Carrying on a Legacy

Article excerpt

Oil Painters of America comes of age

TRADITIONAL PAINTER Shirl Smithson was a true believer. She believed that the public needed to know more about - and to better appreciate - the modern-day masters of representational oil painting. So when she started the Oil Painters of America (OPA) in 1991, it was the realization of a dream. "She founded it all by berseli She contacted artists she felt were masters - artists like Howard Terpning, Clyde Aspevig, and Harley Brown - and asked them to add their names to the organization," says Neil Patterson, the president of OPA. Patterson calls Smithson, who died in 1999, a "real firecracker. You couldn't discourage her," he explains. "She was so dedicated to this mission that nothing would stop her."

Patterson was among the 200 artists who participated in the first OPA show; which was held in April 1992 at Prince Gallery in Chicago. Smithson's mission to focus attention on the lasting value of traditional representational oil painting lives on as the organization continues to grow in reputation and respect. Today, it boasts 3,200 artists in a three-tiered membership structure: master signature members, signature members, and associate members.

Nearly 20 years ago when Smithson founded OPA, she was concerned that American colleges and universities were rarely including courses in representational oil painting in their curricula. It was a period when avant-garde artists ruled the day. She also felt that many museums were excluding representational oil painters from exhibitions, instead favoring more abstract works. "I don't think she had any idea that Oil Painters of America would become such a national force," says Kathryn Beligratis, OPA's executive director.

This year the prestigious organization presents its 19th annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils at Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. Two hundred paintings are on view (juried down from 2,500 submissions). A particularly strong contingent of master signature members is represented, including three new ones: Kenn Backhaus, Warren' Chang, and Michael Mao.

A stimulating array of events leads up to the show's opening night, which takes place on Friday, April 30, with an artists' reception, the sale, and the awards ceremony. …