The Macon County Public Library is taking patrons on a walk through the woods with a display on local artists’ interpretations of the works of William Bartram.
The Georgia/North Carolina Bartram Trail Society tasked local painters and sculptors to examine the 18th century explorer’s artwork and writings from his journeys through Western North Carolina and channel what they learned into new pieces for the library’s display, titled “Reimagining Bartram.”
Brent Martin of the Bartram Trail Society said the idea was meant to celebrate Bartram’s impact on the region’s ecological culture while also fostering creativity for artists who may have been less active than normal this year during the pandemic.
“I really left it up to the artists, whatever you see that inspires you, just go for it,” Martin said at an opening reception at the library on Nov. 6. “I’m really liking what I’ve seen.”
The library has had to keep in-person events to a minimum due to COVID-19 related regulations, while many other venues are suffering from the same problems. As a result, local artists have had fewer opportunities to present and sell their work. Bobbie Contino of the Macon County Arts Council said the council has stayed on the alert to help artists get more professional exposure without getting any more COVID-19 exposure.
“I came here tonight hoping to talk to some artists to see what we can do for them,” Contino said. “We’re looking for ways that we can better serve our artists.”
The artists found that translating Bartram’s perspective on Western North Carolina’s natural resources was a rewarding experience that left them feeling more in touch with the area. Carol Conti’s painting “In the Stillness,” for example, played off Bartram’s presence in the woods at a time before settlement and urban development. Conti was fascinated by the idea of Bartram enjoying the tranquility of an unblemished Western North Carolina.
“When I started thinking about William Bartram traveling through uncharted territories, surviving off the land, risking his life, I wondered what this area would have looked like before settlers came and the native people were forced out,” Conti said.
Patricia Calderone, on the other hand, didn’t even know about the exhibit when she began work on her piece “Morning Prayers,” which examines the familial rituals of indigenous peoples who would pray by the river together in the morning. However, when she learned about the project, she felt the need to join in because of the appreciation for the culture that she shared with Bartram.
“During the winter of 2017, after reading Bartram’s account of the Cherokee people and his strong feelings of respect and admiration for them as an exceptional family, I decided to start painting about them,” Calderone said.
The display is likely to draw many library regulars who have been eager to enjoy more activities at the facility for many months. George Kaye made sure to attend the show on opening night and was pleased to see a great volume of work.
“It’s one of the best art exhibits I’ve seen,” Kaye said. “I’m very fascinated by Bartram and by nature and I’m very impressed with the quality of work.”
Library assistant Kristina Moe says that some patrons are already making library appointments specifically to see the exhibit and that she looks forward to more taking advantage of the opportunity over the next few weeks.
“I’ve already had some more people make appointments to come see it,” Moe said. “Good things are happening here.”
“Reimagining Bartram” will be on display in the library November and December before it moves to the Highlands Biological Station and Nature Center next year. The Macon County Public Library, located 149 Siler Farm Road, is open Monday through Saturday for curbside pickup and accepts appointments on the hour, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call the library at 828-524-3600 or go to fontanalib.org/franklin.