Remembering Laura Spong (1926-2018)

The South Carolina Arts Commission notes with sadness the passing of Laura Spong of Columbia, recognized as one of South Carolina’s most prominent painters and the state’s premier abstract expressionist.

In 2017, Spong was recipient of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award Governor’s Award for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement, presented annually by SCAC. She began painting in the 1950s, facing all of the obstacles common to women artists, and overcame these barriers through persistence and commitment to her work. She focused on developing her talents, always aiming to create good art rather than quick notoriety.

Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May issued the following statement on the agency’s behalf:

“Looking back at Laura Spong’s long career as a painter, it is hard to imagine that her recognition as an artist came later in life. The South Carolina Arts Commission was able to purchase two paintings by Laura in 2006 for the State Art Collection.  These works mark important moments in her career – White Flowers from the late 1950s and Dancing Under the Street Light from the early 2000s. White Flowers is unique as it is one of only three works in the collection that pre-date 1960 and it’s even more unique in this group of three – it’s an abstract work by a female artist.

“Laura’s nomination for the 2017 Verner Award for Lifetime Achievement was a packet of  ‘love letters’ from artists, arts professionals and others who thrived under her mentorship and were inspired by her quiet leadership. Yet, even during the Verner Awards activities, which are designed to shine a spotlight, she shrugged off the attention. Her focus was as always, on art as a way of life, and not on the acknowledgement of her extraordinary career.”

Details on arrangements can be viewed here. Below, some who knew or worked with Ms. Spong share feelings or anecdotes about her life and work.

From Wim Roefs

“Laura was ready, and so we have to be. I am terribly sad about it, though, and a bit choked up, even though I knew it was coming. Laura simply was one of the greats, as an artist and a human being, and I am very glad that I was part of her life for the past 18 or 20 years, and that she is part of mine. Laura just never disappointed. Great painter, cool person, living in an unusual but so compelling home, funny, quirky, principled, living the opposite of an un-examined life. You name it. Committed, to art and doing right and treating people well. All of it. And so unassuming, as a person and an artist. It took her forever to refer to herself as ‘an artist;’ for the longest time, she would say ‘painter’ instead. She never quite got used to being considered such a good artist and, at least within the South Carolina context, an important one. When she won the Verner Award, she looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said: ‘I thought that was only for really important people.’ I explained that she was important.

“She won’t fade out of people’s memory anytime soon. And when those people and their memories die, there will be hundreds of Laura Spong paintings in hundreds of homes and public and institutional collections. So she’ll live on, and that’s great comfort.”