If the live oaks that dot the landscape at Ashantilly Center in Darien could speak, oh, what tales they could tell. The former mainland home of plantation owner Thomas Spalding (1774-1851), and the 20th century headquarters of Ashantilly Press owned by the late Bill Haynes Jr., has, as Haynes wished, become a center for the arts and historic preservation.
Harriet Langford, president of the board of directors of Ashantilly Center, a nonprofit established by Haynes’ in 1994, prior to his death in 2001, is committed to promoting arts, historic preservation and the protection of the Altamaha River and its environs.
That’s where the “Evoking Ashantilly” art exhibit comes in. From 6-8 p.m. Friday, Jeannine Cook, an internationally recognized silverpoint artist from Cedar Point, and Marjett Schille of Ludowici, whose art depicts the beauty of the natural habitat and creatures of Coastal Georgia, will be the guests of honor at an opening reception for their joint exhibit, which will tell some of those Ashantilly tales.
Langford says the two women have spent the past year painting at Ashantilly.
“Celebrating this historic site, the two artists have combined to present an exhibit of both the lush landscape of the site, and of the details nature reveals: oyster-embedded tabby, live oak twists, lichen, grapevines and veins of Spalding marble,” Langford said in a prepared statement.
Cook said that Ashantilly is a “wonderful mixture of history, architecture, the arts and coastal ecology.”
“For me, as an artist, it has been a joyous and fascinating place in which to explore and celebrate this historic site,” she said.
Cook said all the hours she and Schille have spent working together has resulted in their art dovetailing. She explained that Schille’s paintings reflect the big picture and tell Ashantilly’s stories through its landscapes, trees and buildings. Cook, on the other hand, has zoomed in on what some might consider minute details — tree bark, oyster-embedded tabby, the marble threshold to the entrance of the house, feathers, lichen and grapevines.
“They are all smaller parts of the whole, at Ashantilly, but of course, everywhere,” Cook said. “Even the collages I created with historic paper that the previous owner, Bill Hayes, used when he printed at the Ashantilly Press, allowed me to link Bill’s love of the environment with my own.”
Cook said that using the ancient practice of metalwork in the works she created is also a subtle link to Haynes and his heritage.
“Bill loved so many aspects of the beauty we inherit from previous generations, and I once had a wonderful conversation with him about his love of medieval manuscripts, illuminations and their exquisite art,” Cook explained.
Metalpoint, she said, began in medieval monastaries, with the use of lead to line pages and draw the outlines of illuminations. By the early Renaissance, she continued, lead was giving way to the more ductile and expressive metal, silver, for use in all forms of drawing. Leonard da Vinci, Raphael, Dürer and others have left silverpoints that Cook says are as fresh as if they were drawn today.
“Metalpoint was then gradually forgotten as graphite and other more forgiving media came into use,” she said. “Working in silver, gold, copper ... requires a specially prepared drawing surface, erasure is almost impossible and lines require a slow, steady, careful build-up of fine marks to achieve darker tones.”
Silverpoint had a resurgence in the 19th century when the 14th century manuscripts of Cennino Cennini’s “Il Libro dell’Arte” (“The Book of Art”) was found in Italian archives. It has continued to attract adherents.
“The antithesis to today’s hyped-up world, silverpoint is a medium that slowly evolves as the silver tarnishes to a golden brown, giving it a life and freshness that is unusual in drawing media,” Cook said.
Schille said Ashantilly invites “contemplation and artistic exploration” because of its history, setting and the plants and wildlife that populate the coastal habitat.
“When I first came here, I knew I wanted my work to express the richness of the experience,” Schille said. “I chose mixed media and collage for this series.”
That’s because Schille was inspired by the examples of Picasso and Braque, who created these artistic processes in their development of Cubism, layering various papers and mixing media for experimentation and expression — a new way to see a subject.
“Through drawing and painting on site, I explored the variety of textures, colors, atmosphere, light and shadow,” she said. “I was rewarded with the sight of creatures one sees there if one takes the time to look and to invite a visit.”
Her journey, she said, was two-part. The second half occurred in the studio, by determining which textured papers, and what combination of methods and media, would convey her message.
“What could best celebrate the timelessness and essence of the place and the inhabitants of its surroundings?” she said. “The series is an artistic journal of my travels there and an expression of how lucky I feel we all are to have the beauty of nature and our coastal Georgia heritage as it is preserved and protected there.”