Friday, April 24, 2009


The Art League of Henderson County used to hold its monthly meetings on weekdays at the Opportunity House, on Asheville Highway in Hendersonville. Weekday afternoon permitted a good turnout of members, many of whom are retired amateurs and full-time professional artists. That pattern was broken when the Opportunity House expanded its duplicate bridge schedule. Bridge players occupied all parking spaces early in the afternoon and many Art League members were forced to park elsewhere. Delivering paintings or mobility-impaired members became a serious problem.

For a while, the ALHC tried using other locations. Supplemental evening programs to accommodate painters who worked weekdays were also tried. Now the regular monthly meetings have returned to the Opportunity House on Sunday afternoons. We can only hope that the bridge program will not expand to Sunday afternoons, since the Opportunity House’s meeting room and hallways provide such good space to display the work of members and featured guests.

Water colorist Pamela Haddock delivered a demonstration of her technique for the April 19 meeting. Haddock lives in the Sylva area, in the “real” Western North Carolina. (In the opinion of people living in the coves and on the ridges towards the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville is simply the gateway to the west.) Many of Haddock’s landscapes are drawn from this picturesque area.

In less than one hour, Haddock completed a 20”x30” painting, starting with a drawn pencil sketch on 140lb cold press paper that had been thoroughly wetted front and back and placed on a composite board to be held in place by surface tension. While the white areas were somewhat dried, even they were still damp. Using large brushes and rapid gestures, she introduced pigment profusely. The water still on the paper blended the colors. Scratches and hard edges were used to add detail. The result was a rapid-fire quality painting.

Haddock has that unusual ability to lecture while painting, with a dry sense of humor that leavened the afternoon. The time passed quickly and informatively. Several knowledgeable ALHC members asked penetrating questions about some of the unusual aspects of her technique, including where to get the composite board she uses (“Lowes”) and about the Fredrix Watercolor Canvas that is the surface for several of the other paintings now at the Opportunity House for April. In addition to cold press paper and the watercolor canvas, she also uses Strathmore Illustration Board Vellum for some paintings.

Among the paintings on display are the superb “Daylily Dance” and “Sunset Storm,” both painted on canvas. “Daylily Dance” gracefully evokes the movement of the flowers in the zephyr winds. “Sunset Storm” catches the magic moment when the sun, setting behind you, underlights the clouds. Both of these paintings are art of the moment, with an inner life of transience captured by the artist.

In addition to the booth that she maintains at Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville, Pamela Haddock sells her work through her website This is such a comprehensive and fine website that I have not attached illustrations to this column. Going to her site and making your own choice of paintings to examine online will better serve you. Clicking on “Hendersonville Show” will display the art now on the walls of the Opportunity House. (But be warned: the colors on the screen do not do justice to the colors in the original of "Sunset Storm.") Clicking on “Browser’s Gallery” will display other recent work. There is also a link to

The Art League of Henderson County recognizes that there are dedicated artists in the region at all skill levels in
two-dimensional media. Calling itself “WNC's All-Inclusive Art Group,” the ALHC welcomes members ranging from the most timid and tentative amateur to the most flamboyant and confident professional. It is a friendly group with workshops and group activities that are helpful to all members. Readers living anywhere in Western North Carolina can find out more at

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #430
April 24, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009


There it is, in my personal address book: Joseph Patelson Music House, 160 W. 56th St., New York, NY. At the end of April, I will erase the entry. After more than sixty years of operating at that address, the legendary Patelson’s is shutting down.

From 1985 until 2000, I frequently visited my son Ted, who was then living in New York City. Before a concert at Carnegie Hall, we would often drop by Patelson’s. This justly famous music store is immediately across 56th Street from the stage entrance to Carnegie Hall. If the impending concert was by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, we might be rubbing shoulders with oboist Lothar Koch. Waiting to ask a question of one of the sales associates, we would suddenly realize “that’s Beverly Sills over there browsing in the stacks.” All the Manhattan-based musicians and all the visiting musicians knew and respected Patelson’s.

