Each year, the president of the Azalea Festival chooses an artist to create the official artwork of the festival. The tradition of selecting local artists to produce works that reflect Wilmington and the event began in 1987.
Sharon Jones was selected as the artist for the 2024 Azalea Festival.
“The Azalea Festival means so much to Wilmington, and our own family has enjoyed many of the activities throughout the years. It has been rewarding to give back in this way,” says Jones. “I was blown away by this opportunity. It is an honor and a gift.”
She painted Southern Roots, a colorful depiction of the Airlie Oak, the venerable live oak on the grounds of Airlie Gardens.
“I wanted something bright, colorful and fun,” Jones says. “Both beautiful and historically significant, the Airlie Oak had not been done in the past. It seemed to be the right fit for the town and for the festival. Multiple visits to the tree provided my inspiration and vision for the painting.”
Jones started oil painting in 2015 as a creative outlet, and her primary focus is coastal and rural areas. She has been involved in the Wilmington Art Association Spring Show and Sale, the official art show of the Azalea Festival, for several years.
“As I was touring the artwork on display at the Wilmington Art Association Azalea Festival juried art show and sale several years ago, I was captivated by a piece Jones submitted,” says Andrew Nettleman, the president of the 77th North Carolina Azalea Festival. “After tracking her down and having several conversations with her, I knew she could create just the sort of piece I was looking for.”
On the evening of Dec. 13, the Azalea Festival hosted an art reveal at Bluewater Waterfront Grill. The painting was uncovered to a positive rumbling in the room, as people crowded around to take photos and take in the art.
“Her use of color in Southern Roots is reflective both of the festival and the natural beauty of an iconic landmark that I have spent my entire life admiring. I am delighted that I’ve been able to do a small part in sharing such an incredible artist and work of art with the community,” Nettleman says.