The South Carolina Arts Awards were celebrated May 13 in Columbia, with a ceremony presided over by Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster at the Statehouse, followed by a luncheon hosted by McKissick Museum. The evening included a concert, art sale and gala presented by the South Carolina Arts Foundation. The celebration honors recipients of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts and the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards. This year, the celebration also included the McNair Award, presented to honor outstanding leaders building on the legacy of the late Gov. Robert McNair.
We congratulate all award recipients for their outstanding contributions to the arts in South Carolina!
Bricolage: Construction or creation from a diverse range of available things as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas by using whatever comes to hand; something constructed in this way.
In a triumph of understatement, Aldwyth told me she was a “bricoleur,” who has dedicated much of her life to “bricolage.”
I must set the record straight: She is not a brioleur, she is the bricoleur. Her outcomes in bricolage define the format.
No one does what Aldwyth does. Her work — collage, assemblage and sculpture — is jaw dropping.
The pieces are unique, original, breathtaking, timeless, extraterrestrial in a way, and they can transport the viewer to distant environments. They border on the supernatural.
The Aldwyth artistic trajectory has unfolded in an almost inevitable way. She is the artist who creates those loosely crafted works by combining found items from disparate sources, detritus from any number of locations: illustrations, illustration from magazines, well chosen words cut from favorite books. She uses anything is at her disposal.
She has been quietly acknowledged through the southeast for her work in a variety of forms, formats and mediums.
Now that acknowledgment is more visible with her designation by the South Carolina Arts Commission as winner of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award on May 13.
“Aldwyth set a high bar … and it has been a joy and inspiration to see those accomplishments recognized,” said artist and friend Louanne LaRoche. “And also for her to be held — publicly — in such high regard.”
‘THE EDGE OF THE ART WORLD’
The 79-year-old artist has lived on Hilton Head Island for nearly 48 years, but continues to remain somewhat unknown to many.
Her public persona is that she — vibrant and energetic, somewhat reclusive — is consumed by a life in which she is fully engaged in her work.
“My work is what I do, and I do it for myself,” said Aldwyth. “I am the one who must be satisfied with the results.”
She says this with humility, graciousness and a flash of good humor.
Mark Sloan, Director and Senior Curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, College of Charleston, approached the best description of Aldwyth when he said:
“Aldwyth stands on the edge of the art world. She paces around its perimeter, taking measure of its mass and scale
Aldwyth works in her Treehouse home on Deer Island on the south end of Hilton Head Island.
She is surrounded inside by the unusual trappings of her artistic focus and outside, nestled at waters edge, by the natural setting of the forested Lowcountry.
“I’ve redesigned my house to accommodate my lifestyle and my work,” she said, gesturing to indicate the practicality of an open space.
She removed the interior walls of her loft, choosing, instead to dedicate that space to work. Windows surround the loft, and bookshelves poke out from under the windows, filled mainly with momographs. Small works of art vie with dried lizards and other important items from her past. Large collages reside in tubes stashed in the rafters. The few walls are covered with foam core to accommodate works in progress.
There are four tables – three long, high top worktables that accommodate her stacks of tear sheets from “Artist Forum,” or “Art in America” and other publications given to her by friends who know she collects particular magazines for her work. Rolls of Okawara paper, lean in the corner.
There are lots of scissors, and Jade adhesive — the tools of her trade. To that add file folders, zip lock bags, and microwave dinner trays to house her kind of objects d’ art and dozens of labeled drawers holding images ranging from “Mona Lisa” to “Folk Art” and “Special.”
“By the way,” she said, with no particular reference, “while I’m not necessarily a rules person, I do have one rule: all of the pieces I use in my work must be found items. I’ve handled each piece so many times. I find, pull, and organize them, preparing them for use. I never reproduce any image that I use in my work. That means used book stores are my prime suppliers.”
The fourth table is not high top, but a station for administrative work by day and, with the removal of the technological inventory and the introduction of a bedroll, her bed by night.
