'Art is what enriches us'
PAMELA GLINSKISEBRING - Highlands Art League manager Susan James grinned as she stood admiring 12 canvases, landscapes freshly painted in acrylics by a group of novice artists and seasoned painters who had come to the Artist Village on Lake Jackson to enjoy the wine, snacks and atmosphere of an "Art Uncorked" class.
Published: January 28, 2013
Published: January 28, 2013
"This is an interesting place to work," said James, whose involvement with HAL began in 1995, with the four years she served as a volunteer.
James describes herself as a very private person, a proud mother and grandmother who loves animals.
"I'm really focused on family — my daughters, grandchildren and my parents (Russell and Pat James), who are still living in Avon Park," said James.
Since 2011, when she became the only paid employee at the art league, her work has become the other major focus of her life.
Her job entails coordinating a variety of adult and children's classes, overseeing exhibits and events and taking care of the bookkeeping and operations of the office.
"Susan has done a great job of managing the office and HAL operations. On any given day, she has to wear a number of different hats, multitasking between projects and tasks," said Don Elwell, the art league's co-chairman. "We're lucky to have her in this role."
Though James takes pride in her organizational abilities, this reserved, soft-spoken woman credits the numerous artists, board members and approximately 50 active volunteers for the art league's success.
"Volunteers are the heart of any nonprofit organization and are needed in every niche," she said in a recent newsletter.
The group held its first art festival on the front porch of the tourist club; 46 years later, the annual November festival has become a major event held on Sebring's downtown Circle, offering art, vendors, food and music.
The Artist Village, located on property leased from the city, includes the Yellow House Gallery and Gift Shop, the Visual Arts Center, Highlands Museum of the Arts and the historic Clovelley House, which is currently being renovated to be used for children's classes.
"This artist village is one of the reasons we relocated to Sebring," remarked Linda Kegley, a painter and graphic designer who spearheaded the "Art Uncorked" series in conjunction with James.
"Art is what enriches us. It is a bright spot in the day," emphasized James. "It is also very important to children in the schools. That's one of the things we keep trying to promote through our children's pottery classes and children's art shows."
From her office overlooking Lake Jackson and the Altvater Cultural Center, James talked about this year's "whirlwind of activity," projects, the success of events like the annual International Wine Tasting and Art Festival and the popularity of some of the recent exhibits and classes.
"We've had great success with our 'Art Uncorked' series," said James. "For $35, you can walk in, find a spot, pick up a brush, and the artist leads you through the class."
James said she is busy preparing for upcoming events, including the second Friday Featured Artist of the Month receptions; the March 2, third annual HAL Golf Classic; April's Art on the Waterfront island-themed party and auction; and the Children's Summer Camp.
"We got the grant to bring it here; it was wonderful," said HAL co-chairwoman Debbie Kendrick. "Susan's efforts for this exhibit were phenomenal. She is very meticulous and devoted to what she does."
The exhibit made James think about her family's history.
A Floridian born in Homestead, James reminisced about her father's ancestors — Native Americans who were "here before the Mayflower landed" and her great-grandmother, who "was the first telephone operator in Miami Beach."
This petite woman, who at one time raised alpacas on her Sebring farm and enjoyed spinning yarn from their wool, has had her share of life journeys and her share of stories about them.
"We all have our own unique 'Journey Stories,'" she added.
For exhibit and class information, contact HAL, 1989 Lakeview Drive, Sebring, at 385-5312; or MOTA, 351 West Center Ave., Sebring, at 385-6682; or visit www.highlandsartlegue.org.