One day in 1990, I asked about Dussek piano sonatas. (Dussek is the German or English spelling of the Bohemian surname Dusík.) The clerk immediately recognized the name (not every musician does).1 Gesturing to some student collections, he said, “You don’t want the sonatinas, do you?” Told that I was looking for middle and late sonatas, he scurried behind the scenes to the extensive stacks. Shortly he reappeared with Volumes I and II of the Musica Antiqua Bohemica edition of the complete Jan Ladislav Dusík piano music, published by Supraphon in Prague. The clerk apologized that someone else had bought Volume III, which contained “Elégie harmonique” and “Le retour á Paris,” but pointed out that the Opus 35 sonatas were in Volume II. This is but one example of Patelson’s extremely knowledgeable staff.

In 1938, Joseph Patelson took over ownership of a Cooper Square music shop. In 1947, the store was moved to its current location in a nineteenth-century carriage house. Joseph Patelson died in 1992. His son Daniel took over but died in 2004. Daniel’s widow strived to cope with the changing scene of Internet sales and free downloads of public domain classical music, but it was a losing battle. The current recession was the final blow.

Karen Sams, who opened SoliClassica in Asheville in 2008, says that Patelson’s was one of the models for her store. Like Patelson’s, SoliClassica contains music for all instruments and an extensive inventory arranged where possible in open bins. Sams says that “musicians need a place to browse and to find inspiration.” She points out that sheet music bought on a whim will later turn out to be a gem that was simply waiting for the right time to shine in the life of a musician.

The closing of Patelson’s is yet another sign that mass marketing is driving out the humane and civilizing influence of independent bookstores and music stores. Just as we in Asheville are fortunate to have Malaprops Bookstore, we are now blessed with SoliClassica, arguably the most complete and finest source of sheet music in the Southeast.

So I will erase Patelson’s from my address book. In its place now is SoliClassica, 114 Fugazy Center, 1550 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville NC 28803, telephone (828) 277-4111. Drop by to meet Karen Sams or Marion Sprott, her knowledgeable assistant. And do browse a little.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #429 
April 17, 2009

1. Jan Ladislav Dussek was a talented Bohemian pianist and composer who had the misfortune to be born between Mozart and Beethoven, and thus has been overshadowed by those giants. Dussek was a favorite of Marie Antoinette in Paris in the 1780’s. He was a friend of Haydn, Clementi and the young John Field in the 1790’s in London, where he attracted large concert audiences. He returned to continental Europe and Russia after 1800. The best of Dussek’s piano sonatas, such as Opus 35 #3 and “Elégie harmonique,” are superior to the weakest of Beethoven’s. 

Friday, April 10, 2009


In 1996, North Carolina native Wendy Whitson was living in Atlanta and pursuing a successful career in graphic design, including work for McGraw-Hill and for a large architectural firm. She was following her own dictum to “enjoy whatever you are doing until the next thing comes along.” During a weekend in Asheville, she visited Marie Hudson and Betty Clark in the River Arts District’s Warehouse Studio and noted with interest that these two ladies were making a living as fine artists. Whitson and her husband moved to Asheville in 2000, but her commercial career continued to absorb her creative energy, leaving no room for fine art.

In 2003, it was time to resume painting. Whitson sold her graphic design business and scouted for studio space. She heard of an available studio in the River Arts District’s “RiverLink Building.” Only when she arrived at the building did she realize that this was the Warehouse Studio in which she had seen Marie Hudson working. She promptly leased the space in which she still works and sells her acrylic paintings.

Whitson says, “When I saw this studio, I felt peacefulness. This is the time; this is the place. I was coming back to myself.” She had painted both figurative and abstract art during her studies at East Carolina University, and planned to draw on her past.

