Another Fourth Friday Gallery Night in ILM has come and gone and left behind the celebration of Halloween (galleries encouraged participants). Last Friday WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery opened Virginia Wright-Frierson’s “At Home and Abroad: Watercolors, Oils and Prints.” Wright-Frierson’s talents have contributed to incredible displays and illustrations locally and nationally, even internationally, in Italy.
“I have always drawn and painted,” Wright-Frierson says. “I have an older sister who was good at everything else, so art was my territory early on. It is the work I was born to pursue—I’m lucky to have been encouraged from an early age by my parents and teachers.”
Wright-Frierson was born in Washington D.C. and moved around Texas, Virginia, and New York during youth. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BFA in painting, she continued studying at the Art Students League in New York City. She also studied abroad in Cortona, Italy, through the University of Georgia. Since, she has contributed to a number of public displays, many of which are still viewable throughout the Port City.
“I have been showing my art work in Wilmington since we moved here in 1977,” Wright-Frierson states. “My first exhibit here was at St. John’s Museum of Art.”
A few of the artist’s most cherished public works across town include the Bottle Chapel at Airlie Gardens. The seven-sided structure measures 17 feet high and 17 feet across in all directions and was built as a memorial to honor the late Minnie Evans—a famed Wilmington artist who was the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens for 40 years.
“I worked with cement and glass bottles for the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel,” Wright-Frierson explains. Wright-Frierson and a team of fellow artists completed the project a little over decade ago, and at night the lights in the chapel shine through the brightly-colored bottles in a similar effect to stained-glass windows.
Wright-Frierson has painted nature-themed murals for the Children’s Department of the New Hanover County Public Library, the Wilmington Children’s Museum, and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. “I have shown my paintings in many galleries in the state and around the US and Italy, and several museums,” she continues. “Most recently, my work was at the Cameron Art Museum in ‘A North American Patchwork: Paintings by Virginia Wright-Frierson,’ and show 140 oils from road trips around the continent. It was on view from March through September of this year.”
In 2001 Wright-Frierson contributed her talents to Columbine High School in Colorado. A year after the tragic shooting, she took the design input of the school’s students, teachers, parents, and a team of architects to create a hope-filled mural. Using acrylic paint, Wright-Frierson painted trees on 20 canvases around a 20-foot-by-24-foot centerpiece. Applied to suspended panels in a variety of shapes and sizes, the murals were permanently installed on the ceiling of the school’s atrium.
Wright-Frierson also won a commission in 2002 from Savannah College of Art and Design to contribute to their exhibition “In Response: Memorial Commissions, a Memorial Tribute Exhibition Honoring the Victims and Heroes of September 11.” The project included nine acrylic paintings on canvas, showing different perspectives of the World Trade Center buildings. Her current display at the MC Erny Gallery features drawings and paintings from several mediums, including watercolor and oil.
“Almost all of my watercolors are done from life,” Wright-Frierson explains. “I love being outside, feeling the air and noticing smells and sounds as I paint in an interesting place. Most of my oils are done in my studio at home, a renovated garage behind our house.”
Also on display are linoleum cuts and prints from the last several years. The subjects of her pieces vary from plants and animals to people. A favorite of the artist’s is the Saturday-morning market scene in Orvieto, Italy.
“I was walking through, enjoying the colors and arrangements of fruits and vegetables, the groups of Italians shopping, the goods for sale and the brightly colored tents in this gorgeous piazza,” Wright-Frierson remembers. “I noticed two older women, obviously great friends, talking closely and laughing. I didn’t want to interrupt them or embarrass them by asking if I could take their photo, so I just walked past, holding the camera by my side and clicking pictures. They never noticed and I was lucky to capture a moment of intimate conversation in that beautiful setting.”
While much of Wright-Frierson’s artistic influences stem from nature, she also finds inspiration from fellow artists, history of art, her travels, museums, teaching, reading, exploring, and basically enjoying all life has to offer. “Historically the artists who inspire me most are Cezanne and Georgia O’Keeffe, who I was lucky enough to meet while I lived in Arizona,” she says.
A closing reception will take place on November 25. All of Wright-Frierson’s pieces are for sale, with a percentage of proceeds benefiting WHQR. The exhibit closes January 13, 2017.