Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Workshop Report: Wilmington, North Carolina - and Hurricane Matthew

Pastel demonstration by Michael Chesley Johnson

I've never had to cancel or shorten a workshop because of a natural disaster or an act of God. However, I had to shorten this one. Read on!

I always like to teach a workshop on our annual fall migration from our summer studio on Campobello Island to our winter one near Sedona, Arizona. This year, the Wilmington Art Association in North Carolina asked me to come down and teach plein air painting to their group. I happily agreed, since I'd never been to that part of the coast before, and I'm always eager to spread the gospel of plein air painting.

Painting on the River Walk

Because Wilmington was new to me, we arrived a day early so that Ann, my workshop coordinator as well as our delightful lodging host, could show me the possible painting locations. I was pleased to learn she is an experienced outdoor painter, and her choices were excellent with restrooms, plenty of parking and, of course, plenty of great scenery. We went down to the Intra-Coastal Waterway and the River Walk, which is a boardwalk filled with interesting shops and restaurants; then to the historic downtown mansions, hedged with beautiful magnolias and oak trees; plus the Aboretum, which is just chock-full of painting possibilities including a Japanese tea house.

That same day, Hurricane Matthew had just finished chewing up Haiti and was hungrily marching on to Cuba.

Pastel demonstration by Michael Chesley Johnson
Horse trolley tour

We weren't worried yet, as the forecast seemed to indicate Matthew would slow down and possibly veer out to sea. There was a chance it might nick Florida on its way out. At any rate, a major hurricane hadn't hit the Wilmington area in 20 years, and most of us thought we'd escape this one.

But by the second day of the workshop, the forecast had changed remarkably. That morning, the governor of South Carolina issued a mandatory evacuation of the coast. North Carolina was still biding its time to give the order, but the prospect of the one million already ordered to leave made Trina and me reconsider the timing of our travel plans. We had a very tight schedule, and the next stop was a family visit in Georgia with my elderly parents. Our path was going to take us directly parallel to the coast and into the evacuation traffic. There was no other way around.

Also, students needed to prepare. Some had already made hotel reservations for further inland; others, who had planned a vacation at Myrtle Beach for the holiday weekend (this was Columbus Day weekend), canceled theirs. Some were discussing plans for their cats and dogs.

Ready for the critique!

Painting downtown

Sadly, we made the decision to cancel the last day of the workshop. Students got a refund on the last day, and I also offered to critique two paintings for each student via e-mail for free.

If you've watched the news, you'll know we made the right decision. Although Matthew slowed down a bit and arrived to the Carolinas later than expected, as I write parts of the the coast are still under water, and further inland, communities are flooded because of swollen rivers from the 15+ inches of rain received. Section of Interstate 95 are still impassable.

All that said, we had a great two days for the workshop. The weather couldn't have been better, and the students eagerly trooped on despite the threat of Matthew.

Now, I am back on the road and in Oklahoma. I'll arrive in Arizona on Friday just in time for the Sedona Plein Air Festival, which starts Saturday. As usual, I'll be posting to my blog daily if possible during the event. Stay tuned!

Oil demo by Michael Chesley Johnson

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