Art Treatise: Mountain Artist Comes to Sea

BY Meghan Barnes

A garden grows in the mountains near the town of Brevard where artist Theresa Reuter lives. The garden she says is shared with everyone who passes along the main drag.

“When you go by there is always something blooming ” Reuter says.

This mountain garden has been nurtured for many years by a group of women also artists. Some have been lifelong friends from childhood. All of them have shared a sisterhood with Nan Morrow who started the garden in 1947.

Smitten with Nan and her friends whom she came to respect as mother figures Reuter composed portraits of women who have tended the garden posed with gardening tools and hats adding favorite flowers native butterflies a child a cat a cabin.

Reuter’s portraits were compiled into a book in collaboration with Brevard artist Kenson Thompson funded by a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Project Grant and published in 2014. Though the small press run was a sellout some of Reuter’s garden scenes are exhibited in Wilmington this month at Acme Art Studio as part of a Mountain to Sea exhibition.

Reuter says for her the garden is a “kind of a sacred place where all of these women have put their creative energies. It brought these women together they are very close and they have shared their good times and bad.”

Nan’s garden portrait shows her holding a wood handled spade. Behind her the landscape dips a pathway opens and in the grass a young girl runs toward a cabin in the distance. Peonies grow in the foreground.

“They were Nan’s favorite. Mimi is always talking about the medicinal qualities of each plant which is why I put bee balm in front of her. Mary Rose is the daughter and she has the poppies all around her ” Reuter says.

Nan carried so much dirt in the back of her truck that plants were growing in it.

Mimi Sager and Nan who hiked together had known each other for a while.

“They would go shopping for plants in Mimi’s old station wagon. Nan would have plants delivered to her house without her husband knowing and would transplant them before he got home ” Reuter says.

Nan’s life revolved around her garden.

“Before Nan died she was sick and the garden was going downhill. Her friends Pat and Caroline went over and started helping with the weeding and they would go whenever they could ” Reuter says.

Pat Tooley also holds a wooden handled tool in her portrait. A butterfly dances above her head. Another drinks nectar from a nearby flower. Reuter has painted her in a T-shirt.

“She always wears a Ya Ya’s T-shirt. I wanted to show her age her curiosity. All of these women … are amazing parts of the community. This woman makes her own yogurt and is really a fantastic person ” Reuter says.

Caroline Boatwright who passed in 2012 poses with a white hat surrounded by stargazer lilies. Behind her walks Biscuit the calico garden cat. In the distance Betsy bends over to weed.

When Nan passed her daughter Mary Rose and Mary Rose’s husband moved onto the property. Reuter painted Mary surrounded by red poppies.

“Mary Rose Caroline and Pat worked in the garden as a way to still feel close to Nan and eventually other people started coming to also work in the garden ” Reuter says. They meet every Monday.

“They shared lunch together. Mary Rose would always have something prepared and everyone else would bring something to share. They all have their own gardens at home so many of them would bring foods from their gardens but this one was an all-flower garden that they worked on.

The eldest of the friends was Mary Kathy.

“Mary Kathy would come and help a little bit but she was getting older. She and Nan were childhood friends ” Reuter says. Mary Kathy shares her portrait with red gladiolas and Anna Robinson and behind her is Annie Drobisch.

Reuter’s portraits represent a body of work captured during a period of time but do not necessarily define her idiom.

“My style does not stay the same ” she says. “I like to start paintings differently and push myself to learn new things. None of my work is necessarily style specific.”

Reuter explains the importance of incorporating different elemental pieces into an artists’ show.

One element of her work however stays the same from piece to piece.

“I love movement; I love to express the life that is in things ” she says. “How you can show every change the activities of your subject and every bit of history in that person that tree that animal that moment.”

Reuter uses movement to inspire and cultivate her personal style always pushing herself to learn and create new art techniques.

Alongside these paintings Reuter shows some of her more recent work.

“I thought it would be cool to show a variety of what I have done ” Reuter explains. “Some older pieces as well as some of the new techniques I have developed. I think they are pieces that are some of my favorites that I have done but they do not pigeonhole me.”

One of the newer methods Reuter exhibits for the first time is one she has developed to paint horses. Reluctant to give away her technique’s secret Reuter explains the importance of this method to her work.

“I am suspending the paint to show the horses’ motion ” she says. “You are stopping time freezing the moment into the image but there is all of this motion with the paint so you get the feeling of that movement even as the image stands still.”