By Kristen Davis • Contributing Writer
If a painter were to illustrate a Thursday morning at the Uptown Gallery in Franklin, she might depict this scene: a silver-haired woman painting a watercolor landscape chatting with a young man who has sketched a portrait of his Golden Retriever.
For the past 10 years, members of the Macon County Art Association have convened every Thursday at the gallery to critique one another’s work, offer encouragement and foster a sense of community. The “Thursday Painters’ Group” usually consists of about 10 to 12 people, a mixture of member artists and people of the general public who wish to improve their skills. The meetings are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Anybody who wants to join is invited,” said Pat Mennenger, a member of MCAA who regularly attends the sessions, teaches art classes at the Uptown Gallery and serves on the gallery’s Board of Directors.
The painters in the group work with several different mediums and techniques, Mennenger explained. Currently, she is using oil to paint still life, but the gathering includes creators of landscapes, portraits and folk art.
“Every once in awhile, someone will bring something they’re knitting or crocheting,” she said. “Sometimes someone will show up with no intention of painting.”
As a long time member of the group, Mennenger added that the “close-knit” community of artists has given her valuable feedback over the years.
“For some of us, it’s the only day of the week that we paint,” she said. “It’s good for discipline.”
Elsie Spriggle, a Thursday regular and member of MCAA, said the group is often joined by a retired professor who offers free critiques from a highly skilled perspective.
But the group is not all work and no play.
“We have an awful lot of fun,” Spriggle added. “When it’s your birthday, you bring the cake, and you share it with us.”
The social atmosphere draws in Jim Smythe, a member artist who trained as an abstract artist in college but now paints realism, primarily landscapes. He said he looks forward to Thursdays as a welcome change from painting by himself at home. He has come to rely on the creative input of his fellow artists.
The regular Thursday meetings contribute to the community aspect of MCAA and draw in newcomers from the public, said Ruth Goodier, director-elect of the Uptown Gallery.
Most of the MCAA members have retired from full time careers and now paint primarily for the pure pleasure of sharing their passion for art with their peers and younger generations.
Mennenger describes herself as “happily retired,” which allows her to spend more time painting during the day. A former commercial art teacher who trained as a graphic artist, she now teaches art lessons to children at the gallery once a month, and she insists that all aspiring artists, no matter their skill level, can gain helpful assistance at the gallery.
Like Mennenger, Goodier has been painting all her life. She graduated from art school several decades ago. Now, she is retired and devotes her time to developing her artistic outlet, which is painting folk art with a variety of different mediums. She has been a member of MCAA for eight years.
Goodier added that a diverse range of ages can be found in the gallery on Thursdays and throughout the rest of the week. During the summer, an influx of college students frequents the gallery—a venue that connects the older and seasoned to the young and amateur.
The goal of MCAA is simple: promote art in its Western North Carolina community. Similarly, the Thursday meetings aim specifically to promote MCAA’s artists in the community, said Stephen Clark, VP for Promotions of MCAA.
To further MCAA’s objective, Clark partners with local civic organizations, such as the Franklin Garden Club and the Wilderness Society. MCAA also reaches out to the youngest members of the community through children’s workshops and holding events at the Fun Factory — a popular family venue with arcade games and go-carts.
The paintings of MCAA artists adorn the walls of the Macon County Airport, Southwest Community College and several local businesses, including Franniecakes Bakery.
“We’ll work with anyone who wants to hang our art in their business,” Clark said.
With so many creatively inclined folks concentrated in the Smoky Mountain region, it is no wonder that similar artistic collaboration groups exist. Mennenger said she also belongs to a Renaissance musicians group and has heard of several other visual artists’ groups that meet in community members’ homes, though the groups are not organized under an umbrella organization such as the MCAA.
This past Saturday, the Uptown Gallery held its Pumpkinfest event, which attracted a crowd of autumn-enthusiasts from the community. The artists demonstrated their techniques, sold their art along the street, and performed balloon making and face painting for the children. Every week, the gallery holds classes that are open to members and non-members alike.
For a detailed class schedule, visit MCAA’s website at http://mcaauptowngallery.org.