Life in Our Foothills May 2024 – Tryon Painters and Sculptors still inspiring artists – Contributing to the quality of life in Tryon though art

Published 3:39 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

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Patti Miles-Cooner began dabbling in art as a child growing up in Atlanta, first drawing and painting and then working with clay. 

“I love clay because you get your hands on it and you take just a raw slab, a lump of clay and the next thing you know you’ve made a bird,” she says.  

Miles-Conner has lived on a farm near Gowensville, South Carolina for nearly 35 years. During that time she’s ridden horses in hunter-jumper and dressage competitions, hunted with Greenville County Hounds, and entered her Labrador retrievers in American Kennel Club agility and obedience competitions. 

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“You become a team. It’s more than just owning a dog and feeding a dog, and the horses become a part of your life especially when you have them at your farm,” she says. 

That passion for horses and dogs is reflected in Miles-Cooner’s work as an artist, which she continued into adulthood. 

“They all have collided together,” she muses. 

Miles-Cooner does large and small clay sculptures of mostly dogs and horses using a plastering technique that she developed on her own. Her paintings reflect mostly the same themes as her sculptures. She’s perfected her painting of dogs to the point that people commission her to do portraits of their dogs. 

“I compete with dogs, so I know a lot of dog people,” she says.

Miles-Cooner’s artistic passion took a pivotal turn in December 2011 when she and her husband Bill came to Tryon for the Christmas stroll and walked into Tryon Painters and Sculptors.

“The next thing I knew I was joining and I started in January of 2012 taking classes and going when I could because I worked full time,” says Miles-Cooner, who was a pharmaceutical sales representative. “Then they talked me into putting things into the gallery, and I did, and I sold, and it just blossomed from there. It’s a very good environment for new artists, and they really help you.”

A group of local artists founded TPS in 1968 to collaborate, support one another and promote art in the community. 

“Our mission is to bring an appreciation of the fine arts to the community, and the influence art has on the quality of life in the community,” says Cornelia Scibetta, who became the organization’s president in January. “We do that through providing education so we have a 2-D and 3-D studio downstairs where artists can work and we can also provide classes.” 

In addition to classes, TPS provides gallery space where artists can show and sell their work and there’s also a gift shop that takes artists’ work on consignment. Commissions from the sales of art, membership fees, private donations and support from the Polk County Community Foundation keep the non-profit organization afloat. TPS has three paid, part-time positions but the board is all volunteer, and the members volunteer too.

“With every exhibit, we have volunteers who are our hanging team so they curate and hang each show so that’s a two-day process that’s actually kind of fun,” says Scibetta. “We have a good time doing that.”

There are 200 members and seven times a year there’s a new exhibit featuring their work. Scibetta says each member contributes one piece of art to each exhibit with about 75 artists submitting each time. 

While their own missions are all a little different, Scibetta says TPS often works in collaboration with the Tryon Fine Arts Center, the Tryon Arts and Crafts School and Upstairs Artspace with the leaders of each organization meeting about once a month to brainstorm ways to help and support each other. 

“Tryon is a small place and we all feel like we’re better when we’re working together rather than competing,” says Scibetta.

TPS hit a milestone in 2022 when it paid off the mortgage on the building it occupies at 79 North Trade Street, and it’s hitting another milestone this year by hiring its first executive director.

“We didn’t get here by standing still,” says Scibetta. “There’s always that importance of looking at what’s on the horizon and where we are today and where we want to be, and we want to continue to be the place where locals can develop their art and perfect it and display it and develop their confidence and hopefully sell a few pieces, but it’s mostly about contributing to the quality of life in Tryon through art.”

Miles-Cooner says TPS’s mission of helping artists develop confidence and connect with each other is important for a group of people who can sometimes be a bit reclusive.

“It’s given me connections. It’s given me new friendships,” says Miles-Cooner about regularly getting together with other TPS artists. “To go someplace and be with other people just makes you more creative. You steal shamelessly from each other and learn from each other and make it your own. It’s just a real growing process and it’s a lot of fun. It inspires you to do more and be better.”