Thursday, April 05, 2007

Russell C. Watlington

The Winery at Iron Gate Farm hosts Caswell County artist
By Karen Carter, Mebane Enterprise Editor

Caswell County native Russell C. Watlington traveled to The Winery at Iron Gate Farm in Mebane last Saturday with his "One Man Show." Through art, Watlington preserves the rural scenes in Piedmont North Carolina.

An accomplished artist who works in pen and ink and watercolor, Watlington's realistic drawings and paintings depict symbols of life and tradition, which shaped rural communities for centuries. The nostalgic effect of his work takes a person back in time to old weathered and worn structures in their natural settings along the countryside. He illustrates life as it really was back then and may no longer be in the future.

"Whether it's a tobacco barn that is no longer in use, a cabin which was once loved as home, or an abandoned country store with advertising signs," said Watlington, "people can appreciate what they stand for."

He knows what he's talking about. Born in 1947, he grew up in Yanceyville among these familiar subjects. Like most his age, he worked in tobacco and lived in a rural farming community.

In West Yanceyville, an old country store sits, which he will paint in the near future. The sign reads "O.B. Watlington & Son." It belonged to his dad and his grandfather. Before that, it belonged to his grandfather on his mother's side of the family, the Carters. "W.G. Carter & Son" ran it for years, William and his son, C.G. "Bo" Carter. It served as the hub for the community.

(Photograph Courtesy Caswell County Historical Association)

At the "One Man Show" in Mebane, Watlington displayed "In Flight to Farmer Lake," a drawing of three geese flying over a cabin near the artist's home. Watlington camped out at 4:00 in the afternoon underneath a hickory tree to capture the geese in flight for his drawing.

"Through my art," said Watlington, "I hope that I can pass on to future generations not only the memories these old structures stir, but the pleasure I get from drawing them."

Watlington's technique, using stippling or pointillism, requires tedious labor and concentration. He spent 220 hours putting in thousands of little dots to create "Old Reliable," a drawing of a Ford 601 Workmaster tractor. A Mountain Dew barrel catches water for the chickens that run across in front of the barn to get a drink. His spouse, Marlene Pyrant Watlington, recalls how her father still loves getting on his tractor.

"Everywhere we (Marlene and I) go to show my art," said Watlington, "someone can relate to the old 601 Workmaster." Watlington's technique captures every detail in local Caswell scenes typical of the Piedmont area. "Folks in the big cities like Charlotte and Greensboro jump on it. They remember how life used to be."

The detail makes the horses across from the Yancey House in Caswell come alive, and the trees provide stability in "Horses for Gene's Stable." Jimmy Taylor had three horses and leased the pastureland. Watlington drove by it everyday and decided to draw it. "There's a story behind every drawing and painting," he said, "something that takes you into the scene as if you were there or had been there before."

"Ground Leaves" points to the time when Herbert Jones raised tobacco across from the new Dillard School. Max Smith's mules are in the drawing, and the truck sitting in the field across from the tobacco barn belonged to the father of Janice Powell. The tobacco barn belongs to C.G. "Bo" Carter and can still be seen off Hwy. 158 in West Yanceyville. "These old structures all have character, dignity, and special meaning," said Watlington.

That's obvious from the commissioned work the artist has and the shows at festivals like the upcoming Spring Fling in Providence, NC as well as the other festivals he's booked for in Caswell, Alamance, Stokes, and Randolph counties. Watlington has also done a painting of the old Caswell County Courthouse. Prints of the old Courthouse are available from the Caswell Council for the Arts at the Caswell County Civic Center in Yanceyville.

Caswell's native artist has always enjoyed a strong interest in art and received formal training. It wasn't, however, until 2002 that Watlington retired from a 30-year banking career to become a full-time artist. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his work, drawing a popular audience from individuals, businesses, and corporations. His original drawings, paintings, and limited edition reproduction prints may be viewed at his home studio at 934 Hatchett Road in Yanceyville.

Article and photograph provided courtesy the Mebane Enterprise, which retains all rights.

Caswell County
Caswell Council for the Arts
H. Lee Fowlkes, Executive Director
PO Box 689
Yanceyville, NC 27379-0689
Phone: 336/694-4591
Fax: 336/694-5675

For more on Caswell County visit the following:

Main CCHA Website

Caswell Co., NC GenWeb

Caswell County Family Tree

CCHA Message Board

Caswell County Photograph Collection

Caswell County Cemetery Census

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