TAC note card project seeks to honor local artists

Published 11:00 pm Friday, April 12, 2013

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“The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind.” – John Allston

Artists leave their mark on the world in a visual way.

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The Troy Arts Council Auxiliary’s “What They Left Behind” note card project seeks to honor and recognize six deceased Troy artists who left behind artistic treasures that will continue to enrich lives for many years to come.

The six artists – Jane Brantley, Sarah Johnson, Jean Lake, Alice Thornton, Marcia Rice and Roxy Dunbar – are featured in a collection of note cards that will be available at TroyFest on April 27 and 28.

Susan Berry, project coordinator, said the purpose of the collection is to honor the artists and to keep their memories and their contributions to the world of art in the forefront.

“Each one of the note cards will stir a memory or memories for those who knew these wonderful artists or just take them back to a special place in their hearts,” Berry said.

Wiley White and David Johnson sat down with Berry to share their memories of “Mother” and “Aunt Sarah.”

Jane Jernigan Brantley’s watercolor of an old cane mill is the artwork that is featured on the note cards. That painting is one of White’s favorite paintings done by her mother.

“I just love that painting,” she said. “The dark trees fascinate me. I don’t know if that was an actual scene or not.

“Mother would drive around all over the countryside taking pictures of scenes that she wanted to paint. She would not get out of the car. She would just pull off the road and snap the picture she wanted to capture. We laughed a lot about Mother doing that.”

White said it was possible that her mother took a picture of a house she liked and added the cane mill.

But either way, “it’s a favorite of mine.”

White said her mother was a closet painter so she was married before she realized that her mother was a painter.

“It came as a complete surprise to me,” she said.

Brantley was college trained in the classical style of painting and painted in that style for a while.

But along came Alice Thornton, Troy university art instructor, and “freed her up.”

“Mother’s perspective went ‘skewie,’” White said. “Her paintings became loose and free and focused a lot on the history of Troy. She painted the Masonic Lodge, the Pike County Fair. Love Street. Everywhere.

“She liked to paint buildings from a different angle. She painted South Brundidge Street from above. She painted things out of her memory. Things like ice wagons. She had her own personal, little happy style.”

Sarah Johnson also had a little happy style of painting that is evident in the painting the TAC chose for its note cards.

“Aunt Sarah’s painting is of the ‘run about at Youngblood pond,’” said David Johnson. “She loaded us up — my brother, Harvey, Herman Youngblood and me – and took us to the pond and painted the picture. We had a great time.”

Johnson said he always had a great time when he was with his Aunt Sarah.

“When I was 10 years old, I was completely out of grandparents,” he said. “So Aunt Sarah became my grandmother, my aunt, my teacher and my buddy.”

Sarah Johnson taught art at the local school and all of young David’s friends called her “Aunt Sarah.”

“She told them they could call her Aunt Sarah as long as they remembered she was the teacher,” Johnson said, laughing. “Aunt Sarah would take me on long walks in the woods and point out things to me. Colors, birds, plants. She taught me to notice the difference in things – that ‘not all tree bark is alike.’

“She showed me that you don’t have to color within the lines. Aunt Sarah never bought me a coloring book. She bought me crayons and big sheets of white paper.”

Johnson said his life is richer because of his relationship with “Aunt Sarah.”

“Because of her, I know how to sit with a cup of coffee and watch the sun go down,” he said. “And hundreds of her art students have richer lives because of her, too.”