At first glance, nestled among the mom-and-pop stores and antique parlors on Laurens Street, the Aiken Center for the Arts
might seem like a cozy gift shop.
The front of the store is, in fact, a shop – one full of handmade pottery, paintings, jewelry and other handmade items where I have spent hours browsing and, where, I think I have shown miraculous restraint in not buying up everything in sight.
So, needless to say, I would love the Aiken Center for the Arts if it were only a lovely store where you can always find the perfect gift. But with five gallery spaces, extensive art classes for children and adults, and great special events and performances year-round, it is so much more than that.
On my most recent trip to Aiken
, the galleries were filled with a diverse collection of wonderful artwork.
is a professor of art at USC Aiken and brings her expressive portraits to the Aiken Artist Guild Gallery. Nearby Anne Nielsen’s landscapes hang in the Wyatt Gallery.
still lifes will have you doing a double take. Her subjects often include glasses of ice water or wine, catching the light and twinkling reflections back at the viewer. While on first glance they appear to be beautiful photographs, when you look closer and read the caption “oil on canvas” you realize that they are all paintings. Her detailed and intense realism is magical.
Upstairs in the Brooks Gallery is a real treat: an exhibit of Patrick Donovan’s artwork.
Donovan was working in business when he graduated from USC, but as he says he had been “doing art before I could write my name.” One night his dog, Tanner, woke him up to warn him that his house was on fire. He survived but lost everything in the fire, including his beloved pet. A friend suggested he go back to drawing as a way out of the depression that followed. He began putting his sketches on T-shirts, and his company, Brave Friend Apparel and Design
(named in honor of Tanner) was born.
What’s so special about the exhibit of Donovan’s work is that much of it was done when he was a child. The artwork allows you to see the progression of an artist from child to teenager to young man to entrepreneur. It’s a rare opportunity to follow the course of a person’s creative life.
The Aiken Center for the Arts
is at 122 Laurens St. in the heart of downtown Aiken. Hours are Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All gallery exhibitions are free and open to the public.