How Thompson Savannah became an art lovers’ destination + new exhibition from William S. Dutterer

Dutterer's work in the lobby of Thompson Savannah

The title of this column is the header of an email I recently received from the New York-based firm that markets the Eastern Wharf’s Thompson Savannah. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Interesting they are choosing to highlight their art programming, and who the heck is William S. Dutterer?”  I quickly set up a meeting with the articulate, intelligent, and beautiful Olivia Williams, Director of Culture and Programming, to find out more.

I had previously met Williams while highlighting a holiday cocktail for another publication, and envied her dream of a job, created with her in mind just over a year ago. She is charged with generating programing, partnering with local artists, and supporting nonprofits while fulfilling the Thompson’s directive of ensuring “Culture Lives Here.” The hotel’s brand initiative is built on being seen as an arbiter of culture, curating work by cool and noteworthy creators or “culture shifters” as they like to label them. So, for example, that may take the form of hosting a film premiere and panel discussion in Los Angeles, or a fashion showcase with live musical accompaniment in Austin.

In Savannah, we are incredibly fortunate that the hotel chose the direction of giving a platform to some of our region’s most exciting artists, with rotating exhibits, installations, and events that utilize its spacious lobby as a blank canvas. Most of the work thus far has been curated in partnership with local gallerist Susan Laney of the eponymous Laney Contemporary.  She has enjoyed helping Thompson Savannah “establish and foster a relationship with the local community through arts and culture.” Laney continues, “This partnership has been another incredible opportunity for us to expand our audience and to share our artists with visitors and locals. Thompson Savannah has been eager to present world class artworks that exhibit the talent in this region. It is refreshing to work with an establishment that embraces work that is visually and conceptually challenging.”

While many of Laney’s impressive stable of artists have showcased their work in the lobby, including Betsy Cain, Todd Schroeder, Marcus Kenney, Benjamin Jones, and Will Penny (see Connect’s recent YouTube story about Penny’s installation), Olivia Williams is not limiting herself to Laney Contemporary creatives and has layered in many other locals….

On the second floor are stunning paintings commissioned from The Stables Savannah’s Sarah Brooke Sandin. Sandlin will have a reception for her work in conjunction with the reopening of the pool deck in late April, an event that will also feature the hotel’s partnership with La Fete du Rose, a Black-owned, Atlanta-based winery. Commissioned illustrations by Savannah’s NoNo Flores (with prints available for purchase) are displayed in the Stevedore Bakery. Williams is quick to point out that the hotel takes no commission from art sales: “It’s about finding artists we believe in and giving them space for their work. For example, I’m a huge fan of Adrienne Berkland and we’ve had her do live painting here before."

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Thompson Savannah
"Flicker of Recognition" from the Joe Diver series. Joe's flashlight reveals a humungous dinosaur-like sea creature

Currently, there is an interesting departure from the normal modus operandi – a show of work not by a local contemporary artist, but by NYC-based William S. Dutterer (b. 1943 Hagerstown, MD, died 2007). How this show came about is a truly Savannah tale: Williams relates she was hosting a dinner party at her home when one of her guests (and her realtor) had to step out on the porch to go over some papers with another real estate client. After thirty minutes, William made them both come inside and have cocktails, and that was how the now Savannah homeowner - songwriter and music producer Jon Lindsay - knew he’d made the right decision in relocating here! Lindsay’s wife, Lauren Novotny, a fine art appraiser specializing in Post-War Contemporary and Emerging Art with Parkside Art Group, is now friends with Williams and introduced her to the work of William Dutterer.

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Thompson Savannah
"Duet (Nelson & Jennette)" from the pill-head series

Novotny serves as the collections manager for the Dutterer Trust, set up by the artist’s widow to bring attention to her late husband’s legacy. Dutterer earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, taught at The New School Program at Parsons, NY, NY and at the Corcoran Gallery School of Art in DC. Today, his paintings are in the public collection of such prestigious institutions as the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, but during his lifetime the artist was uncomfortable marketing himself, possibly having “some imposter syndrome,” and never actively sought shows and projects.

Curated by Novotny and organized by the Trust, Seriously Cheeky: The Playful Pathos of William S. Dutterer, is on display through April 15. She is excited to work with the Thompson as, “Savannah is this fun, quirky, and alternative city – and Bill holds that ethos within his work.” Williams concurs – although she has a passion to showcase local artists, “his work fits so perfectly in this space.”

Novotny tells me how the artist grew bored with his early hyper-minimalist, monochrome work, moving on to cutting and folding the canvas and playing with color (there is an example of this latter style behind the hotel’s foyer), before becoming part of the post-Modern group of artists  - such as Julian Schnabel and Philip Guston -  with his figurative works. We look at “The Evangelist” and the performative “Red Oval, the Lawyer” from the artist’s massive series of pill-heads where he plays with caricatures and stereotypes, giving each a clownlike appearance.  Novotny says his heads transitioned from light, cartoon-like work (a series on paper is displayed opposite the elevators in the hallway) to heavier, intense, work post-911.

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Thompson Savannah
"Tango 3" from the Joe Diver series

We also discuss  two of her favorite pieces, “Tango 2” and “Tango 3,” which were inspired by a Smithsonian Magazine article about sirens and women of the sea in neo-classical work. Dutterer portrays a mermaid embracing a Joe Diver figure  - a deep-sea diver who appears in much of his work and who serves as a stand-in for himself. These works are monoprints, with paint over them, on handmade paper. Novotny contends the Joe Diver series takes the viewer on a cinematic journey of self-discovery through Dutterer’s lens of both humor and vulnerability. “So much contemporary art lacks the human element and what I love about Bill’s work is that it grounds you and connects you to what it is to be human.”

Williams wraps our meeting by telling me that local painter Katherine Sandoz will hang site-specific work after the Dutterer work comes down (look for my article on her new lotus-inspired series in next month’s print issue). She is also hoping to commission a regional artist to create a semi-mobile installation or sculpture to place under the high mirrored ceiling of the hotel’s lobby. “I’m just looking for more ways to layer in more art. I want to work more with nonprofit Sulfur Studios, and I just met with Cleo the Gallery because I want to feature more emerging artists.”

Savannah art lovers are so fortunate to have Olivia Williams in this role! Stay tuned and be sure to visit The Thompson! The show Seriously Cheeky: The Playful Pathos of William S. Dutterer can be seen in the foyer of the Thompson Savannah, 201 Port Street, through April 15. All pieces are  available for purchase.

Artists mentioned in this column include Betsy Cain (@betcain), Todd Schroeder (@toddschrodeder0), Marcus Kenney (@marcuskenneysparade), Benjamin Jones (see Laney’s website, Will Penny (@willpennyart), Sarah Brooke Sandin (@sarahbrookesandin), NoNo Flores (@nono.flores), Adrienne Berkland (@adrienneberklandart), Katherine Sandoz (@katherinesandoz), and, of course, William S. Dutterer (

Beth Logan

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Beth Logan had a career in healthcare HR and marketing. An artist and former gallery director, she serves on the board of nonprofit ARTS Southeast and has a passion for showcasing Savannah’s arts community.
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