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Painting for a lifetime

August 2, 2011

Arie Taylor was in elementary school the first time she tried her hand at painting. She was a fourth-grader at Banoak School in rural Catawba County and was immediately enthralled by the simple fun of making a blank canvas glow.

“I thought it was fun; every single thing about it was fun,” Taylor said.

Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, art supplies were hard to come by, and Taylor said her newly found passion was shortly put on hold due to a lack of available supplies.

“There was nowhere around here then that sold art supplies,” Taylor said.

Not to let her new hobby be foiled, Taylor started ordering paint and canvas boards from Sears, Roebuck and Co. After that, the rest is art history.

Now, Taylor is 90 years old and has painted thousands of landscape portraits and old-timey scenes. Out of the hundreds upon hundreds of works she has completed, only a handful remain hung or displayed around her living room in Vale.

“I’ve been interested in this all my life,” Taylor said. “I would say I’ve done at least 1,000 paintings. I didn’t start keeping a record of them until the early 1990s.”

Taylor still paints today, and said most of her paintings are oil-based landscapes or scenes of older, simpler times. Looking around her home, a multitude of seasonal paintings create a rainbow of Catawba County history across her walls. Newly-completed portraits like “Banoak School” and “Jug Town” give young viewers a glimpse into what the “old days” were like – a historic gateway that Taylor said motivates her to keep painting.

“It’s important to let the younger people and the generations growing up now see how things were done back then,” Taylor said. “If there was a cotton field now, they would probably harvest it with machines, but they can see in the paintings it was different back then.”

Taylor usually paints based off an old photograph, but said she still does it “her way.” After starting with a sketch in pencil, she makes final changes and fixes to her draft before painting.

While most of her paintings are in oil, Taylor said she has done some bird and wildlife portraits with watercolors. One thing is for sure that the long-time painter does not like acrylics.

“It dries too fast,” Taylor said. “If you go used to it, I guess it would be OK, but I don’t like it.”

On average, it takes Taylor seven to 10 days to finish a painting – a quick turnover rate that earned her the nickname of “speedy” while she took art classes at what was then Catawba Tech. In addition to the classes she completed, Taylor also learned to paint from lesson books she ordered through the mail.

Now, Taylor paints in a utility room inside her home in Vale. Over the years, her interest in painting has spread to her children, as both her son and daughter have been affected by her work. While her son makes all the frames for her paintings, Taylor’s daughter, Audrey Sherrill, is a talented painter in her own right. Some of Sherrill’s paintings even hang next to her mother’s work in the living room.

Getting noticed

Some of Taylor’s artwork will be featured at an upcoming exhibition at the Hickory Museum of Art called Discover Folk Art: Unique Visions by Self-Taught Southern Artists in the Hickory Museum of Art Collection.

Taylor donated a painting to the exhibition that includes her family inside the home she grew up in, said Lisë C. Swensson, executive director of the Hickory Museum of Art.

Even though she’s not just self-taught, she has taught herself certain styles,” Swensson said.

The exhibit is funded through a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services as well as locally raised funds. The exhibit will open Sept. 17 from 1-4 p.m., and admission is free for the public.

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