Carnegie Visual Arts Center

Valley Trio

By • Dec 16th, 2009 • Category: News


Tennessee River School Artists Share Similar Artistic Themes in New Carnegie Exhibit

By Patrice Stewart, Staff Writer, Decatur Daily, December 8, 2009

In the 1800s, the Hudson River School of landscape artists developed in New York, and now the Tennessee River has its own following of painters.

In Alabama, three artists who live and work in the Tennessee Valley began gathering to paint nearly three years ago.

They named themselves the “Tennessee River School,” and that’s the title of the exhibit that opened Thursday at Decatur’s Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

You can view this collection of trees and streams, boats and water, hay bales and nature trails by Mary Reed of Decatur, Jerry Brown of Huntsville and Matt Welch of Chattanooga at the Carnegie through Jan. 22.

Laura Phillips, executive director of the Carnegie, said she was intrigued by the analogy, as well as the harmony and common thread that emerges in this exhibit.

“Just as students of the Hudson River School movement painted realistic, detailed themes in peaceful landscapes of the Hudson Valley area, the Tennessee River School artists present similar themes drawn upon their mutual experiences and views of the Tennessee Valley and surrounding area,” Phillips said. “All three of these talented artists have exhibited with us previously either in solo or group shows, and they have individual styles that have an interesting rapport.”

The three artists brainstormed to come up with their name.

“We all three live in different locations along the Tennessee River, and we all three enjoy painting from nature, as well as studying and working together,” Reed said.

Most of the 80 or so paintings in this exhibit are oil landscapes and still lifes.

While Welch was living in Decatur, these artists would find a free Saturday for a field trip.

“We would make a photo safari and then paint from the pictures later,” Reed said, recalling one such adventure on an extremely hot summer day spent at Pine Hill Day Camp.

“I enjoy beautiful scenery,” she said, and photography is a way of immediately capturing a view in order to bring it home and translate what made it so captivating on canvas.

Reed has been “painting seriously” for seven or eight years. Lately, she has become fascinated by boats and water. Her favorites in this exhibit are a boat named “Christine” that peeks out from beneath a dock “almost like someone looking at you,” and a sunrise view, “Arkansas River at Dawn,” that shows a calming view from Petit Jean Mountain in an Arkansas state park.

Some of the work hanging at the Carnegie is grouped to show three different views when all three artists painted the same scene, such as canoes or a teapot and flowers.

The three artists met and got to know each other through the Huntsville Art League and the Carnegie, said Brown, who exhibited in the Carnegie’s first show.

“I think we like the same kind of paintings, and when we see each other’s work, we recognize it,” said Brown. “I see something Mary or Matt is working on and think, ‘That’s something I would like to paint.’ It would be a compliment to have any of their paintings attributed to me.”

Brown said he is a generation ahead of the other two. He retired 15 years ago as an engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command in Huntsville and then got busy with his original love, art, and took art classes for about 10 years.

People often confuse him with the potter Jerry Brown of Hamilton, who creates jugs with faces, “but he gets a lot more publicity than I do.”

In addition to landscapes, he does still lifes and human figures. “Jolt’n Joe,” one of his pieces hanging at the Carnegie, shows Joe Dimaggio just after swinging the bat and hitting a home run. He painted that one from a famous photograph.

“I was a baseball fan when I was a kid,” Brown said. “I paint a variety of things and don’t stick to landscapes, but landscapes are the thing we as a group have in common.”

Welch, a self-taught artist, works for TVA in Chattanooga.

While he has drawn all his life and it was a skill that came easily, he has grown more appreciative of this gift as an adult.

“I am continually unwrapping it, finding new treasures as each layer is revealed,” he said.

Oils and acrylics are his tools of choice. His oil painting of Dismals Creek Canyon won first prize in “Embracing Art VI” at the Carnegie in 2008.

While the trio also visited museums and landmarks during their outings to find subjects, Welch keeps coming back to nature.

“I enjoy painting water. It’s wet. It’s cleansing. It’s transparent, solid, flowing, reflective and still,” he said. “And I enjoy painting light. It defines anything and everything.”

Though the group hasn’t had a painting session since Welch moved, they plan to get together soon. “We don’t want this to fizzle out — we want to continue to paint together and show our work together,” Brown said.



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