Sanders Contributes to Art Collections
Artist and patron Betty Foy Sanders, left, and family friend Rob Davidson talk Saturday about the history of two paintings being donated to collections at Georgia Southern University. – By Al Hackle
Behind her, the dancing Cherokee boy that Betty Foy Sanders painted about 40 years ago appeared to be in constant motion, as was she, during Saturday’s unveiling.
Sanders, 87, sat in a wheelchair but explained that this was her first time using it, at a doctor’s insistence, for a public ceremony that might have kept her on her feet. In front of faculty of the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art, surrounded by the collection that also bears her name, she used a strong voice and active hands to talk about her continuing contributions, direct and indirect, to art at Georgia Southern University.
“Everyone knows how dedicated I am to my town, and I have been associated with this college devotedly since 1966,” Sanders said.
Born in Bulloch County, Betty Foy Sanders studied art at the University of Georgia. Later when her husband, Carl Sanders, served as governor from 1963-67, they made a lasting mark on arts and education in Georgia. He founded the Georgia Council for the Arts, and she encouraged the construction of buildings dedicated to art at several
colleges and universities. The one at Georgia Southern was named the Foy Fine Arts Building in honor of her father, J.P. Foy.
After extensive remodeling, the Foy Building in 2009 became headquarters of the GSU College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Music Department. But when the university’s new Center for Art and Theatre opened in 2008, it included a gallery for the permanent display of the Betty Foy Sanders Georgia Artists Collection.
She, and sometimes her friends and family when the works are Sanders’ own, have been building the collection since 1967. It now contains more than 50 works, among them 17 paintings by Sanders herself.
On Saturday, it was Rob Davidson, son of Sanders’ best friend, the late Cecelia “Cile” McCurdy Davidson, who presented Sanders’ “The Dancing Boy” as the latest addition to Georgia Artists Collection. At the same time, Sanders donated a painting by folk artist Dorethey Gorham to the university’s Smith Callaway Banks Southern Folk Art Collection.
‘The Dancing Boy’
“The Dancing Boy” is part of a series of paintings Sanders made of Native Americans, specifically members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Cile Davidson accompanied Sanders in the late 1960s and early ’70s on her trips to meet the tribe in the area around Cherokee, N.C.
Davidson died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2007. Members of her family own several of Sanders’ paintings.
“It is our pleasure as the Davidson family and — my mother was a McCurdy — the McCurdy family, to present this to Georgia Southern and to this facility in particular because I know if my mother was here right now, this is exactly what she would want, and she loved this painting,” Rob Davidson said.
Sanders talked about the influences that brought her to paint Native Americans. These included growing up on a huge farm where plows turned up arrowheads, watching “cowboys and Indians” movies that were common in her childhood, and later meeting Cherokee leaders while she was Georgia’s first lady. The Cherokees’ attempted adoption of European ways and tragic expulsion from Georgia in the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma in the 1830s made their history fascinating to her, she said.
Her other paintings were of adults, such as Chief Walking Stick and his wife and a renowned Cherokee, N.C., basket weaver. “The Dancing Boy,” Sanders said, is the only painting of a child in her Cherokee series.
“It’s a fantastic painting, not only in terms of the technical facility that it took to accomplish that painting but also, as Mrs. Sanders discussed today, for what it represents, the history of our state and her connection to the state, this area and the Native Americans who have been here for so many years,” GSU Art Department Gallery Director Marc Mitchell said.
‘The Pastor’s House’
While “The Dancing Boy” was a gift from the Davidson family, Sanders presented, as a gift of her own, Gorham’s painting “The Pastor’s House.” The image, with a church, houses, cars, cows and barn among stylized trees, resembles needlepoint work, and the frame is painted with a checked pattern and stars.
“Ms. Gorham is an emerging folk artist,” Mitchell said. “She’s starting to garner a lot of attention. She’s starting to really become a fixture in folk art. So we are absolutely enthralled to have this painting in the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art.”
It becomes part of the Smith Callaway Banks Southern Folk Art Collection. Banks, a founder and leader of the Bulloch County Historical Society, became a prolific collector of Southern folk art as well as regional and local historical documents. He died in 2010 at age 73 but had donated his folk art collection to the university in 2007.
The Banks Collection contains about 500 objects, so it cannot be exhibited all at once, Mitchell said. Instead, the department uses the collection to teach art students how to select and relate items for exhibition. Undergraduate arts student Lois Harvey and graduate arts student James Anthony Faris are curating the latest Smith Callaway Banks Southern Folk Art Collection exhibit, scheduled to open Oct. 17.
The Banks Collection exhibit will appear in a smaller gallery next to the Georgia Artists Collection Gallery. Both are on the second floor of the Center for Art and Theatre on Pittman Drive.
Sanders was accompanied Saturday by her son, Carl Sanders Jr., and her sister, Statesboro resident Teresa Brannen. Members of the Banks family also attended.
Sanders also announced another gift to the art department, an expense-paid trip for about 55 students and some professors by bus to the second-largest art museum in Georgia, the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville.
Sanders still paints in studios at her and her husband’s home in Atlanta and their second home, on the coast. The former governor, 88, still goes to work daily at his Atlanta law firm, his wife reports.
Meanwhile, she is looking for other artists whose works can be added to her namesake collection. Sanders said she wants to go into Augusta, Savannah and all over southern Georgia to find artists and would like to include artists with disabilities.
She traced a vertical zigzag in the air, indicating the path she wants to take, seeing Georgia all over again, with an artist’s eye, from north to south.
“I think one of my desires in old age, at 87, would be to start at the top of the state and go crosswise, like this, all the way down to the bottom of the state in the Okefenokee,” Sanders said.
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Tags: Betty Foy Sanders, Betty Foy Sanders Georgia Artists Collection, BFSDoArt, Events, Gallery Programming, Marc Mitchell, Noteworthy, Painting, Public Event, Smith Callaway Banks Southern Folk Art Collection