Marion Square once again plays host to the open-air art exhibition, as old as the Piccolo Spoleto Festival itself, now in its 40th year.

Victoria Ellis, organizer of the exhibition for 30 years and a regular participant, said it’s no easy job to put it all together.

“We do a lot to get the artists together, beginning from early February,” Ellis said. “We really appreciate the city for letting us do this exhibition and use the park.”

Prior to Ellis, the exhibition was organized by Billie Sumner, an artist and gallerist who died in 2018 at the age of 88.

For first-timer and former Seattle resident Kate Kennedy, the exhibition is an exciting opportunity to scope out the arts scene in Charleston where she now resides.

“Most of my work was shown on the West Coast,” said Kennedy, a classically trained artist who has been painting for 50 years. “I do oil paintings. Almost all of my work follows nature’s rhythms. You can see the flow of water, wind and fire in the brushstrokes.”

It’s an eclectic collection at Kennedy’s stall, with intense flower arrangements, laughing goats and ostriches, and everything in between.

“When I’m working on complex subjects like flowers, I take a break and paint the animals,” Kennedy said. “They make me laugh and the people who see them laugh as well.”

On the weekends, the exhibition includes live music and food vendors, part of the farmer’s market that’s set up nearby the artist tents.

“The exhibition is a very personable event where visitors can interact with the artists and the artists can learn from each other,” said Lesley Johnson, co-coordinator for the event and wife of Monnie Johnson, one of the 70 artists participating this year. “There are 10 new artists this year, and there’s a range of work across all forms of 2D art, from oil to acrylic, watercolor, mixed media and encaustic (hot wax) painting.”

One mixed-media artist is Gerardo Leccese. This is the first time at the exhibition for the Mount Pleasant resident.

“I work with different types of wood and other material,” Leccese said. “I have photography, painting, sculpture, interior design, all involved in each piece. They are all my favorite, from travel memories I have gathered and brought back.”

The exhibition, full of variety, continues to be a platform for first-timers and regulars both.

Lyle Michael is a Goldring arts journalist at Syracuse University.

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