The Lure of the Canvas and Clay

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pat Cole-Ferullo, award-winning painter, international art teacher, and TPS member with her new diptych “Bad Wolf, Good Wolf,” inspired by her current interest in Native American history, art and philosophy.

Pat Cole-Ferullo, award-winning painter, international art teacher, and TPS member with her new diptych “Bad Wolf, Good Wolf,” inspired by her current interest in Native American history, art and philosophy.

Written and photographed by Vincent Verrecchio


To see personal truths about a few of the risk-takers in our Foothills, come into 78 North Trade Street in Tryon. You will be standing in the new home of Tryon Painters and Sculptors (TPS). Their works in two and three dimensions with innumerable colors call for your attention from both sides of the main floor. There is a lower level and a staircase centered ahead inviting you to wonder what is out of sight below.

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If you accept the proposition that art cannot lie about the mind sight of the artist, then all that you see about you is how others truly think and feel. Each work is a uniquely personal perspective that an artist is putting on canvas, or paper, or in clay — risking your appreciation or disdain, acceptance or rejection, and empathy or indifference to a part of themselves.


With so much at stake, what then is the lure of the canvas and clay or other medium? Why does a lifelong painter and TPS member like Pat Cole-Ferullo continue to commit so much of her time and self into her work? Why does a second-year sculptor and TPS member like Denise Rose lean into her clay hour after hour in search of form and motion that only she can see until the work is done?



“I do sell my paintings but I don’t paint to sell,” says Pat. “I paint because I have to. Painting is a dance and I paint for the joy of the physical activity, the actual motion of painting.”


She has felt similarly since childhood when she loved both drawing and dancing. Early memories of sketching from magazine photos overlap with recollections of her dance lessons as a teen. Then there were private lessons with Eliot O’Hara, famed watercolor artist and teacher, because her Florida high school did not offer art classes.


Between then and now, she earned a BA in fine arts with the goal of being a fashion illustrator, and then found a short-term position in an advertising agency. Across the following decades she continued to study and work with oils, acrylics, and watercolors, experimenting with the harmonies, concepts and emotions that she enjoys expressing on canvas, paper and board. As she increasingly found herself as an abstract expressionist, judges in national and international competitions awarded her top prizes. Private and public collectors added her works.


“And I’ve always loved teaching art,” she says.  Her first classroom was a Quonset hut for a junior high school near the Everglades. In 2006 it was studio classes in Italy, and today, we sit in her Tryon studio where she still teaches. I can see her latest work, a diptych titled “Bad Wolf, Good Wolf.” The two panels are inspired by her current interest in Native American culture. We have just finished discussing universal sacred geometries and the use of earth pigments in watercolors. Her smile broadens after I ask how that’s done. “Would you like to learn?” she asks.


Through a mesh strainer she sprinkles powdered turquoise green pigment onto white paper. Burnt sienna is next added, dusting in places over the lighter green. Then she spritzes water over all and gently rocks the sheet. Time has not dimmed her pleasure at seeing the colors flow into diffuse depth and fanciful shapes.


A good teacher engages and inspires a student, and as she adds yellow and explains the interaction of the colors, I want to know more and try on my own.



Denise Rose’s journey to TPS and clay sculpting began with drawing as a child and an interest in equine illustration while attending universities in Texas. She had a passion for horses and for a time decorated wood furniture with equine images. But to better pay the bills, she took a detour as a logistics manager for a steamship company followed by a career in real estate. “When looking at a floor plan as realtor, I automatically envisioned it in 3D and assumed everyone saw it that way,” she recalls.


“It was in 2013…waiting for car maintenance…that I wandered into the [TPS] gallery, liked what I saw, and asked if there were classes in sculpture for beginners.” A class was starting that week and the clay captivated her at first touch.


“When I see a photo that I like, I wonder what I could do with it in three dimensions. For me then, a 25-pound block of clay represents a challenge to the coordination of my eyes, hands, and mind.”


Denise talks about the mental absorption in envisioning the back of a subject after she’s sketched the front on one plane of the clay. There’s the problem-solving of fixturing unsupported curves and delicate balances while she adds and subtracts material, smoothing and texturing, peeling and pressing with tools and fingers. There’s the waiting until the varied thicknesses have dried just enough before the next step. Then it requires finesse and daring to hollow out a sculpture to prevent exploding when baking at 1,800°F or more. And always, she needs the patience to take a step back.


“I was so focused on the neck,” she remembers, gesturing to her current “Serengeti Tryst” of giraffes, “that I grabbed a lump of clay without looking and began kneading it. It was the finished head of one of the figures.”


In all of her work, she wants viewers to see and feel a story and each piece is finished only when it makes her happy. She mentions a head study in the gallery she calls “Approaching Storm.” Denise says, “I like looking at her…like the satisfaction of seeing what I’ve done.”


This is only Denise’s sixth bust and I was taken by a soulful tale expressed in the eyes.


If you want to discover original art, the works of Pat, Denise, and other TPS members are on display on the main floor for appreciation and sale, Tuesday through Saturday. If you want to chance discovering an artist within yourself, classes on the lower level will help you develop talents with canvas, paper, clay, and more.

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