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Interview with Jean Wenner, April 23, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Jean Wenner, April 23, 2008
Date:
April 23, 2008
Description:
In this interview, artist Jean Wenner talks about her craft, the history of Jacksonville, North Carolina's artistic community, as well as the formation and successes of the Jacksonville Arts Council, of which she is a retired president.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Wenner, Jean Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  4/23/2008 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes

 

Hayes: Welcome. My name is Sherman Hayes. I'm the University Librarian at UNCW Randall Library, and today we're-- [break in tape] Jean is both a long-time artist in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but also director of the [break in tape] participating in our interview. Today's date is April 23, and my camera operator is Stephanie Price. I know you've been the director for many, many years, but before that, why don't you give us a little context of how you ended up in Jacksonville? What was your life before art directing?

Wenner: Well, I came from a small town in New York up by Syracuse, and married a local boy who joined the Marine Corps--

Hayes: You're from New York, originally?

Wenner: New York-- Upstate New York, and of course we moved down here and over the years I had eight children so whenever he went overseas it was easier to stay here.

Hayes: Your husband was a--

Wenner: He was a Marine.

Hayes: You came the first time just because he was stationed here?

Wenner: Yes. We got married and came down here. Yeah--

Hayes: You didn't follow him wherever--

Wenner: Only to California, one time. The rest of the time it was here. He was in tanks and there was only so many places they would go, so he didn't have a wide choice of duty stations, and it's been home and I never liked the snow, anyway, and so, been here ever since.

Hayes: Did you do art at an early age, or what--

Wenner: In school. Even in-- I remember, in elementary school, the teacher would let me go out in the hallway and paint on the walls, which was fun, because I got out of class, and then I had an excellent art teacher in high school who came from Italy--

Hayes: What was his name--

Wenner: And--

Hayes: --or her name?

Wenner: Larry Argiro, A-r-g-i-r-o, and I had three classes during the day, of art, so I really had a nice--

Hayes: That--

Wenner: It was a vocational school.

Hayes: That seems unusual--

Wenner: It was wonderful, and so then, of course, I got married, and my mother said, "Now, don't let your art go, because if you do you'll lose it," and I didn't think I would. And after about five years I saw in the paper an art class through the college, and so I thought "Well, it's free, and I'll go to it," and I found out that when I started-- It was a painting class. I really-- My stuff looked like it did when I was in eighth grade. I did lose it, and it took a little while to--

Hayes: This was at Coastal Carolina--

Wenner: Yeah.

Hayes: Just for the community, a class--

Wenner: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and then I just painted, and I would go to any kind of art workshop that I saw around, and basically self-taught, and have always painted.

Hayes: The mediums that you usually work in, or--

Wenner: I started in oils, I went to watercolors and then I switched to pastels. I was going to use it as a sketch to do paintings later, and I found out that my love was pastels, and it's the only medium I use now.

Hayes: What kind of paper? Any particular--

Wenner: Canson, Mi-Teintes, but it's C-a-n-s-o-n and--

Hayes: Is that a particular style or a brand?

Wenner: No. It's a brand, and there is two sides to the paper. One looks like a waffle and the other side is smooth, and I eventually turned to working on the smooth side and when I went to a professional workshop I found out that it holds more paint, as he called it. So I just got that way just by trial and error. I didn't know that was the proper way, but that's the side that used, and I just--

Hayes: You could use both sides, though. You--

Wenner: Oh, you can, yeah, but it looks-- The waffle side makes it look almost like you're doing something with crayons, 'cause you get this overall waffle look throughout everything you do, where the other one, everything's smooth and you- it'll take more paint and go faster.

Hayes: What year did you come to Jacksonville?

Wenner: Fifty-one. Yeah, '51. Yeah. He got sent down here and--

Hayes: When you look at Jacksonville today, they're adding more and more Marines. What was it like in 1951? Was it a small base after World War II, or--

Wenner: Oh yeah, yeah. In fact, up this road there was a little. It [inaudible] drive-in and that was the end of the road until you traveled on and reached the base, and I remember that Elizabeth Lake scene that I showed you that was the country. On Sunday afternoon, my husband I would go out and drive and that was actually the country. Now it's the middle of town.

Hayes: Camp Johnson was here, though, 'cause Montford Point was in there, so that must have been a World War II site, but going that way, where all of this development is at, was just not there.

Wenner: No, no. They had a couple housing units.

Hayes: Was downtown the more active place, then, where we're at now?

Wenner: I don't know. I never went down there. It was more of-- It wasn't a place that families went.

Hayes: Did you stay on the base initially and then get a house? Is that how you did it, or--

Wenner: No. We rented. Yeah. We just never lived on base. Yeah. I don't know why. It just worked out better--

Hayes: Now, of course, there's hundreds of thousands of people in the area, and just--

Wenner: I think there's 173, by count, thousand, and of course now, they're expecting, what, another five or ten thousand in the next two to three years? And so it just keeps developing. The schools keep adding new schools.

Hayes: Was it always families? I think sometimes we consider Marines as an aggressive force, that was mainly single guys? Were there always families, or were you unusual at that point?

Wenner: There were always families, but not to the number that they have today, I think--

Hayes: It's more normal to--

Wenner: Yeah. Yeah, and we'd go on the base and shop for groceries and go to the PX if we wanted to, things like that, but--

Hayes: Your husband had to go there a lot. That was--

Wenner: And the amazing thing is that with all the kids, I had never once, did they-- any of them have to transfer from school to school, 'cause I stayed here. He went overseas, I stayed here, and so you see some military families that constantly changed, but we never had to do that.

Hayes: Did he ever get long assignments where he was really gone for a substantial period of time?

Wenner: Oh, a year and a half, went to Korea twice, went to Japan once, went to Vietnam.

Hayes: During the Vietnam era, was he an officer or a sergeant--

Wenner: No. He was a master sergeant.

Hayes: That's as high as you go. Right?

Wenner: Yeah. Yeah.

Hayes: I would guess he got pulled into-- Even Korea was going, at the tail end. Did he get caught in--

Wenner: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so--

Hayes: You said you had tried to keep your artwork going. I'm surprised, with eight kids, that you could do anything, but you still were doing the art--

Wenner: I painted at the kitchen table, and it was so funny. My youngest one, at the time, was about three, and I remember I would hold her back with one hand, this hand, and paint with the other. I had a son that, if he picked up the phone occasionally--this was when I was painting in oils--he'd get red on his ear, yeah, and then I just put it aside and then we'd have our meal, and then I'd clear the table, and that's how I painted.

Hayes: What were the early years like for just supporting arts in Jacksonville? Was there anything at all that was--

Wenner: No. There was a community concert series that was very big at one time, and then kind of eventually died out. There was no galleries. We didn't have an arts council until '76.

Hayes: 1976 was when that started.

Wenner: Uh-huh, and we always said we're the best kept secret in Onslow County, and as far as sales go, they were almost nonexistent. Where I would sell is, I would enter the art shows in the surrounding areas and I'd either win a ribbon or I'd sell or both, and that's how I--

Hayes: Down in New Hanover County, or--

Wenner: Yeah. I used to be down there. In fact, like I told you I judged the Azalea Festival show one year.

Hayes: Do you remember what year that was, or roughly?

Wenner: No. It had to be a long time ago.

Hayes: '80s maybe, or--

Wenner: Yeah. Yeah, well, it was after the Arts Council formed, and we formed in '76, and we got into this building in '84, and I do believe it had to be--

Hayes: In that period.

Wenner: --'80, '84. That was an experience.

Hayes: Tell us about that--

Wenner: That was an experience, because it's the first time I had judged a show. Why they called me, I don't know. I think they knew my work. And that's when you found out that you weren't just judging a show, that they were judging you when they'd come in to see what you'd picked, and that's when the-- it really sunk in, what we were doing, so I took a lot more effort and care to pick the winners.

Hayes: That's a big event down there. I recently was at their show, and it's really a large event.

Wenner: Oh, that's grown, yeah. We had a festival here. In fact, the Arts Council arranged all the arts and crafts. We were in charge of finding the artists and setting up their display areas and things like that for about five years, and the average person wouldn't come back after the first year or the second year, because they didn't sell. You might sell crafts. You might sell impulse, inexpensive things, but art didn't sell.

Hayes: I think it's tough everywhere--

Wenner: Oh, it is, yeah.

Hayes: The time you put in and then the price you have to charge, people are not used to--

Wenner: Yeah, frightening.

Hayes: --spending it.

Wenner: We have done really quite well here, in the last couple years, to our surprise--

Hayes: Is it changing, just the size perhaps, and--

Wenner: I don't know. I know that one thing about the Arts Council, is we have had-- we've got people that we had had as members since day one.

Hayes: Really.

Wenner: Oh, it's amazing, and we also have people that never come in our building, but they see our brochures or our papers and they hear about what we're doing, and they support us, and every year, we sent out a letter asking them to become members and the majority of the time they do.

Hayes: You were unusual, in that you were military but you stayed. I was asking you before, the transitory nature of the base. What does that do for art support?

Wenner: You are constantly re-educating the public. You have to depend on the newspaper and you have your good years and your bad years. This year, they've been very good about publicizing things that we've done. Other times, they might not put anything in--

Hayes: Does the base run parallel art programs themselves, or--

Wenner: Well, they have their own school system, and-- Yeah.

Hayes: Some kids live on the base and go--

Wenner: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, but now they come to our program--

Hayes: I wondered if they do come to your program--

Wenner: Oh, yeah, yeah. They come to the three programs, the special schools program that we do.

Hayes: Is it '76 that the Council started?

Wenner: Uh-huh.

Hayes: What was the impetus for that? Was that the state or was that local?

Wenner: The state. I was the president at the time of the Onslow Art Society, which is this group here.

Hayes: That's been around for a long time?

Wenner: Oh, yes, forever, and they contacted us from the state arts council. They wanted-- They were having a big thrust to get a lot of arts councils, 'cause at that time, I think there were two or three in the state, and they wanted to know if we would host the meeting. And we didn't think anybody would come, and we had about 85 people there. We were really quite surprised. And they formed a board. I got elected president, and I felt kind of funny, because I was president of two art groups, so I didn't advertise that too much. I just didn't think that was right. And they came and I thought, "Okay, now we're an arts council. What do we do?" Because I had never heard of an arts council, but every one is different. Each one has their own personality and their own interest.

Hayes: I think that we need to make it clear in this interview that an arts council is much broader than just the visual arts. You're a visual artist, and this show today, we're in their space here in downtown Jacksonville, and there happens to be a show that's sponsored by the--

Wenner: Arts Council.

Hayes: --Arts Council and the Wilmington, no, sorry, the Onslow Art Association. Is that--

Wenner: Art Society, yeah. They have two shows a year. They used to have them at the mall, and then they had a problem with volunteers like every group does, and they approached us and said, "Could we come and have our shows in your place?" So they have one juried show, which is very well-attended, and usually you get artists from maybe 35 or 40 communities that come in to it, and then they have this show which is the open show. And it works out for them, because they don't even have to have volunteers here to manage, because we're here, yeah.

Hayes: If you don't have the shows, those, what other things are in this room? All kinds of the other shows, or--

Wenner: Yeah. We have shows all the time. We have-- Sometimes, we'll have group shows. We have-- The college art students will have a show. We have the high school and middle school art competitions, which is a very popular show, and we've been doing that for, I think, 30 years, and big crowds. People love it, 'cause it's colorful, and the kids aren't afraid to experiment, and it's-- they're really excited.

Hayes: It's a council building, but in some ways, it's the main art gallery--

Wenner: Yeah.

Hayes: --or art museum--

Wenner: Yeah.

Hayes: --almost, not museum, although you have some that you have, permanently, over the years, acquired but it's kind of the main art gallery in all the town. Right?

Wenner: Yeah, and it's the meeting ground for so many people. You'd be surprised the people who stop in. "I'm just stopping in for a minute," and-- or then we have volunteers that will come in, not every hour of the building, but three or four days a week, which is a big help.

Hayes: So, the--

Wenner: It's a community. It's-- Well, I always like to tell people that if you've got company coming in town and you don't know what you want to do, don't forget the Arts Council. There's always a show that's interesting. There's things for sale, things on exhibit, and it has just grown.

Hayes: What are the other areas besides visual arts? Give somebody a sense of: What does an arts council get involved in?

Wenner: Well, they're all different of course, and everyone has their own thrust, but right now we have a writing contest, and we'll print a little book from it. We have, of course, the programs for the schools that we do.

Hayes: Tell us a little bit about the--

Wenner: We have two programs. We've had one since '84, and it's called Arts in the Schools, and the county commissioners started off as a matching grant, and then they finally took it over and supported us until the big money crunch came, and then they cut us back some, but they would give us a certain amount of money. We would find artists. We'd say to them, "What grade levels do you like to work in? We like to have four to five classes a day." And we would just develop some kind of a program. Some of those people we might have for several years.

Hayes: This is supplemental to the existing program, and these are professional artists that--

Wenner: Oh, yeah, uh huh. Rarely it wouldn't be a local artist.

Hayes: Oh, really.

Wenner: We have one visual artist who does a lot of murals and things like that, and she's a teacher. She graduated from ECU. So we'll hire her each year.

Hayes: Who is that--

Wenner: Karen Edwards, and--

Hayes: Others could come from New Hanover or New Bern, whatever

Wenner: Oh, anywhere in the state, uh huh, and they would just let us know and we'd work it out. We'd say, "Okay. Let us know what you want. This is-- " And then we'd find the schools that would- we'd hire, book, and--

Hayes: These were during the school year. Did this also include a summer program, or--

Wenner: No. No. Now we have a program right now, called Learning from the Masters, which is from eight to 13 years, I think. We have a wonderful teacher, Penny Craven, who is from New Bern, a professional artist. In fact, I think she has a couple of pieces in this show. And she would find-- She's been doing it now for six years. It's wonderful. We book it every month, once a month. The kids don't have to supply anything. We have grant money that supplies the-- that, and she will say, "All right. This year, we're going to study the masters, or this or that," and she would always come in, sit them down. She would do a quick demonstration. She would talk about the artists. So it was a real learning experience, and the kids didn't get that in school in that degree, and then they would stand there and they painted from easels, which was an experience, and the would paint a large painting and they would take them home. And we had had parents who will-- It was only that $10, and then it went up to 12, $12 for class. That's all they had to pay, and I mean, it's a bargain and a half, but that's how this county is. You can't-- You might put on a dinner party and charge money, but you're not going to get it from the parents, because most of them-- excuse me-- work two jobs, or they have other things they have to do on Saturdays. And so you're very limited, in who your audience is.

Hayes: It seemed to me like there's competition now. Art's just one of many things. You must have soccer, and drama--

Wenner: That's it.

Hayes: --and swimming, and--

Wenner: But now these parents, many of them, I'd say the majority of them, will come in-- Now, these are ordinary people, and they will pay for the full year, because they don't want to lose the spot for each month. Now, and we also have a setup where if they have to cancel and someone else takes their place, then we return their money, so it's a win-win situation.

Hayes: It's supplemental and it gives that private attention that you're--

Wenner: Yeah, and it brings people in that have never been in here before.

Hayes: The classes are all actually conducted here--

Wenner: Yeah, on the other side, and the kids love it, and there are as many boys as girls, which always surprises me at that age, and then, of course, we have a Arts in the Schools program, which has been a godsend for us, and we work with our schools coordinator to schedule it. And we will have a puppet and actor organization from Cincinnati. They come in every year, and then we have the opera from Charlotte, and then we have the ballet from-- the theater for young people from New York City, and the kids have an opportunity that-- particularly the ballet-- It's colorful, it's beautiful, and she always manages-- the director manages every other year at least, to have something that the boys particularly like. They'll have wrestling matches, or they'll do things like that, and they'll come out of the theater and they'll say, "Man, that was cool," and it makes you feel good. It wasn't something they were forced to do.

Hayes: Who are those aimed at? What age group is that?

Wenner: First, second and third.

Hayes: That's getting them started early.

Wenner: No. First, second and fourth because the third-- The schools do something with the third. They have-- So it's really wonderful, so then for three years in a row, these kids will get each one of these programs.

Hayes: That's great. You said it was a godsend, because you can charge a little bit and you can make a little bit of money.

Wenner: Yeah, and it saves them, because they don't have to go out of town, spend a whole day on a bus or touring, spending three times as much, four times in many cases as we would charge, and so, it's great for the schools. They love it.

Hayes: How many years have you been doing it?

Wenner: Oh, and we did it-- And we've done it for 12.

Hayes: Twelve, excellent.

Wenner: Yeah, and we've already got it set up and scheduled for the thirteenth year. That has been really wonderful.

Hayes: Are there musical events? Do you try to get folk festivals and things like that, or everybody--

Wenner: Not really. The schools all have musical theater, very well attended. Of course, they have a built-in audience, but even people whose kids have left the schools will still come to these, 'cause they're so good. We have support with funded money. We give out grassroots money grants.

Hayes: That comes from the state?

Wenner: Yeah.

Hayes: You make those choices then, as a committee, or--

Wenner: Well, yeah. The committee is three or four people from the board, and the rest of them are from the community, and they have application forms and they say what they want to do with their money. It could be a photo group might want to do a particular show. It could be a sorority that wants to bring somebody in. We just brought in part of the Tuskegee Pilots.

Hayes: Oh, really--

Wenner: Yeah, and one of the men who had written a book, they had him in for a dinner theater-type thing, and we helped fund that, so we do-- we fund, probably, nine or ten groups every year that wouldn't have it from anywhere else. Sometimes we'll fund an entirety, or we'll fund a portion of it, and--

Hayes: Those funds come from the state through an allotment. Right?

Wenner: Yeah--

Hayes: Do you also have the individual artist program,, or--

Wenner: We have a competition. It's 29 counties, and it's just [laughs] a big competition, and they might select-- you might one year not get any selectees, and then again, some years, we don't have anyone to put in for--

Hayes: But you have had winners of that? Have you had people--

Wenner: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: Who--

Wenner: Johnnie Scott has been a winner, I think, once or twice, Joy Rose Walker, the one from Sneads Ferry, that last painting that was up there on the wall--I can't think of her name, right now-- and oh, Jonathan Wagner, who is a print maker, and there are a couple others I can't think of right now.

Hayes: As I look through your show, and you talk about so many people come and participate, it seems like there's a New Bern presence. Is there a relationship, Jacksonville, New Bern? They're close enough that people--

Wenner: Well, they always enter our shows, and so they come back from time to time to see what the show is, because we send out newsletters to all the arts councils and things like that.

Hayes: How far away is New--

Wenner: Forty miles.

Hayes: That's a ways, though, so--

Wenner: Well, you're used to it. I'm from upstate New York, and I had relatives who couldn't believe that I went to Wilmington when they found out how far it was, because I've been to Syracuse, which is a big city, twice in my life. That was a happening, and then you come down here, and it's a whole different approach, and they'd say, "Well, what do you with the kids when you go somewhere?" And I'd say, "We take them." They just couldn't comprehend, so that was funny, in a way, but it's--

Hayes: We were talking with your daughter earlier, and she said that your Arts Council days started as a volunteer. Is that right? There was no pay coming for any of this?

Wenner: I was a volunteer for five years.

Hayes: Then your own kitchen table was back in use. Was that it?

Wenner: Yeah, and we put in to the state for a matching grant for administrator, and that gave three a year, and I got one. You had to prove that within the next two years, you would be able to sustain the program without their money, and we've had a wonderful close relationship with the state Arts Council, particularly with Jack Le Sueur, who is up there and was always in charge of grassroots, and he's like a brother. And they're always willing to help, and they always give you new ideas, and it's really wonderful, and one of the best advices I ever got when we started, was "Don't try to grow too fast." So many people that get an arts council, right away they want a building and they have no money to pay for it. He says, "Crawl before you walk," and just-- and we did. It was '84 before we got this building.

Hayes: You've been in here since '84? That's excellent.

Wenner: Yeah, and then I think in '81, we rented from a supporter a little, teeny office building is all it was, but that was our first public place, and then we moved down here and the most amazing thing about it to me, is the owners of the building have never raised our rent, from the first day--

Hayes: Oh, my goodness.

Wenner: Would you like to know how much we pay in rent?

Hayes: I don't know. It's up to you--

Wenner: Eight hundred and twelve dollars and 50 cents a month, and then the owner died; a New York company bought the building, and they came down to meet us and we thought, "Oh, Lord, they're probably going to expand and we'll have to move." He was thrilled that we were willing to stay [laughs], and of course we were. We never told them that we were scared to death that we'd have to move and never raised the rent. It's amazing.

Hayes: What-- Is it a hardware store or--

Wenner: Yeah, parts-repair, more or less, and we have a great relationship with the owner, or the manager, so that's good, so we've been very lucky.

Hayes: Like all cities of any size, your downtown has struggled. I don't know when it started losing it. Wilmington started slowing down even in the Sixties, Seventies. Do you find people willing to come down and talk to you and see things, or is it just--

Wenner: We had one volunteer who would come in here, and we were leaving-- I was leaving, for some reason. She'd lock the front door and sit out in back where she could-- in a chair where she could see if somebody came. She didn't feel safe at all. We've had people say they'd never-- if we moved on farther on down, they would never move and go there, but those people are still members, so I guess they've--

Hayes: It's not realistic. You don't have problems--

Wenner: No, no, and of course you got the new city hall now, and that has-- it seems like there's been so much more traffic, and I think a lot of our movement has come from so many people here--

Hayes: City Hall is right across the street--

Wenner: Absolutely, a brand new building.

Hayes: What else is in-- Is it just City Hall, or are there other offices besides--

Wenner: No. City Hall and all kinds of space for new space if they need it. Actually, I've never been in it. Connie has been in, but it isn't worth it with a scooter to go across the street, and of course, we have our bank right across the street, which is wonderful, so we have a lot of--

Hayes: You have good parking. I think it's excellent--

Wenner: Oh, yeah. We have a lot of good experiences--

Hayes: An arts council is more than just the one spot. It's about supporting it in many levels. When you finally got to be paid, was that a full-time job then, or--

Wenner: No. It was part time. I was getting $8000 a month or a year, and of course that was great.

Hayes: You kept your art going--

Wenner: I would have done it for nothing because I love doing it, and of course it hasn't risen to a great degree after that. [laughs]

Hayes: How many years did you do it to--

Wenner: Twenty-nine years.

Hayes: When did you finally hand the reins over to--

Wenner: I think it was three years ago.

Hayes: Whom did you hand those over to?

Wenner: To my daughter, Connie.

Hayes: Now, wait a minute--

Wenner: And a lot of people say, "You know, wait a minute." You got to remember that Connie worked as my assistant, unpaid assistant, for 13 years. She has worked with every grant, everything we've ever done, and they realized, the board realized that they couldn't do any better. So, they didn't know how the county or the city would perceive it, but we've never had any loss of support or any comments.

Hayes: They like the name, I guess--

Wenner: Well, they like her. She does a good job. I kid her. I say, "Gee, I taught you everything, and you still are coming up with surprises-- "

Hayes: Even though you've, quote, "retired," it seems like you still are very involved. Maybe you're paying back those 13 years she helped--

Wenner: Yeah. I come down once or twice a week, although I usually paint over on the other side, but if she has to go somewhere, I'm there for the phone or something like that, but it's been a great experience. I never would have thought that we'd still be here. I really wouldn't have.

Hayes: It seems to me like you represent the success of what arts councils were for. The state all that many years ago had an idea--

Wenner: They're doing well.

Hayes: It's working, isn't it?

Wenner: There's been a few that we know, as you know, that have folded, but not too many like--

Hayes: Wilmington.

Wenner: Yeah. Carteret or Morehead City? I always get Morehead and I always get them mixed up, Morehead, not the communities, but who did it. They've kind of folded and ended up in a little, teeny office somewhere in a library, and--

Hayes: It depends on the folks. Talk about the power and help you get from a board. That's what--

Wenner: Oh, we have a board that is second to none. It's been the best board I've ever seen. The county's lucky. It's-- They're very willing to help. They actually attend things and participate--

Hayes: Are these practicing artists and musicians, or are they usually general citizens? What do--

Wenner: Some-- Well, let's see. We have retired teachers. We have a couple artists, people that have been supporters of the Arts Council. What we have-- We have a deal, as a nonprofit, that after six years, you have to get off the board for a year to keep your nonprofit, and we have some who will do that, and that year's up, and they'll say, "I'll come back on the board if you want me to." And they've been good workers, and we'll say yes.

Hayes: How big is the board--

Wenner: Nine, ten-- We've been as high as 23, 24, but that doesn't necessarily make for a stronger board.

Hayes: I've watched, particularly art museums and some other cultural areas, have started to, in essence, to make the board as the primary fundraising force. Have you been forced into that, too, or not--

Wenner: Well, you always try. From day one, that's always been one of the functions of the board, is to go out and either raise the money, or find the money, or give the money. It doesn't happen. [laughs] It hasn't happened here, but you have some that will. We have a minimum dues of $25 a year, but we have some who will come in and give us $150 and then the next year maybe they'll give another 50, so-- and then, when they leave the board, the majority of them will continue to support.

Hayes: At those levels, that's not a major fundraising. I'm talking about some major museums that, to be on the board's a $5000 expectation of-- That kind of thing where--

Wenner: Yeah. The director of the Wilson Arts Council at one time moved to Charlotte, and wanted to be on a children's theater-- It was $500 minimum. She paid it, because she wanted to be on there. I've--

Hayes: I'm not folding that. I'm just saying that seemed to be a trend now, because they need--

Wenner: They have to get it somewhere, and we're lucky that the city and the county continue to give us money. They don't give us a large amount, but they have not decreased it and they're wonderful, and of course they have a tough report form that you have to fill out. Everything is documented, believe you me, and you account for everything we do, and--

[crew talk]

Wenner: But we're lucky, because the city councilmen-- Many of them have been on our board at one time or another, including the mayor, one year.

Hayes: Wow.

Wenner: Yeah, and the county-- They also know us. Our credibility is amazing in Jacksonville. Our word is the gospel. No one can ever accuse us of hiding anything or changing it or embellishing it, and so, when they ask you a question, you tell them, and it's been wonderful. We're lucky.

Hayes: We might give the listener or reader a sense that Jacksonville is a large city, and we're getting very big, but it's still a fairly rural county, isn't it? How do you reach out to some of those smaller burgs? Is there any way to--

Wenner: We've tried by mail, and the-- In most cases, it'd either be through a board member who might get a few, but never a degree that you would like to, and you're always saying, "When I get two minutes, I'm going to get a little more involved with the fund drive," 'cause the majority of our fund drive goes from letters written from the director. I'd say 99 percent of everything we take in, comes from response to those letters, so when you send out, the big campaign to all the businesses the response is what, two percent, three percent? It just never seemed to happen. Now, if you go down there and do a program in the area, then they at least get a chance to see how you operate and what you do, and you have a little better luck, but our fund drive, unfortunately, stays just about the same amount every year.

Hayes: You have a fund drive, the city and the county, and then the state has pass-through money, and then do you try for grants at times, to get--

Wenner: Yeah, and of course we have earned income from the schools program, a little bit from the gallery--

Hayes: If you sell something--

Wenner: But we always end up, at the end of the year, with a nice cushion to hold us over for the first six months, because sometime the state's a little slow in paying you the grassroots share, so on paper sometimes, we look very solvent, but we end up the year good.

Hayes: Do you have the sense that the state's programs are still going strong and people supportive of them, or what's the--

Wenner: I think so. They-- Of course, they get so much of their money from federal and state, and like any group, you have to change and they always say a cash cow begins a dog eventually, and you have to get rid of it and get a new program, and so-- Yeah. [laughs] That always used to be one of their favorite expressions, but yeah, they're still going strong. Their director, Mary Regan, was the director when I first joined, and she's still with them. She's sharp.

Hayes: Let's switch gears a little bit about the visual arts in the county. I'm sure there are many, many artists who come in just like you, tied to the military, but then so many of them have to go away, so how does that transitory nature affect the artists that you can help and know? Is that--

Wenner: Well, a few of them will keep in touch and send you money, but usually they leave, and fortunately, new ones will come in, but there's a great turnover. There really is.

Hayes: Who are some of the, quote, "old guard," who have been around a long time, not necessarily tied to the military? Who are some of the artists in this area who--

Wenner: Well, of course, Jean Simpson was-- In fact, I think she started what they called the Art-- not the Art Society, but a group before them that was kind of-- They met on Sunday afternoons, and they did kind of cultural things. Margaret Hight. She was down here for three or four years. There's a lot of artists. Oh, my mind is gone. Blanche Johnson was a great supporter of the arts. She'd come in and help hang the shows, and she eventually moved away, 'cause her family moved away and she went with them--

Hayes: Who are some of the practicing artists, as we go through here, that you recognize year after year as being successful here?

Wenner: Well, Johnnie Scott in particular. She's well known--

Hayes: Johnnie Louise Scott, I think, she--

Wenner: Yeah. Her son who is an art teacher in Hampstead--

Hayes: What's his name?

Wenner: Mark David Scott, and he graduated from ECU, and then he went down to South Carolina and got his Masters there and does unusual work. It's almost comical, but he wins ribbons every time he goes in a show. Myself-- [laughs]

Hayes: That's true. You've kept your art going, and you were not just an arts administrator. You always saw yourself as an artist. Right?

Wenner: Yeah, and I always used to-- People would come in and say, "Well, she's an artist, and you can't expect them to make a deadline," and I'd say, "I'm an artist and I make my deadlines and the Arts Council's deadlines," so I never bought that excuse, but I guess that was just my attitude. Oh, there are so many--

Hayes: Lynn Pritchett or--

Wenner: Of course, John Althouser, who is an absolute excellent photographer that works for the Daily News, but he does his photography on the side, absolutely beautiful, mostly black and white quality.

Hayes: We don't have to get them all. I just wanted to get on the record some of the folks. You have a core that's here, year after year, and then you have others who come and go.

Wenner: Yeah, who come and go.

Hayes: Probably the people who support the council is the same thing, but I think you hit a key point. You do an awful lot of re-education. Right--

Wenner: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: Maybe that's true in almost every community, but--

Wenner: Well, yeah, but there is such a turnover here. When you go to the City Hall-- [laughs] And we had a phone call one day and the secretary or the receptionist called, and she said, "I have some tourists, here." Now, this is before they added the new extension, but it was right here. "Could you give me directions to the Arts Council?" And Connie was on the phone, and she says, "Well, if you go out to your front door and you look across the street, I'll wave to you," because, see, there's parking in the back, and a lot of workers would come in to the back and park.

Hayes: Never even--

Wenner: Never came out, but that was priceless. [laughs] It really was priceless. Yeah. Yeah, but it's just a constant-- Every time you get an article in the paper you're thrilled, and we'll have-- every time somebody will walk in this door and say, "Well, I've been here for years, and I didn't even know you were here." What can you do? And then they-- the next question would be, "Do you advertise?"

Hayes: Oh, well.

Wenner: Oh, yeah, and it happens, but-- and lots of them would say that.

Hayes: The last question is about your own personal work. Are there particular subjects that have always drawn you, or do you paint everything? What--

Wenner: I used to paint an awful lot of portraits, a lot of portraits. I always set them up and painted from life, and I did some darned good ones, and then it was like anything. You go in to a different phase. You don't even realize for a while you're not doing the portraits you were doing. I love still-lifes. I love anything that I can set up and paint from life. I used to do a lot of scenery, a lot of-- down by Swansboro and the water and everything. About the only thing I don't like-- I don't do animals. I did a cow once and it was so good I sold it to a bank in Kinston and my one son still talks about the day that I sold his cow, 'cause he loved it, but animals-- That's not my thing. I don't even think I could-- I couldn't think of doing a kitten or a cat.

Hayes: If you had to classify yourself, what would you-- Are you a realist? Are you abstraction? What would--

Wenner: I'm a realist, but with a looseness to it. I love my pastels, so I like to try different colors paper, because every time you do that, the color of pastel is so different that it'll look different. Yeah, I'd say realist, but not photorealist.

Hayes: Yeah. Okay.

Wenner: Yeah.

Hayes: Thank you so much. It's so great to hear this history, and for participating in our program.

Wenner: Well, we appreciate it. Thank you.

[crew talk]

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