SANDRA DUTTON: Energy, Obsessions, and Discoveries

BETH LOGAN'S ART COLUMN

"Tybee Island"

Recently, I received an email telling me of an artist named Sandra Dutton who would be showing at Taylor Galleries. 

Unfamiliar with both artist and gallery, I was immediately intrigued…

Located on Monterey Square, Taylor Galleries is owned by Michael and Valerie Sotille, founders of the sorely missed former Hurn Museum of Contemporary Folk Art on Whitaker and Park. 

Parents to Christian Sottile, the richly talented architect of such important projects as Plant Riverside and the SCAD Museum of Art, the Sottiles live above their antiques gallery and occasionally show work by artists they admire. 

One of these is their friend of many years, Sandra Dutton.

SANDRA DUTTON: Energy,  Obsessions,  and Discoveries
“Gargantua Rises,” Jekyll Island

I meet Dutton at a downtown coffee shop and am immediately overwhelmed by her energy, vivaciousness, and energy! Stories abound about her brief stay in Atlanta many years ago (when her late husband was hired as the art director of what later became the Woodruff Arts Center), about opera singers, actors, and vaudeville artistes she has met over the years, and about her newfound love for Savannah. She and second husband, Wayne, had visited often, but finally left the cold of Catskill, New York to relocate here last September.

An accomplished author, artist and teacher, Dutton holds a B.A. in Fine Arts, an M.A. in Creative Writing, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Composition, and has taught English at the University of Louisville, New York Institute of Technology, and the University of Maine, Farmington. 

With her gift for language, I can make no finer or more interesting an introduction than the bio page of her eponymous website:

“Like my dad, I have a passion for words and pictures. One of my fondest memories is sitting with him at the kitchen table drawing. I remember making a man in a hat. Like most children I drew the hat like a cake on a platter, perched on a circle, but he showed me—first with his own hat, then in a diagram—how the hat rests down over the ears. I was about four and felt very grownup when he told me that.

click to enlarge SANDRA DUTTON: Energy,  Obsessions,  and Discoveries
“Vinalhaven Island, Maine”

“Another lesson involved drawing the house behind us—a three-story white shingled house. I was caught up in drawing every shingle, wondering how I would ever finish, and the drawing kept getting worse and worse. ‘You should suggest,’ said my dad. He showed me how a few horizontals attached to short verticals could imply an entire wall. Magical.

click to enlarge SANDRA DUTTON: Energy,  Obsessions,  and Discoveries
“The Porthole, Portland, Maine.”

“He also taught me about words. How much fun they could be. There were long poems he recited from memory that he’d written himself. One, “The Tale of the Bald King” begins,

    Far away where no one visits

     Lies the land of Whatsitisits.

     The Whatsits are a gentle race

     Who wear long whiskers on their face.

     They let them grow beyond their knees

     For if they didn’t they’d jolly well freeze.

“And then there were the songs he’d written, “The Chocolate Soldier Brigade,” “Little Ragged Ann”—he would sing them every so often, usually on a Saturday, or driving down the road. I have the sheet music he had made, copyright 1939, in San Francisco. Later I discovered they were part of a children’s musical he’d written and sent off to a publisher. The publisher rejected it, and my dad never sent it out again. But every few years my mother would record a professional singing the songs—usually a friend of the family—and present the tape as a Christmas present.

“Storytelling was prized at our house, and at the dinner table my two sisters and I would recount the eccentricities of our teachers, sometimes pushing off from the table to demonstrate a walk or a gesture. My mother, an especially good mimic, would join in with stories from her office, letting her glasses drop down her nose for one speaker, pushing them up for another, altering her voice as she described the daily affairs. She was head of personnel for United Dairy Farmers, a large chain in southern Ohio, and we all thought her office must be the most exciting place in the world. My sister Jane spent a day at work with her, but when she came home she whispered, ‘Nothing happens.’

“We realized it was all in the telling.

“Pictures and words. Words and pictures. I had a wonderful English teacher in high school, Miss Catherine Morrison…We wrote parodies, plays, commercials, an autobiography, and if we were assigned to write certain types of sentences as exercises, she encouraged us to make them amusing.

“In college I majored in art…subsequently becoming a junior executive at a San Francisco department store… During this time, I kept company with my aunts Mabel and Martha, who filled me in on family history: my sea captain ancestors who sailed round the Horn from Maine and Philadelphia to San Francisco; my grandfather, an artist, who also played viola and conducted an orchestra; my great, great uncle, Frank M. Pixley, who founded, in 1877, published, and edited the San Francisco Argonaut.

“No wonder my father loved words. No wonder he loved pictures. No wonder he wrote songs. Oddly, he’d never discussed his family history—my mother said it was because he was a change-of-life baby, and having been around older people all his life, he had an aversion to history.

“… I began reading the historical columns in the San Francisco Chronicle and learned that Pixley hired Ambrose Bierce for his first editor, that he drove his mule team down Van Ness Avenue each night after putting the magazine to rest, that he was asked to give the Fourth of July speech at Union Square, that he was a confidant of Mark Twain. I was born in Missouri. I had always loved Huckleberry Finn. A web began to form in my head of destinations and possibilities. An urge to make something. I wasn’t sure what, but the means I knew would be pictures and words.”

Indeed, Dutton has utilized both “pictures and words” exceedingly well, having written, illustrated, and published six books for children; becoming the founder, publisher, and editor of her own literary magazine, “River City Review,” in Louisville, KY; and creating a musical, “Just a Matter of Time,” most recently produced at the Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY.

As for the “pictures,” Savannahians can judge for themselves Friday, Sept. 16, when Dutton’s show of acrylic paintings, entitled “Obsessions and Discoveries,” opens at The Taylor Gallery.

Painting with bold, sparse, sure strokes in a vibrant Impressionistic style, Dutton has included works from her time in Maine, whimsical paintings of animals and insects, a couple of deftly rendered portraits (she is open to commissions), and 13 paintings created since her move to Georgia.

She tells me she has long been enamored by boats and coastal landscapes (her northeast “obsessions”) and has recently become fascinated by the boneyards of skeletal trees on the barrier island beaches (just one of her new southern “Discoveries”). 

She paints and sketches plein air but prefers to create the final piece in her studio from preliminary studies and photographs.

Dutton’s work is fresh, vibrant, and joyously full of life – much like the artist herself. It seems fitting to close as I began, by letting her describe things in her own beautiful words: 

“I obsess over strokes, favoring certain brushes that allow me to make clean sweeps, to lay down clean color. It’s the goosh and swoosh of the paint I love, finding surprises – a color that sears, a rhythm that dances. I love to capture energy.”

The opening reception for Sandra Dutton’s “Obsessions & Discoveries” is Friday, September 16 from 5 – 7 pm at the Taylor Galleries, 10 W. Taylor Street. Work will hang through October 13 and can be viewed Wednesday through Saturday between 12 and 5pm and by request. 

More information on Dutton can be found at SandraDutton.com

About The Author

Beth Logan

I am originally from Portrush, Northern Ireland, and emigrated to San Francisco after attending the University of Belfast. My photographer - and ex - husband brought us to Savannah, and it has been my passion to get to know and to be involved in the local art community ever since. I look forward to profiling artists,...
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