For an exacting artist like Whitson, however, the transition was not quick. She had a passionate interest in landscapes, but needed to develop her abstract-impressionist style. Her acrylics are mostly large-scale paintings inspired by an actual scene but releasing the color that she sees inside the location. She spent a full year painting before she was satisfied with a work and placed it for sale.

When Whitson paints flowers, she likes to concentrate on one specimen among a mass of flowers. That one flower is treated realistically; the rest feel like that flower but are abstract. That approach can be seen in “Queen’s Anne Lace.”

Whitson’s paintings are heavily layered. She always starts with a random grid that is dripped onto the canvas, and then paints as many as ten or eleven layers on top of that grid. “The grid represents God’s master plan for everything we find in nature. What I am painting is nature,” she says. The result is a feeling of place represented semi-abstractly.

She used to work on three to five paintings at a time, but in recent years finds that she is actively engaged with no more than two new works. She may be preparing the grid for the next effort, and always has ten more ideas simmering on a back burner, but she is happy with one or two works dominating her thoughts.

You can see more at or visit Wendy Whitson’s studio between 11 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Some of her paintings will be at the Arts Council of Henderson County’s “River District Artists” group show from May 1 through June 20, 2009. She will also be represented at the Haen Gallery in a “Collectors’ Circle” show sometime in July.

Paintings accompanying this column © Wendy Whitson: “Cosmos,” “Queen Anne’s Lace” and “On the Parkway.”

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #428
April 10, 2009
corrections added April 17, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009


The building is on Route 276 in Cedar Mountain, at the entrance to Sherwood Forest. It was a cowshed before Sarah Sneeden converted it into “Sarah’s Studio.” Only a few miles from one entrance to the DuPont State Forest, it is most appropriately located for the working studio of an artist noted for her mountain landscapes.

Sneeden frequently takes off for an afternoon in the DuPont State Forest or another location that she may have identified as ripe for scenic explorations. Sometimes it is a mass of flowers in a farmyard; other times it is a picturesque road. Using primacolor pencils, watercolors or pastels, she sketches her thoughts on site. In this way, she records some critical moment of clouds or lighting in a way that a camera cannot.

“Painting on location is like a smorgasbord. You get to choose what you paint,” she once explained to me, “Photography is like being on a diet.”

Armed with the results of her frequent field trips, she spends most mornings in the studio (which has no telephone) working at an easel to create the oil paintings for which she is justly renowned, paintings such as “Butterfly Watch,” a detail from which is shown to the right.

It was forty years ago that this native of Pennsylvania adopted a home in the woods, near her current studio, and began earning a living as a single artist. Her income arises from landscapes (many sold through Wickwire Gallery on Hendersonville’s Main Street and others from her studio) and also from commissioned portrait painting. Just as the artistic merit of her landscapes arises from an eye for the moment in nature, her portraits result from an analysis of the character of the subject. Often she will walk an adult into the DuPont State Forest and take seventy or more photographs of them in a site that she considers appropriate to the individual. She studies young children in their natural environment, their own rooms, in order to uncover insights into the child’s interests. She sometimes depicts toys or other objects, and sometimes just hints at these in her final painted portrait.

For her own pleasure she paints some offbeat scenes, such as street scenes from Asheville’s Belle Chere Festival or Hendersonville’s Apple Festival. These do not sell as rapidly as the landscapes, so her studio is cluttered with paintings that she did for the sheer joy they brought her. Among these are many paintings of circus performers. She loves the circus, and makes a pilgrimage each year to see the Big Top.

It is not only circus animals that she has a passion for. Sometimes family pets are included in her portrait painting. She reports that owners are quite exacting about their pet’s appearance. One woman was painted while seated with her favorite Dalmation. After completing the oil, Sneeden decided that it would be improved by repositioning the dog slightly.

“Have you ever thought of what it is like to move every spot on a Dalmation?” she asks.

Since we are only a few weeks past the vernal equinox, it seems appropriate to end this column with Sarah Sneeden’s recent landscape entitled “Step Into Spring.”

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #427 
April 4, 2009