Arts at Any Age

Published 3:49 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

Written by Michelle Fleming

Dual shows celebrate artists from high school to retirement

It’s rare to find ninth graders and nonagenarians in the same space, but April saw Tryon Fine Arts Center filled with artists of all ages for two very special art exhibits.

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The annual juried high school art competition Showcase of Excellence filled Gallery I with work by precociously talented high school students from across Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. In the Mahler Room next door, work from residents of White Oak Manor was on display — paintings, sculpture and mixed media from lifetimes of artistic expression and experience.

In some cases more than eight decades separated the artists of the White Oak exhibit and the Showcase of Excellence, but the atmosphere at each was remarkably similar. Families filled the gallery with parents, aunts, uncles, and rambunctious younger children. There were shouts of “1…2…3…” and a bright flash as they took photos of the artists and their work. At the Showcase of Excellence, it was proud parents taking pictures of their slightly embarrassed children. For the White Oak exhibit, it was the other way around.

The White Oak exhibit was organized by Beth Romney and Palma Davis. After a successful art show at White Oak Manor last October for residents and their families, it became clear that the artistic talent needed to be shared with a wider audience. Romney and Davis reached out to Marianne Carruth, executive director of TFAC, to arrange the exhibit.

“I jumped at the chance to work with these artists, and celebrate their work,” said Carruth. “It’s a joy to honor this community.”

On the day of the White Oak exhibit opening, artist Helen Tipton was on hand as a testament to artistic dedication. At 101 years old, she was joined by her family to see three of her award-winning paintings on display. Her room at White Oak is filled top to bottom with many more. 

“People don’t realize how physically demanding artwork really is,” she said. “You must have strength and determination along with talent to be an artist.”

It’s sound advice for the young Showcase of Excellence artists next door. For many of the participating students, this was the first time their artwork had been exhibited to the public.

“Now in its fourth year, Showcase of Excellence provides high school students a unique opportunity to compare and compete their creativity and talents against area-wide peers,” said Mike Rigney, the chairman of the highly-anticipated annual show. “Students are already learning how to balance personal expression and creative excellence with the challenge of generating commercial appeal for their artwork. What better way to ignite student passion for the arts while creating a sustainable incubator for future art talent?”

Whether developing future artists through Showcase of Excellence or celebrating a lifetime of work from White Oak Manor, the two exhibits at TFAC offered a chance to stop and reflect on the value of the arts at any age.