Alabama Plein Air Artists have created a traveling art exhibit commemorating the state’s bicentennial.
With paintbrushes in hand and history in mind, one group of artists has spent the last year capturing scenes from cities and towns in Alabama on canvas, preparing for the paintings to be unveiled to the public during the events celebrating Alabama’s 200th anniversary of statehood. After months of planning and painting, the Alabama Plein Air Artists are ready to share their original work in an exhibition that will be as much a part of Alabama’s history as the landmarks depicted in many of the paintings.
The APAA comprises professional and amateur artists who gather at least 10 months out of the year to paint en plein air, or in the “open air,” outdoors. The group holds a juried show every two years. With Alabama’s bicentennial approaching, the advisory board decided the group could celebrate the milestone in conjunction with its next juried show. Planning started in early 2017.
“From the get-go, our membership was enthusiastic about the opportunity, and very willing to host ‘paint-outs’ around the state at cities and sites rich in Alabama history,” says Amy R. Peterson, who is co-chairing the exhibition with Anne Stickney. “Many of our members visit places for the first time in their lives, thanks to the welcome incentive to come and paint the locales and enjoy camaraderie with other painters.”
The result of these monthly paint-outs is “Alabama, Then and Now,” a commemorative and educational traveling art exhibit of 30 original paintings depicting places of historical significance in Alabama history. The exhibit tour kicks off at the Aldridge Gardens gallery in Hoover in early October, and will have stops in Fort Payne, Huntsville, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Athens, Pike Road and the State Capitol in Montgomery. Most venues will host opening receptions, and entry is free and open to the public.
“Under the leadership of director Sharon Gates, our group has seen an increase in membership and accordingly, in opportunities for paint-outs and other plein air events that vary from single day to multi-day excursions,” she says. “From 2017-2018, leading up this juried show, member-hosts focused on historic cities, towns and landmarks, giving our membership many opportunities to visit, experience and paint these places from life. Some of those more recent paint-outs included Mooresville, Monroeville, Fort Payne, Athens, Mobile, Tannehill and Birmingham, to name a few.”
The plein air aspect of the exhibit lends itself to a unique, unexpected perspective regarding the state’s history, Amy says. “When they hear ‘Alabama bicentennial art show,’ visitors may expect to see paintings representing Alabama’s Native American history, Civil War and Civil Rights, in particular,” she adds. “Most of the paintings depict living relics of Alabama history: paintings of old bridges and barns and general stores; gins and mills; the natural beauty of Alabama’s waterways; the charm of its towns; the marvels of its cities’ architecture; with a sprinkling of industry, sports and popular culture. Plein air artists are drawn to the beauty of the natural world, often to relics of the past, and places off the beaten path. For this reason, visitors to this exhibit will discover some diamonds in the rough; some obscure landmarks and regions of Alabama, where the artists live or have traveled and painted from life. We hope people will walk away from the exhibit feeling more connected to Alabama and having learned something new.”
Most of the paintings in the exhibition will be for sale, meaning when the tour concludes in November 2019, they likely will become treasured pieces in art collections statewide. Any paintings that are sold will travel for the full duration of the tour. After the tour, the paintings will go to the buyers.
“Though the buyers will have to wait to receive their paintings, they will be welcoming a piece of history into their homes or offices; a work of art that will endure for centuries, an heirloom, a painting that can be enjoyed by generations of family and friends, and one that was part of a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition commemorating Alabama’s bicentennial,” Amy says. “These paintings will have hung in the State Capitol in Montgomery and in art centers and galleries around the state, and with that comes wonderful honor and provenance for each and every painting.”
An opening reception serving as a grand kick-off for the exhibit is set for Tuesday, Oct. 9, from 6-7 p.m. at Aldridge Gardens. Most of the exhibiting artists are expected to attend.
“We are so proud that the exhibition has been officially endorsed by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission,” Amy says. “As a co-chair of this exhibition and a proud member of the APAA, I am most grateful to the entire APAA membership, especially to those who host and volunteer in whatever ways they are able; to all our artists who submitted their outstanding artwork; to the venues and people hosting this exhibition and welcoming it to their cities; and to chair Anne Stickney whose devotion to materializing this undertaking never wavered.”
More information about APAA can be found at alabamapleinairartists.com. For more information about Alabama Bicentennial events around the state, visit alabama200.org.