July 2013

T.G.I.F. Artists Collaborate: A Seamless Blending of Art & Artists

Author: Kitty Bartell

It was as though I had been given the secret password, a golden ticket, or the key to a hidden garden when I was welcomed into a meeting of the T.G.I.F. Artists.

Scattered about and displayed throughout their atelier (a.k.a. the kitchen) in a cozy home in Hilton Head Plantation, were the supplies and works of this creative community of artists who meet every Friday morning to work and to share, to teach and to learn, and to support each other’s journeys as artists.

Throughout history, artist studios have played a significant role in the stories of great and even everyday artists. Whether a French atelier, an Italian bottega, or an American workshop, these spaces have been places of inspiration and places to hide away, have served as peaceful retreats and at times have hosted grand parties. An artist’s studio, whether it be the corner of a kitchen, a loft in the city, or a barn in the country is a canvas in and of itself where what is inside of the artist is drawn out and transformed into something completely original; each Friday, that is accomplished in this unique space, with a little help from their friends.

At the epicenter of these artists, and owner of this kitchen atelier, is L. Robert Stanfield. “I don’t remember not being an artist. My mother was always very artistic, and my father worked in metal and wood in addition to farming,” he said. Having grown up in Georgia and attended Savannah College of Art & Design, his Southerner-as-artist roots are well-established. Over the course of nearly two decades, Stanfield met and taught each of the artists who now make up the T.G.I.F. Artists. Working in photography, painting, and graphic design, the teacher is now more of a partner in this collaborative environment where they all teach each other at times, and where anyone who wants to create is welcome to join in.

My visit with the group included a lot of laughter, conversation, and comfortable teasing, delicious goodies to nibble on, warm coffee, painting, drawing, sculpting, and designing, and one iron-clad rule: no judgment—of self or of others. This is a place where you can’t get it wrong, and Stanfield is adamant that with art, this should be the rule at anytime, anywhere. “Creativity is an experience. It’s not about the final product. I ask, ‘Do you want to be creative?’ If you want to experience something, then suit up and show up, and then literally let go,” he said.

Surrounded by five artists at Stanfield’s large kitchen table, I was able to watch each in action and was thrilled by their diverse creativity. To my right, the elegant Liz McGinnes was working on editing photography. Having met Stanfield in 1999, she said, “Up until then I hadn’t taken myself seriously as an artist.” This former social worker, with a degree in media and a master’s degree in film, McGinnes focuses her talents on photography, graphic design, film, painting, and sound production. “It’s a great space, not just a physical space,” she said of her time with the group.

Across the table, Maxine Uttal gently and masterfully works on a mermaid sculpture that will eventually become part of a larger fountain. “I knew I was an artist when I was two. As soon as they gave me crayons and paper I just knew,” she said. An art school graduate who was taken off the artist’s path by life, marriage, and children, Uttal now has time to appreciate how the artist never leaves you. “I actually know how that’s possible, because I have a granddaughter who is nine and has been an artist since she was about two. I think you’re lucky if you have something like that.”

Any number of paths may draw the art out of the artist, and Sara Lucas’s journey began with a dream. Emerging from her imagination, the watercolor characters she paints live in Foxville, a place where, “the characters are all different, but the drawings are all interconnected,” she explained. Sara often includes Uttal’s canine companion Polly in her pieces. As the group’s four-legged mascot, Polly taking up residence in Foxville is a charming reminder of the closeness shared here.

Next to Lucas, working away at a paint-stained easel, is Halley Yates, who began working with Stanfield when she was a student at the Heritage Academy on Hilton Head Island. “I got out of school at noon and went to L. Robert’s studio at The Village Exchange,” she said. The group seems to share a soft-spot for Yates, as she has grown from that 14-year-old high school student to an art school graduate and is planning her wedding this fall. “She has always been a star,” Uttal gushed.

Quietly painting away at an easel to my left, Susan Patton transformed her canvas during my visit from a pencil sketch to a charming, acrylic beach scene. Breaking the group’s unbreakable rule, she claimed, “I am probably the least skilled of anybody here.” This comment elicited uproar from the table. She justified her comment with, “Some have been working longer than me and some have more training.” The twinkle in her eye revealed that she was most likely the mischief-maker in the group and also explained why they let her off the hook. Clearly, there is a lot of love to go along with all this talent.

These five artists, along with Stanfield and David Warren, a member of the T.G.I.F. Artists who has recently moved away from the area, are collaborating on a show at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn Plantation which began May 30. The group’s work will be exhibited through July 7. The show, called SFUMATO, meaning the seamless blending of color, brings all of their talents to one gallery. They are sharing the diversity of their work in a place that will naturally become a seamless place to appreciate art and collaboration.

While Stanfield wasn’t still for a moment of my time with the group, he was ever-present. Listening from the other side of the kitchen as he worked on preparations for their show, or pulling pieces of art from what seemed like thin air to show me when a particular artist’s work was mentioned, or encouraging me to use the canvases he had generously provided in the case that I was ready to suit up and let go. I only wished I had more time to give it a go.

When asked what the group gives to each other, Stanfield was clear: “Collective support, unconditional love and camaraderie,” he said. “There’s so much love and support in this group; we’re not going to allow you to have a bad day. There’s a lot of laughter and lots of tears. We’ve had some gains and losses together. It has been incredibly good.”

I am considered the artsy one in my family, and have always said that if I won the lottery, I would probably spend some of my newly found time appreciating and creating art. That is why every Friday since my visit I have thought of the T.G.I.F. Artists with a twinge of envy, knowing they are gathering together for their weekly retreat, wishing I was able to put my reality aside for a few hours to join them. They may not realize how rare this place really is or what fortunate turn of events may have brought them to this unique kitchen atelier on Hilton Head Island.

For more information, The T.G.I.F. Artists can be reached at (843) 384-5300.

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