ArtFeel events offer camaraderie for art enthusiasts in The Woodlands
Like clockwork, local artists and residents gathered in the cozy environs of The Crush Wine Lounge to sip vino, dine on delectable treats and most importantly, share their love of everything art as well as build camaraderie and friendship.
One woman had photos of pelicans, while another played a guitar and sang. Others opened up about the struggles in their personal lives.
The group of more than two dozen people at the June 27 event shared stories and offered musings on varying topics as part of the monthly meeting of ArtFeel Live, an event focused on arts appreciation, friendship and celebrating the collection of public artworks found in The Woodlands.
Nickole Bobley, founder of ArtFeel and an arts columnist for The Villager and the Courier of Montgomery County, introduced the piece of artwork that was the night’s focus — “On the Bayou” by John V. Weber. The art piece is one of 14 benches along The Woodlands Waterway and features a great blue heron with a fish in its mouth sitting atop a bald cypress trunk.
“Did you know The Woodlands has one of the largest outdoor collections of public art in the country? And for its size, in the world?” Bobley asked the crowd. “We have to ask ourselves as we pass all this art and we look at it, do we really see it? And this begs an even bigger question: if an artist makes a piece of art and nobody looks at it, nobody talks about it, is it art?”
Each person who held the microphone provided a new lens through which to view the bench. From powerful to relaxing to sad, the unique perspectives gave those in attendance pause to stop and think. There also was some debate over whether the bird depicted is a pelican or a blue heron.
Sue Burke Harrington, a local fine artist, shared photos of pelicans that she had taken, and she read two of her favorite poems about pelicans. Lorrie Parise, with The Howard Hughes Corporation, brought a guitar and played a song that the art brought to her mind, “Under the Boardwalk.”
Shirley Li, who works in urban planning, expressed how the sculpture made her sad because the bird was alone — almost as if it were the last of its kind — but she said it also raised her awareness about the environment and how we should take better care of it.
Tonya Simpson Campbell, who recently moved to The Woodlands area from Florida, shared a personal poem inspired by the artwork of the night. Simpson Campbell said it reminded her of a past abusive relationship when she was the prey, or the fish in the bird’s mouth caught and frozen in place. Now, in her current marriage, Simpson Campbell said she feels that she has been set free and is no longer the prey but surrounded by love.
The Wednesday night event officially closed out the 14-art bench collection that sits along The Woodlands Waterway.
Deb Spiess, president of The Woodlands Arts Council, recognized Bobley and Ruth Hallaway for their efforts in producing ArtFeel Live over the past 14 months.
“George Mitchell started a community where all you have to do here is plant a seed. A seed was planted for The Woodlands Arts Council by a group of people who had a passion for the arts and wanted to sustain that passion,” Spiess noted.
She explained that there were a lot of people who helped nurture that love of public art, including Bobley who founded ArtFeel, and Hallaway who provided a place for art lovers to gather.
“Fourteen benches ago, along comes Nickole Bobley, and (she) also has that passion for the arts in our community and because of that passion, ArtFeel was born and we are grateful to be partnering with Nickole (who) had a lot of people watering that seedling that she planted, nurturing and encouraging it to grow,” Spiess said. “And along comes Ruth Hallaway who provided the venue for ArtFeel live.”
The Woodlands Arts Council also honored Peggy and Ray Wilcox, who moved to The Woodlands 12 years ago and were the underwriters of the “
Ray Wilcox settled the debate about whether the bird perched atop the bald cypress is a pelican or a great blue heron — it’s a heron.
“They are the most patient fishermen in the whole world. They just sit up there in peace and tranquillity waiting for their food til sundown and that’s one of the reasons we love this,” Ray Wilcox said.
Ray Wilcox went on to explain the design of the bench and how it is open and inviting to all.
“The roundness of the bench, that was one of our favorite designs so that no matter what direction you came you could sit on it. The other part is while the tree is dead, it’s not really dead,” he explained. “If you look under the bench, true to all cypress trees, the cypress knees which are quite alive are coming back up. That’s what supports the bench.”
Peggy Wilcox, originally from Louisiana, added that she and her husband thought the art benches were a neat way to celebrate art, and they wanted to be part of it.
“The process was amazing. We loved being able to select the site at the time. The site reminded us of Louisiana because of all the cypress trees around it. We loved it and we loved talking and getting to meet the artist and sharing our vision. (John Weber) did a magnificent job,” she noted. “We thank him for the hard work he put into this and the true art he contributed to our lovely Woodlands.”
The Woodlands Arts Council is currently seeking new underwriters for Phase 4 of the art bench project. To learn more about being an underwriter, contact Wendy Paynter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next ArtFeel is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25, and organizers will begin a new series delving into abstract art in and around The Woodlands.