I spent this last Saturday at the wonderful Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw—Yes Kennesaw, home to gun toting suburbanites with refrigerators on their front lawns. Seriously, the town has gone quite civilized over the last twenty years and is now a well established bedroom community of Atlanta. The Smith-Gilbert Gardens are right off Highway 41 north of the famous mountain battlefield. This property is part of 160 acres originally owned by Hiram Butler and then by Robert Gilbert and Richard Smith who during 35 years of ownership added extensive gardens and a sculpture collection. Owned now by the City of Kennesaw it is run by a small staff and volunteers. A plein air competition has been featured over the last few years here but this season it was decided to broaden the idea to include studio work. Submissions are due at the end of May so I needed to get something started.
I arrived about 10:30. and parked right out front on a gray day with the thought that even though it was not prime for painting it would at least be quiet. I was delighted by the nice reception I received from a few of the volunteers upon entering. The property features a restored Greek Revival manor house built in 1880. It’s a grand place, if not overly large and has the most beautiful mural in the hall in a traditional style with plants and trees plus exciting little portraits of some of the birds common to the area. After a good look I also visited the gift shop featuring work by local artists and craftspeople.
Back to work—I unloaded my gear and decided to take a tour before I set up. At about 13 acres It’s not too overwhelming and I was able walk it all in about an hour, all the time looking for the best spot to set up. I decided on a view of the side of the manor house with the screened porch in the background and a a variety of flowering perennials including a huge orange lily in the foreground. I was surprised to see it clear up as the day progressed. I worked on a 12′ x12′ painting, a bit large for plein air spending about three hours or more on it. All the time the day just got better and I was able to take advantage of good light and strong shadows to finish up with a very colorful and composed work. I had brought several canvasses thinking that I’d get a least two painted, but in the end I was satisfied with what I had and finished up in time to make it home for cocktail hour.
If you are visiting —or like me have been putting it off, take the time to tour the gardens. The variety of plants, color and art are worth the trip. I have decide to use the plein air sketch for a larger studio version and hope to have it all done in time for the competition.