A Gallery Under the Skies
The Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition
By LEAH RHYNE
Make plans to visit beautiful Marion Square from May 24 until June 8 while it is transformed into an elegant en plein air gallery and market featuring talented creative visionaries. An annual event now in its 40th year, the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition will showcase more than 80 artists.
Dozens of tents create the feel of an open-air market with winding pathways leading to treasures beyond expectation. Browse through the entire show to find original works of oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, photography and so much more. Want to learn more about that piece you fell in love with? You’re in luck — many of the artists are present for demonstrations or a candid chat about their work.
The Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition is open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission is free, and children and pets are welcome.
Like most wildlife artists, painter Dianne Munkittrick always loved the outdoors. Her early career was in the field of natural resources, and she did everything from radio tracking deer and elk to cooking and eating rattlesnake in states such as Maine, Idaho and Montana. After a successful career as a silviculturist — tree growing specialist — with the US Forest Service, she took time off to raise her family and get a degree in graphic design.
Soon enough, Munkittrick learned to combine her two passions: nature and art. She began painting native wildlife and landscapes, and showing her work in local venues. Eventually, with the children grown up and more temperate climates beckoning, Munkittrick and her husband left Idaho for the Lowcountry. Now, she has a new assortment of wildlife to spark her creativity.
Munkittrick prefers to paint using oils. “I love its translucency and blending capabilities,” she says. When she’s painting a landscapes, she uses glazing techniques to add inner glow. Meanwhile, close-ups of wildlife get extra texture with molding paste.
“I strive to paint beyond the ordinary interpretation of nature to instill the awe and wonder it inspires in me,” says Munkittrick. “I aim to capture the elusive moment that transforms nature from mundane to magical.”
Elaine Berlin says she grew up always wanting to be an artist. A native of the Lowcountry, she attended the College of Charleston, where she majored in fine art. Her painting, “Rembrandt’s Favorite,” named for her dog at the time, was chosen as the 2007 Piccolo Spoleto Festival official poster.
“In the last few years, my paintings have become more about layers of color,” she says. “I just recently started using palette knives as well as brushes. This gives more texture to my work.”
Berlin uses acrylic paints to create brightly colored abstract pieces on canvas, paper or wood. While she is often inspired by the world around her – buildings or faces, mostly – her work is never representational. Instead, she plays with colors and shapes, resulting in her unique style.
This year marks Berlin’s 29th year participating in the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show. Until you visit her in Marion Square, you can likely find her hard at work in her studio, with Picasso, her golden retriever, snoozing peacefully nearby.
Throughout her childhood years, Joyce Harvey was always busily creating something. Whether it was drawing, needleworking, writing, singing or designing clothes for her dolls, she loved it all.
“I guess you could say I’ve had ‘creative angst’ for as long as I can remember,” she says.
Later, Harvey spent many years on the water, racing sailboats. Though she has dabbled in and loved different forms of creative expression, she now primarily works with oil paints to create bright maritime scenes inspired by her experiences.
“I spend as much time as possible sailing in the Lowcountry and cruising from the Bahamas to New England,” she says. “This is the inspiration for most of my paintings. I was told by an instructor years ago to paint what I love most, and the answer was simple.”
“Sitting down with a blank canvas, a palette of vibrant colors and just a vision to make something beautiful is the best feeling,” she says. “Making something from nothing just for the sake of creating something beautiful is simply magical.”
Judy McSween paints what she calls “familiar abstracts.” Her works are emotional interpretations of memories as well as her surroundings, frequently beginning as a photograph or a sketch. Her oil paintings are trademarked by large swaths of color, texture and light.
“I want my art to be an experience that encompasses my personal feelings as much as actual images,” says McSween. “One of the reasons I paint is because I believe in the power of art to educate and uplift. Being able to touch someone's heart and connect with them through art is magical.”
A lifelong painter who requested art supplies for birthday and Christmas gifts as a child, McSween graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor of fine art. Her art appears locally at the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston and the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island.
A teacher as well as a creator, McSween loves sharing the wisdom she’s earned through her work.
“Ask me questions!” she says. “There's always a story behind my paintings and I'm glad to share. Making art isn't mysterious, and it doesn't appear out of thin air. It’s a process of trial and error and experimentation. I tell my students to stay curious, and I do my best to remember that myself.”
Karen Langley began painting as a child living in England, where art and music were an integral part of the education system in which she was raised. However, it has only been in the past 15 years that she’s been working as a professional artist.
Much of Langley’s work depicts nature and wildlife — particularly birds — in oil. Her images on canvas show her love of Lowcountry birds in the numerous egrets, terns, and herons.
“I have always been surrounded by birds,” she says. “I’ve raised small hook bills like cockatiels and conures.”
Yet her creativity is diverse — she also paints abstracts, still lifes and watercolor batiks, blending representation with the abstract. The results are colorful images of Lowcountry living that come across as playful and fun.
“I feel as if a part of my heart and soul are in each piece of artwork,” she says.
For a prolific artist as Langley, this means a lot of heart and soul are out there in the world.
Lisa Willits loves to paint what inspires her, and what inspires her most are the colorful skies and towering cloud formations found along the coast of South Carolina. The rich pigments in oil paints allow her to emphasize the “gorgeous hues and luminous light” she witnesses during outdoor excursions with her yellow Lab, Clyde.
Interestingly, Willits never meant to be a painter. After being told all her life to pursue more “practical” careers, she graduated with a master’s in biology and came to Charleston for her doctoral work. However, her heart wasn’t in it, so she started taking evening art classes at the Gibbes Museum as a hobby.
“One thing led to another, and now, 20 years after that first art class, I am now living my dream and creating art full time,” she says proudly.
Today, she loves sharing her Lowcountry landscapes and cloudy skies with the world.
“Whether you are seeing one of my paintings in a magazine or you happen to buy a piece to hang in your home, if it sparks joy — as Marie Kondo would say — then I have done my job,” she says. “I hope my art reminds you to take a moment to appreciate this amazing world we live in. That’s why I create.”
Watercolor painter Sandra Roper is a former advertiser and stay-at-home mom who is happy to say she never missed a baseball game. When time allowed her to return to her original passion for painting, she began with commissions for house paintings before transitioning to limited edition fine art prints.
Roper says she began working with oils but later fell in love with watercolor.
“Watercolor teaches you so much,” she says. “It demands that you study your subjects and compositions. It is an amazing medium, and if you get it going right, it’ll paint itself in many ways. And I don’t have to wash my paint brushes!”
Being brought up in local culture gave Roper a great appreciation for the charm, beauty, and character of the South. Her imagery focuses on Lowcountry living — oyster shuckers, shrimp boats, basket weaving and more. She aims to share the richness of the South’s history and how it shaped the culture in which we live today.
“Charleston’s rich history is an endless supply of painting opportunities,” she says.
Like everyone who moves to the Charleston area, it didn’t take long for Carl Turner to fall in love with the Lowcountry. “There’s something about this place that quickly gets into your blood and enters your heart”, he says. “I soon found myself, like so many other artists who have visited or settled here, determined to capture the unique beauty of this place. Fortunately for me, Charleston is a vacation destination for people around the globe and the moment they get here, they quickly fall under its spell, and many soon discover the thriving community of artists here who, like me, are busy creating dynamic paintings colored by the unique character of the area.”
If you find that you, too, have fallen in love and would like to own a heartfelt rendering of the Lowcountry you can meet the artist in person durning the Piccolo Sploleto Outdoor Art Exhibition and choose your own timeless treasure.