‘THE WORK I DO’
Aldwyth’s day begins around 4 a.m., when she sees to those activities she can complete before sunrise.
As soon as it is daylight, she takes a vigorous walk. Her goal is at least 10,000 steps a day, verified by a pedometer. When she returns to her studio/loft, she begins work.
We talked about the beginnings of her interest in art.
Starting with an art class at American University, a 13-year odyssey ultimately led to her degree in fine arts from the University of South Carolina.
There were also important life experiences and friendships all in the pursuit of defining her artistic focus.
“My dad was a Navy chaplin,” explained Aldwyth. ” Our family lived all around the country … even in Beaufort,” she laughed. “Actually I attended high school there for a time, before we were off to Washington. It was later that I returned to make this area my home.”
“What an enormous boost I was given through my friendships on Hilton Head” Aldwyth said. “I worked privately at first. But at some early point, I connected with Louanne LaRoche, then owner/director of the Red Piano Gallery. What an amazing difference that made toward establishing my artistic roots and new directions.”
“I first met Aldwyth when I purchased the Red Piano gallery in 1980,” said LaRoche. “I admired the feverish perseverance and hyper focus in Aldwyth’s process as an artist.”
Aldwyth added that she cherished the time she spent at the Red Piano. She was invited to the Red Piano Round Table and joined in conversations with artists such as Coby Whitmore, Joe DeMers, Joe Bowler, Walter Greer, Bal Ballantine, Marge Parker, Elizabeth Grant, Katy Hodgeman, Tua Hayes and George Plante. She considers what she learned at that table her MFA.
When I asked about her family, she explained they were in close touch.
“I have three sons. Two — Joe and Bill Thomas — still live on Hilton Head,” she said. “Reb and his wife Karen and granddaughters, Rebecca and Margaret are nearby in Columbia”
Aldwyth’s sister and best friend, Joyce and husband live close to her studio home.
“They are all so wonderfully supportive of the work I do, ” said Aldwyth. “My brother in law, Jack Keller, a former member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, gave me his old Tide Logs, which were the genesis of my collage, “Where Were You When the Moon Was Full?” which is now in the collection at the Telfair Museum in Savannah.”
She added that Betsy and Jim Chaffin, who moved to Hilton Head shortly after she did, are longtime, close friends. It was Betsy who introduced her to the use of Okawara paper. Several years earlier, her sister Joyce had given her an 1871 Zell Encyclopedia.
“I determined to use every image in that encyclopedia, actually 2000 … in one work. But over five years, I cut and rearranged. It wouldn’t work,” she said.
Aldwyth said these two gifts made possible the creation of her 79 x 76″ work, “The world according to Zell” possible.
Over time, Aldwyth reimagined that encyclopedic world to become the foundation of art – landscape, portraiture and still life — and the large sheets of paper were the critical support of the overwhelming detail.
“Without those gifts, who knows what I’d be doing now,” she said.
‘GET UP AND WORK’
Aldwyth’s work has been widely acknowledged through selected exhibitions across the country, among them The ARAC@AAM, the Aspen Art Museum, the 20th Anniversary, the South Carolina State Museum, 2 South Carolina Triennial, the South Carolina State Museum, 701 CCA, The Right to Assemble Halsey Gallery and the College of Charleston
Currently hanging throughout our general area are a number of Aldwyth pieces.
“What’s love got to do got to do with it,” is at the Bascsom Center for the Arts in Highands, N.C. until the end of May.
“Casablanca (classic version)” and “Casablanca (colorized version)” will be shown at the Columbia Museum of Art in an exhibit called “Independent Spirits: Women Artists of South Carolina” in a fall show accompanying an exhibit of work by Georgia O”Keeffe.
When I asked about what she is working on currently, Aldwyth said she really doesn’t talk about her work in progress.
Another one of her rules.
“If you can talk about it and explain it, you never do it,” she said. “It’s trying to figure out what you want to do. That’s what makes it exciting to get up and work – making 100 small decisions that makes something happen that you never expected.”
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.