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Artists paint, connect, converse during summer SPLASH!

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Artist Sally Dean, of Marshfield, Mass., works on a painting under the awning of the stage at Mariners' Wharf Park, Tuesday. Dean is among the artists in Elizabeth City this week participating in this year's summer SPLASH! event.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

If you’ve spent any time in downtown Elizabeth City this week you’ve probably noticed the artists.

The summer edition of SPLASH! is going on throughout the week, culminating Friday evening with a Second Friday Art Walk.

Local artists and others from across the region — and a few from out of state — are enjoying a mix of solitude and fellowship as they produce works of art.

Sally Dean from Marshfield, Mass., a coastal town about 30 minutes south of Boston, is one of the artists who traveled a significant distance to be here.

Tuesday afternoon Dean was at an easel in the shade of the performance shelter at Mariners’ Wharf Park, painting the fabric shop and surrounding area at the corner of Water and Fearing streets.

Dean smiled as she acknowledged the irony of being next to a spectacular waterfront and choosing to turn her back to it as she painted the street scene.

But the beauty of the buildings was too much for her to pass up, so there she was.

This is the first time Dean, who is the education coordinator at the Art Complex Museum in Boston, has participated in SPLASH.

“This is the first time I have ever been to this part of the world,” Dean said, adding “this is so beautiful.”

Dean said one of the wonderful things about Elizabeth City is how much history there is in the area.

She also commented on how friendly people are here. That took a little while to get used to, she said, since social norms are a bit different in the northeastern part of the country. But it’s an appealing quality once you become accustomed to it, she said.

As Dean painted at a spot on the brick walkway next to the river at Mariners’ Wharf, a number of people stopped to speak to her and ask about what she was working on.

Painting is a puzzle, Dean said. Typically you don’t know what the painting is going to be as you start, she said, explaining that the painting takes shape gradually.

The hardest work is generally at the beginning of the painting, Dean said. Once the overall structure is in place — Dean remarked that it’s all about geometry in that early stage — the painting “starts to fall into place,” she said.

“There’s always more to learn,” Dean said.

Dean said she doesn’t get away to a different location to paint very often.

“I don’t get this all the time,” Dean said. “This is pretty special for me.”

In the summer Dean teaches the art of mosaic at an arts camp. She said she paints every day in that setting and always looks forward to that.

Dean also finds places to do plein art painting on her own street. She sometimes takes on art projects within her neighborhood such as painting 30 trees in 30 days and painting every house on her street.

In addition to plein air painting, Dean paints every day in a studio located in her backyard. She occasionally paints from photos and also is starting to do more abstract painting.

Dean grew up around artists and musicians. After graduation from high school she attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She graduated from the Museum School in 1981.

Marshfield has a strong art community, Dean said.

Jane Filer, an artist from Chapel Hill who worked with local artist Carolyn Peel to start SPLASH! about 10 years ago, stopped by Tuesday to visit with Dean. Filer said Splash has become a favorite destination for many artists.

“It has just grown so much,” Filer said.

Dean met Filer at a workshop Filer led during a retreat held a few years ago near Beaufort. Filer invited Dean to come to Elizabeth City for SPLASH! and she is spending this week here. Dean arrived Monday and will leave Saturday.

Artists have been working this week at various locations around town, especially in the downtown district. Footprints Christian Resources is hosting a number of artists this week, including Trina Sage and Diane Voliva, who will be at the store at various times today and Friday.

On Wednesday morning Sage had swapped her usual watercolor painting for scratch art. The method involves etching or “scratching” on a clay surface topped with ink — what’s known as a scratch board.

“I do a lot of different things,” noted Sage, who lived in Elizabeth City for nine years and now resides in Hertford. Sage started with oil painting and then tried acrylics and more recently, watercolors.

Sage said she appreciates the support Footprints provides for artists. The store has a mini gallery along one wall, with a few of Sage’s works in the mix. And the business is supporting SPLASH! this week.

“We’re excited about SPLASH!,” said Sage, explaining it’s a great opportunity to interact with the public and especially to meet other artists.

“I’ve learned things by talking to other folks,” Sage said.

Sage is originally from Connecticut and studied art at Norwich Free Academy. She teaches acrylic painting twice a month at Footprints and also teaches art classes in Edenton at the Senior Center.

Diane Voliva returned to her hometown of Elizabeth City after being away for 50 years. She works in acrylics and has only been painting about four years.

“And I have had no formal art training,” Voliva said.

Voliva said has learned a lot from watching other artists and listening to them. This is the second summer SPLASH! that she has participated in; she’s done the fall SPLASH! twice.

“The sharing is wonderful during SPLASH!,” Voliva said.

Voliva paints all kinds of subjects, including landscapes, still life and pet portraits.

“I love to do animals — birds, frogs, cats,” Voliva said.

Sage said one of the encouraging things about being around other artists is hearing about the things they tried that didn’t work.

Voliva agreed: It’s nice to know even the most experienced artists still have failures from time to time.

“That gives the rest of us hope,” Voliva said.

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