Edwin White has been steeped in art his whole life – from painting and paper cutting to product and house design to large-scale sculpting. It’s safe to say that he values the arts. But we wanted to learn more about the “why.”
Amidst COVID-19 social distancing, we settled for a FaceTime call with Eddie and his wife, Gwen Overturf, to talk about their support of the arts, including the Chatham Arts Council. It’s incredible to speak to an artist about supporting an arts organization. We hope you’ll be inspired by what they had to say. We certainly were.
What does art mean to you? How did you become interested in art? It’s obviously been my main focus for a long time – during and since college. There were no specific art programs in elementary school or junior high, but I had some external help when I was young.
I wasn’t a particularly good sketch artist, but I was able to paint at an early age with the help of my neighbors and art teachers at a convent near my home in Winston-Salem. My next door neighbor was an artist, and I learned china painting from her. I learned how to paint with oils and watercolors from another friend of my mother’s. I was also well supported in my family. My mother was actually a water colorist and an author – she was writing children’s stories. So, I was going to football practice in the afternoons, and then I was off to art lessons.
How does art motivate you or affect you on a daily basis? Art is pretty much the first thing I think of every day when I get up, and it has been for years. I’m usually involved in designing something – whether it’s product design or a sculpture. If you have the creative drive and you have a problem to solve, you’ll come up with a creative way to solve it. It may come in the form of a patent or a product design or a house design. Art has given me a pretty big area to think about. Right now, I’m focused on sculpture, and I’ve made a living out of it for about 21 years now.
I’ve been in other fields of design that have culminated in being a sculptor. I think you have to learn a lot of disciplines to be a successful public artist – in particular, a sculptor.
Our daughter, Jesse, basically grew up in this art studio we live in. When she was at Silk Hope Middle School, I helped her art class with a big project. We developed a large-scale mobile together. All the kids drew what they wanted incorporated, and I translated their drawings into a full-scale mobile. We ended up with a sculpture that they designed and I made. Jesse went on to become a studio artist and writer at the University of North Carolina and then, on to Virginia Commonwealth University for a Master of Arts in Education and became licensed to teach. Now she’s working to become a freelance illustrator focusing on children’s books and illustration. There’s a lot of artwork in our home from Chatham artists, and that exposure made a difference for her. It was cemented in her since the time she was two. Jesse is a great example of someone who grew up appreciative of the arts – due to her surroundings – and then became an independent artist.
What would you say to young people who want to be involved with the arts? If they want to focus on something particular – whatever kind of art – find a mentor. Find someone who is already involved in that. If you show the interest and the passion, then anything can happen. I adored my neighbors who mentored me. It was the fun part of my childhood.
Why do you think the arts are valuable in Chatham County? Back in the 80s, I don’t remember any major program in the arts for Chatham County. The Studio Tour was just starting back then, and I became an artist on the tour. Chatham is very rural, and while there was a lot of art in Pittsboro at the time, artistic initiatives in Siler City and Bennett seemed more sparse. Siler City didn’t used to be an artistic place, but it has become one and I’m glad. There have been several efforts to make the N.C. Arts Incubator a huge success. There can be a lack of involvement in the arts for many in Chatham County. As an artist, I think that’s a shame because we are a diverse county, and art from different cultural roots allows Chathamites to experience art from various cultures, several of which are here in our county.
Why did you decide to give to the Chatham Arts Council? We’ve given to the Chatham Arts Council a few times over the years. I was even involved on the Board many years ago. I think the main reason we’ve contributed is the CAC’s involvement in schools. You can invite classes and young kids to come to the arts council, but having young people involved in the arts from an early age at school makes it so much more successful.
It’s super important to have kids thinking outside of the box. I wish I’d had more of that encouragement in school when I was growing up. I’m glad to see the CAC’s involvement through the Artists-in-Schools program.
A while back, we tried to do something similar. We started an art show with children called, “All Out Art,” that was supported by the Studio Tour. It was part of the Old Fashioned Farmers Day in Silk Hope. We involved every elementary school and the high school and held an art show that was judged, supported by the teachers, in the community center. It was a huge success.
Is there a specific element or program from the CAC that most excites you and why? The uniqueness of having artists go into schools with the Artists-in-Schools program is the most important. I don’t remember any time that an artist visited our school when I was growing up. Access to art and artists was limited to a few private individuals, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
Where would you like to see art where it doesn’t exist now? I’d like to see public art incorporated in any new development – residential or mixed use. In other states like Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, and Colorado any development has to devote a certain percentage to public art. It’s called “Percent for Art.” Chatham Park is trying to do that with Chatham County artists, and Chatham County has plenty of artists! Chatham Park has an emphasis on public art for mixed use areas. I’d like to see more of that in other developments.
If you want to learn more about Eddie White as an artist, check out this vintage Meet This Artist.
If you are inspired by Eddie and Gwen’s story and feel compelled to support artists and arts in education, click here.