Sketch done in Walnut Ink made at the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas School
copyright Pat Aube Gray
copyright Pat Aube Gray
A little more than a week ago I drove to Asheville to meet my friend and good watercolor artist, Carol Parks, for what I thought was to be a day of visiting galleries. Carol and her husband, John, have been in many of my workshops and we share a passion for good art. They have been attending life drawing sessions recently at the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas in Asheville and Carol surprised me by arranging for us to have a tour of the facility. By its name, I did not realize that this is actually an art school. It is a non-profit organization founded several years ago by North Carolina native, Ben Long, an accomplished artist and painter of frescoes and winner of the First International Leonardo da Vinci Award in Florence, Italy. Ben apprenticed under Maestro Pietro Annigoni in Florence, Italy.
We were met at the entrance by "Gully" (I wish I had gotten his full name), a gracious young man with a most beautiful smile and warm and paintable face. Gully both works and is a student at the school and had arranged for us to meet Ben Long as well as several other faculty instructors including John Mac Kah, whom I had known previously, Mark Henry (a great pastel painter), John Dempsey, and Rebecca King. We were treated to a couple of great cups of coffee and a wonderful round table (literally) discussion in the library with Ben, Mark, John, Gully and Chris Holt, a student, that lasted for several hours.
The school is located in the old industrial area of Asheville, in recent years a haven for artists and their studios. The interior is what, as a teenager, I imagined an art school, an atelier, to be like. With bare floor studios lighted by skylights and otherwise naturally lit by old factory windows high on the wall, easels, pedestals, skeletons, plaster casts, still life setups, and beautiful art set the stage for master-apprentice style learning, as used by the Old Masters and in many of our modern-day ateliers. Students here are taught how to make their own materials including gessoed panels, grinding pigments for paints, ink made from walnuts, picture frames.
The mission of the full-time school is to preserve and develop the traditions and techniques of the old masters in representational art that span the periods from classical Greek to contemporary realism. The curriculum is designed so that graduates of the school will possess solid refined drawing and painting skills in the four genres of representational art: figure, portrait, landscape and still life. Students are immersed in anatomy classes, drawing, and then, when they are ready, in painting. Instructors work alongside students in producing works, a boon to students able to observe the professional artist overcoming the challenges of the work.
A real surprise for me in the library was one of Gully's drawings, a wonderful charcoal portrait of Carol's husband, John Kidd. John has been sitting for the life drawing sessions and Gully really captured him. A great drawing of a great guy... and by a great guy!
We visited the individual studios and saw students, each with their own still life set-up, painting in oil; the room where students gesso panels, grind dry pigments and make walnut ink; the classroom where anatomy is taught, complete with muscular and skeletal diagrams and drawings on a chalkboard; the studio full of plaster casts from which students begin to draw from a 3-dimensional object as in nineteenth century European academies; and the gallery of very impressive faculty and student work. I could not have been happier!
At lunchtime, Carol and I ran out to see one downtown gallery and returned in time to visit Rebecca King's portrait drawing class. The students were all doing a great job drawing in charcoal alongside Rebecca, who was in the midst of a wonderful three quarter charcoal drawing of the model. I was graciously invited to join in but declined due to time constraints.
My thanks to Carol, Gully, and the faculty for a wonderful and most memorable day (and for the walnut ink!) I would encourage any student looking for full time art instruction in the academic tradition to consider the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas.