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Posted on: December 22, 2023

Clayton’s Art Scene Is the “Best Kept Secret”

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Clayton Visual Arts is illustrating a new concept. “You don’t think of Clayton and arts, and that’s something we want to change,” says Val Taylor, the organization’s vice president. 

Comprised of creators, educators, enthusiasts and volunteers, Clayton Visual Arts aims to bolster art in the community through awareness and engagement. “It’s very active, but nobody knows about it,” says Taylor. “It’s the best kept secret, I think.” 

The organization, which started in the late 1990’s, is working with the Town of Clayton to provide exposure for artists and their work. Each month, it hosts an exhibition at Town Hall and the Clayton Center. People can walk around and peruse different pieces during regular business hours.  

There’s also an opportunity to network with the featured artists during a reception. The evening event takes place around the beginning of each month, and it’s free and open to the public. “You don’t need to know anything about art to enjoy it,” says Exhibits Chair Medrith Nuttle. 

Nuttle is preparing to issue a call for artists who want to be part of future exhibits. An application for the Clayton Visual Arts 2024-2025 season is going to be available on the organization’s website in January 2024.  

Another way to absorb the local art scene is through introductory classes. Thanks to a grant, Clayton Visual Arts is sharing a new aesthetic technique each month through June 2024 and providing all the needed materials. The goal is to reach beginners and connect them with artists in the community through an interactive experience.  “I think artists in general tend to be in isolation,” says Taylor. “We kind of go and do our thing, but it’s much more rewarding to share it, show people what we do and how we do it, and learn from others.” 

No experience is necessary. The events are free, but registration is required. The first class, An Introduction to Painting with Dave Lennon, is scheduled for 6:30 – 8 p.m., Wednesday, January 17 at Heart2Hands Art Gallery and Studios (472 East 2nd Street, Clayton). 

Clayton Visual Arts is dedicated to enriching the community it serves through creativity, inspiration, and vibrancy as the Town of Clayton continues to grow and revitalize. 

For more information about Clayton Visual Arts, its monthly exhibitions, or its free introductory classes, click here

We wanted to experience the art scene in Clayton ourselves, so we attended Clayton Visual Arts gallery reception on Thursday, December 14. Meet and learn more about two of the featured artists, Polly Smith and Patrick Dominguez, during our Q&As. 

Polly Smith is a watercolor painter from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Q: Would you be able to tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist? 

A: I love painting outside – the real thing. I spent many years in Maine, and I just moved to North Carolina about a year and a half ago. I’ve found some places outside to paint here, which has been really fun. I love the old farm buildings. They grab my soul, I think. I try to represent their life and their setting. And I love using watercolor because when you put the paints out, you can reuse them. You don’t have to throw them away. You can do it in your kitchen, and nobody’s going to get hurt from it. It’s very expressive, and you have to plan ahead. If you mess it up, it’s just paper, so you can start again. 

Q: What are some of the buildings that have caught your eye since you moved to the area? 

A: Mostly farm buildings. Barns and the trees that are usually around them are really beautiful – just real personalities to them. That’s my favorite thing that I’ve found, and you can see that in my artwork. Because you’re not going to paint the ocean. You’re not going to paint the mountains unless you go really far west, so that’s what I’ve found -  the farmlands.  

Q: Why art - what drew you to art? 

A: I said to a friend the other day, ‘When I wake up, I’m thinking what am I going to create today.’ That’s just how I’m built, and I’m finally free of having to make money because I’ve gone past those years of my life. So, I love the challenge of it. I can focus totally on it, and it gets me out of myself. 

Q: How has Clayton Visual Arts helped you and other artists in the community? 

A: They offered to have a show, and I didn’t really know how to do it myself. When they said I didn’t have to do it myself, I said, ‘Great, sign me up.’ It’s nice to have a space like this. I’m impressed that towns in North Carolina can do something like this, and it’s great for citizens too because it makes art accessible. And to me, that’s really important. 

Q: How would you describe the art scene here? 

A: I feel like I’m a beginner in the art scene. There is a North Carolina Watercolor Society that I joined, and I know they have an art show that I participated in. They had a group meeting that I went to and met some people. You know, so much happens online, which is great. It gives you an opportunity to show your work, but for people to really come together and have a place like this is phenomenal. 

Q: What advice would you give future artists? 

A: Dedicate time to exploring and have fun with it. Don’t be afraid because you’ll find some really good mistakes that work and try to find some other people to paint with. I’ve just found… it’s taken me a year to find somebody else who loves to paint outside, and so, we’ve gone out once and painted. And her daughter came too. It’s really fun…that’s really helpful because you can get feedback, and it keeps you going too.” 

Patrick Dominguez is an acrylic and watercolor artist from Clayton, North Carolina, and he’s pastor for Tree of Life Church. 

Q: Can you describe yourself as an artist? 

A: It’s a part-time gig for me because I’m a full-time pastor, but I just love doing it. I love creating. I love the process. To me, watercolor is loose. It can be done really tightly, but I think it’s at its best when it’s loose. I feel like kind of the happy accidents that happen along the way as you do it are so much like what life is all about. It’s what you make of it. You know, okay… we spilled the milk, so what do we do? So, in that regard, I really feel like it helps me unwind. It helps me appreciate life more. 

Q: Do you have any advice for future artists? 

A: Find somebody who’s doing it and try to connect with them in some way. Have them teach you. Pick their brains, and then just do it, especially start drawing and trying to get your drawings accurate. Then applying the paint to them becomes that much easier. 

Q: Where do you get your inspiration? 

A: I would say from the Lord. For me, God is the primo creator, and then you just kind of look all around everywhere. What I think one of the most beautiful things about art is that you can take a picture, like a photo, of something that looks very plain, and you start working colors and things into it. And it’s amazing what happens.” 

Q: It looks like art brings you joy… 

A: It does. Joy is probably my number one word that I use. In fact, if you look on my website, I have a little tagline that says, ‘A little joyful expression goes a long way.’ 

Q: Are there any spots around town where you draw inspiration? 

A: I love Boulevard West, and I’ve painted a scene in there. I would secretly love to just take a whole bunch of pictures of people doing their thing and do pictures there. I love catching people in candid stuff. Clayton is just a beautiful place. The farms and everything around Clayton really provide a lot that I haven’t even barely touched yet. 

Q: How would you describe the support that you have received from Clayton Visual Arts? 

A: It’s great. It’s great to have other artists that you get to know and encourage you. You encourage them… to know that I’m not the only one in this community doing this kind of thing. 

Q: How has Clayton transformed since you’ve lived here? 

A: I’ve never thought of Clayton as an arts town, but I’m starting to see that they value the arts here… I just think it’s a great place for an artist to be.” 

Q: What would you say are some of the needs of local artists in the community? 

A: I think things like this – the opportunity to show your art and showcase it. And we’re going to be running some classes for beginners, so we need that. 

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