Art Lives Here
For Center for Visual Artists, the show must go on
By Maria Johnson
Fine art venues have been up against some blank walls with social distancing born of coronavirus, so the Center for Visual Artists, a nonprofit Greensboro gallery devoted to local creators, is trying a different tack.
In mid-May, the gallery will launch a soft opening of the organization’s first online show and sale, Maggie Fickett: Living in Plein Air.
The show — featuring the work of former Greensboro watercolorist Maggie Fickett — was supposed to have opened in the CVA gallery on April 21, but the city locked down the Greensboro Cultural Center, which houses the CVA’s office and exhibit space.
It’s not clear when the building and the gallery will reopen, so it seems like a good time to experiment with a different way of showing, selling and educating the public about an exhibit, says gallery director Corrie Lisk-Hurst.
“We want to be one of the first to do this kind of thing,” she allows. “If that means learning as we go, that’s fine. It’s giving us focus and purpose.”
The art world has used online tools for a long time. Many artists sell directly from their websites and from online marketplaces like Etsy. Live auctions are fairly common. So are recorded gallery tours, artist interviews, demonstrations and classes.
But it’s new territory for a smaller gallery like CVA to fuse an online show, sale and education-related programming.
“For a long time, we’ve wanted to increase access to the local arts via online exhibitions,” Lisk-Hurst explains. “Lucky for us, Maggie’s family and supporters have allowed us to use this show as our first educated experiment.”
The soft opening will be accessible by email invitation only. People who want to be invited may email their requests to email@example.com. In June, all visitors to the CVA website should be able to view the show at www.greensboroart.org.
Using newly acquired software that enables the display and sale of art online, the CVA will start the show with about 200 framed and unframed works that cover a variety of subjects and locations.
Fickett painted scenes in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Jamestown, Eden, Burlington, Seagrove, Raleigh, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, as well as her home state of Maine and the city of Boston, where she worked as an advertising illustrator for several years. Bermuda, a favorite vacation spot, pops up in balmy blues.
As chronicled in the November 2017 issue of O.Henry, she captured familiar Greensboro locales, such as Fisher Park, Hamilton Lakes, Tate Street, State Street and downtown during its last big construction boom. She preserved local landmarks, including the Boar & Castle restaurant, Ham’s restaurant, the Carolina Theatre, and several colleges and churches.
In time, the CVA plans to sell hundreds more of Fickett’s works online. Buyers may use credit cards to purchase the art. They can pick up the items by appointment.
Someday the gallery might host an in-person show of Fickett’s work, Lisk-Hurst says.
But for now, CVA will stick to the cyber-show. They plan to promote the ongoing event through their Facebook page, Instagram feed and email list. They also hope to post videos about Fickett, including discussions of her artistic style and biography.
Fickett died on March 26 at age 89. A native of Maine, she moved to Greensboro in 1979 and became a prolific chronicler of area streets, parks, historical sites and private homes. She lived in Wilmington for a couple of years in the late ’80s before returning to Greensboro, where she often sketched and painted on location, en plein air.
Fickett’s family moved her back to Maine in 2014 because she had Alzheimer’s disease. Much of her work remained in storage in Greensboro.
A week before she died, Fickett, who no longer recognized family, fell out of her wheelchair in the memory care facility where she lived in South Paris, Maine. She broke a hip and possibly an arm, and she was in pain.
Hospice caregivers administered palliative care. Maggie passed peacefully, in the company of staffers whom she treasured. Family was not allowed into the home because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Fickett’s family and gallery officials had planned to use the majority of proceeds from the show to support Fickett’s care. Now, they’re considering using most of the profit to create a plein air painting class in Greensboro in Fickett’s honor.
“I’m thrilled that some of the profits from her art will be used to enlighten and educate others in her style of work. She loved sharing her art with other people,” says Debbie Fickett, who is married to Maggie’s nephew Robert. “It gave her much joy, and it’s wonderful that others will be able to experience that.”