Plein Air Artist Gayle Hurley paints the Kayser-Turner-Searcy House as part of the Plein Air Workshop on Saturday. -- Ashley Johnson
Plein Air Artist Gayle Hurley paints the Kayser-Turner-Searcy House as part of the Plein Air Workshop on Saturday. -- Ashley Johnson

Plein Air Artists show Selma in new light

Published 8:34pm Saturday, March 16, 2013

Susan Newton said for her it was like, “coming home.” After being gone from Selma and living elsewhere for the last 35 years, she has just returned to Selma. She walked out of the Selma Art Guild on Selma Avenue Sunday with two oil paintings in hand that were still wet. 

This of course was the Wet Paint Sale at the Art Guild that hosted dozens of paintings from more than 27 artists who took to the streets of Selma’s downtown throughout the weekend as part of their Alabama Plein Air Artists organization.

“I was born and raised here and I just moved back,” Newton said holding a large framed painting of Old Live Oak Cemetery. “My grandparents were actually buried here,” she said, pointing to the painting. She said her family roots are deep in Selma’s history.

“This is the one thing I wanted to do today on the Pilgrimage is come to the Art Guild and buy some oils for my new house,” Newtown said.

She recently bought a historic home and said buying the paintings of Old Live Oak Cemetery and Sturdivant Hall to hang in her home makes it feel like she really is coming home.

Selma’s 2013 Pilgrimage focused on Jewish heritage in Selma, but that didn’t stop the Alabama Plein Air Artists from painting anything in sight. Some painted First Baptist of Selma, First Presbyterian downtown, The Baker-Brooks House, the Vaughan Smitherman Museum and even just windows and doors of historic homes and buildings.

Plein Air art is part of a revival for artists to ditch studios and go back into nature and natural settings outdoors, much like the impressionist artists from before the turn of the 19th century, said Sharon Gates, director of the Alabama Plein Air Artists.

Artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir are two of the most recognizable artists from the first movement.

The artists in downtown Selma, however, were from places like Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville. Gates said the group of artists meet once a month in different locations around the state.

“The events are not always as big and nice as this one was, but this has just been great,” Gates said, and added that next month the group will be in Montevallo for an arts festival selling their work and painting. “The paintings that we do here generally appeal to the pilgrims that come through, so it’s just a great venue for us and it works with the Art Guild and helps get them money as well.”

The sale was a success in that many of the paintings were sold in the first 30 minutes of the sale. One painting was even sold before it even made it onto display.

People like Doll Searcy came to see their own home that was on the Pilgrimage Tour be painted, and people like Edie Jones came to view and purchase paintings of her church, First Presbyterian.

Artists alike found appreciation for the downtown architecture that Selma natives often boast of.

Artists Dee Falls and Adelaide Boothe agreed they would come back to Selma next year because of the endless painting possibilities.

“Spring is everywhere in Selma,” Falls said about her visit to the Queen City. “There are so many beautiful structures, homes, gardens, cemeteries, churches and things downtown — it’s very unique and people are so friendly.”

Artist Karen Weir from the Selma Art Guild said the artists coming to Selma this year was, “Great for Selma because all of the artists are going home and saying, ‘You have to come to Selma next year,’” Weir said. “They are just raving about Selma.”

Selma was voted one of the top 60 Prettiest Painted Places in the nation by the Paint Quality Institute in 2012.

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