it would have crashed right atop the back of their house. Yikes! So Susan really had to think about what she would move to the front of their house, just in case!

It was an easy decision for her though. It would not have been art; it would have been their darling pups. Paul and Susan have four adorable rescue dogs, and she couldn’t imagine saving anything but them. Although I agreed with her, for the sake of my article premise I did press her for a “non-breathing” answer!

Susan quickly replied, “A watercolor of my house I owned in Los Angeles done by my father, Gerald McNabb.” How wonderful! Artwork done by her father, and of the house she loved. Isn’t it great when art has such sentimental value behind it?

Paul had a completely different and very interesting answer for me.

“My floral still life  by Vladimir Terlikowski. He was a Polish impressionist whose contemporaries were Modigliani and Picasso,” Paul replied. Paul also shares how he admires the way his “whites pop on the canvas, much like Gainsborough and Sargent.”

Terlikowski, born in 1873, painted in the South of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. He married a young French girl who was the daughter of the prime minister of France and a huge patron of the arts. The artist settled with his wife in the South of  France and he was very prolific. He painted portraits, still life and landscapes and often opted for use of the palette knife to achieve the effect he desired.

Paul discovered this artist while staying in the South of France at a villa when he traveled there for his sister’s wedding. He stumbled upon upwards near 100 canvases stored in the basement by Terlikowski! He poured over the collection and ended up purchasing two paintings from the artist’s grandson at the villa. One is a winter landscape with a bonus:  on the back of this piece is a portrait by Terlikowski.

The other painting is a stunning floral still life where the colors and movement in the flowers are breathtaking. Truly these are masterpieces, but Paul says if he could only grab one, it would be the floral piece. It is spectacular. I understand why it would be the piece Paul would tuck under his arm as he and Susan, with puppies under her arms and one small watercolor, would run to safety if peril ever were to be closer than that darned tree they had taken down.

Learning more about artists I’d never heard of, getting to enjoy work of my husband’s again, viewing works by local artists I admire, and engaging in a rousing chat with friends about art in their historic downtown Tryon home is just about the best way to spend an evening, I think.

But to make it even better is learning how art played a hand in bringing two people together. How romantic! This being the month of love and romance, why not take

a cue from Susan and Paul and visit a local gallery with your sweetie? Or maybe the two of you could join a painting or pottery class for fun. Let art bring you together and it just might spark some colorful passion for you!

If you have a special story about how art has impacted your life, I’d like to know. Please email me at info@skyukafi neart.com if you care to share it, or if you›d like to be interviewed for this article series. I want to learn more about the wonderful art lovers and collectors in this amazing arts-centered town of Tryon! •