Artists win first place after 'a lot of duds'

Painters and Potters contest artwork on display through April 4

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"Determination" by John Gagnon was the first place painting at the Third Annual Center Painters and Potters Competition at Arts of the Albemarle. Gagnon said a trip to the beach when Tropical Storm Matthew was off the coast inspired his painting.


By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Mary Ann Mason fired her clay elephant the first time, it emerged as a "white ghost."

Her mistake was getting the fire too hot, she said.

So she heaped up pine cones, limbs and leaves -- all the things potters don't normally use - over the elephant and tried again.

This time, the elephant emerged from its bed of coals, a brownish-gray color with an interesting pattern of spots.

"I never know exactly what something is going to look like, but I always have hope it will turn out the way I want," said the art instructor at College of the Albemarle.

Her creation called "Sacrifice to Save" won first place on Thursday in the Third Annual Center Painters and Potters Competition at Arts of the Albemarle.

Gallery patrons voted for their favorite painting and pottery over the past month to determine the winners out of eight pottery entries and 35 paintings. Artwork will remain on display through April 4.

Two hundred votes later, Mason took the top prize for pottery and John Gagnon of Edenton won first place for his oil painting "Determination." That's the second year in a row, Gagnon has won the top prize.

Like Mason, Gagnon said his work does not always turn out the way he likes.

"Whatever strikes me, I paint. I have a lot of duds," he said.

Gagnon said he was inspired to paint "Determination" after going to the beach while Tropical Storm Matthew was off the coast. There he spotted a lone fisherman casting a line while fierce winds sheared off the tops of waves, creating a mist.

"The water looked incredible" with the patches of sun breaking through a cloudy sky, he recalled. While waves crashed on shore, splashing against the rocks, waves farther out looked smooth.

To create water action in his painting, Gagnon said he would sometimes use a stiff brush to splatter paint on the canvas. Using oil paint makes a big difference, he said.

"It has a life-like quality to it. It does all the work if you put it in the right place," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Gagnon also spent a lot of time mixing pigments to find the right colors for his painting. The retired soil scientist said his work comparing the minute differences in soil colors is helpful as an artist.

Gagnon said he was surprised at winning the contest for the second time in a row.

"It's a pretty good feeling especially since other artists voted on it, and there were so many good paintings," he said.

Mason was also a previous winner in the Painters and Potters competition for a whimsical sunbather she created the year before last.

Mason said creating her elephant, at least 6 inches tall, began with four clay cylinders for legs and a bigger cylinder for the body. If the clay was too soft, it would collapse; too dense, and it would be difficult to shape.

After that, she added the trunk and ears -- trying on three different sets before settling on the pair that suited her.

Like Gagnon, Mason's work was inspired by a real-life event. She actually rode an elephant at a elephant rescue in Zambia during a trip to Africa.

The two- to three-year-old elephant she rode was still small by comparison to adults. Its mother was rescued by the preserve as a teenager after its mother was shot. She ran off for a while but returned to the preserve to give birth.

Other artists also drew from their past experiences.

Christine Henninger, who won 3rd place honors for both painting and pottery, said her porcelain bowl with poppies was inspired by her French homeland, where the flowers color the landscape. The wild horses on the Outer Banks were her inspiration in her third place painting.

Other winners in the Third Annual Center Painters & Potters Competition:


2nd Barbara Wachter “Beauty of a Working Harbor”

3rd Christine Henninger “Horses”


2nd Robert Smithson “Hallucination at Tea”

3rd Christine Henninger “#638