The Knoxville Watercolor Society celebrated its 50-year anniversary Friday, June 7, with a collection of pieces shown at UT's Downtown Gallery. Fifty-one watercolor pieces hang on the walls of the South Gay Street gallery, including artwork from 12 original members of the society.
The late Kermit "Buck" Ewing created the UT Art Department in 1955 and held the Head position at the time of the society's birthing, more than 50 years ago. Ewing, of the Ewing gallery in the Art & Architecture building, held a watercolor painting reception for local artists and noticed a dearth of artistic groups in the community. Since there was an abundance of artists interested in the water-based form of painting, KWS emerged.
"It (used to be) a much more informal group, but it was a group of really talented artists, whereas now we are mainly artists that are a part of the community," said Max Robinson, current KWS president who joined the society three years ago. "The basis came from all the work that those people did and it has evolved to members doing things today which you see in this show."
Director of the gallery Mike C. Berry is part of the UT Art Faculty as model/exhibit curator. Familiar with Ewing's work, Berry said he enjoyed the diversity of watercolor and abstract pieces in the show.
"A lot of the charter members that started 50 years ago are long time professors that I am familiar with their work just because we have it in our collection at UT, so it's neat to see it all," Berry said, who is a fellow artist himself. "We have a couple of Buck Ewing's . . . so it's really neat to these old guys who are the founders of the society, and then I see some of my contemporaries and people that I paint with as an artists and their work around here. For me, it's a nice blend of all subject matters and different artistic visions coming together. You've got some realist, traditional watercolor and then some very expressive, abstract stuff that is very beautiful stuff. There's something here for everybody's taste."
Knoxville, along with many other cities across the nation, actively participates in the First Friday tradition. Local musicians and artists perform and/or show their work downtown, attracting locals to the city.
"I hit this gallery up first because I know that they have good snacks and I was really thirsty and really hungry," said Sara Daniels, a rising senior in studio art and a regular First Friday participant. "I've seen really goods shows here before, and 1010 is across the street so I meandered over here. I'm going to every gallery I can tonight."
The Downtown Gallery normally holds exhibitions that have pieces within the 30-40 count range. As the director of the gallery, Berry also designed and hung the exhibition.
"Really, with any show, you take in consideration color and subject, but a lot of the times I just like to create a good rhythm of dark and light framed things ... just to create a rhythm so it's not a corner of big things and another corner of small things," Berry said. "(The pieces are) usually on the floor and I spent two or three hours just crisscrossing the room and saying, 'No, that doesn't work.' Most of it is intuitive, where I look for those patterns of dark and light size so this one was pretty easy but it took a lot of time."
Many of the pieces exhibited in the gallery featured Knoxville locations as their subjects, including the painting "Downtown Knoxville" by original member Robert Birdwell, "Jackson Avenue Alley" by Ann Birdwell and "Rocky Top Sunrise" by Kay Yadzi.
"I think all experiences are subjective and that art is just a reflection of life and how we go through life and how we think about things and I think that artists like a continuation of invention and expression and creation," Daniels said of the common theme among the paintings and of the subjective perspective on art. "It's part of the reason that I love art so much is that it's such an individualized experience that we can all share together ... it's kind of paradoxical in a weird kind of way."
Goals of the society include educating the community on the saturated form of paint, encouraging participation all across East Tennessee and providing Knoxville artists with an opportunity and experience of creating and showing watercolor art. Robinson, who once was an architect and a member of the architectural faculty at UT, said he appreciates how KWS let him broaden his horizons in the art world.
"I think it's been a good opportunity for myself to grow," he said. "I wasn't an artist to start with, but I didn't start painting to any extent until three years ago. It's been an opportunity to build off what's come before me."
Along with participating in watercolor societies across the nation, including Watercolor USA and the National Watercolor Society, the group is philanthropic in the Knoxville community as well. The organization annually presents a UT watercolor student with a scholarship, donates to the Ewing Gallery and makes grants to the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville.
"I'm quite honored to be a part of it," Robinson said. "It's great to be included in an organization that has had all of these locally famous artists within the group over all the years."The Knoxville Watercolor Society's Golden Anniversary Exhibition will continue through June 29 at the UT Downtown Gallery at 106 South Gay St. The gallery is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.