Dru Blair art center in the works

WINNSBORO – Okay, everybody get out a pen and paper – it’s time for class! Art class, that is… in a vibrant new community art center coming to life in Winnsboro. Fairfield County’s Dru Blair, an internationally recognized photorealist painter who also manages a popular art school in Blair, is renovating the former Winnsboro Furniture Building on Congress St. into an energetic hub for creativity and artistic expression.

“The concept we have right now is to make one side of it an art center that can be used by the community, and the other side a gallery to represent different artists,” Blair said. “It’s a large building – about 7000 square feet. So there’s plenty of room for many things.”

Blair Art Center & Gallery on Congress Street, Winnsboro.

Blair purchased the building five years ago, but because he was busy with other professional obligations and wasn’t able to start work on it right away, he allowed the STEM school to use the space free. He said the time has finally arrived, though, to start developing the art center, and he’s enthusiastic about the process.

“We don’t have an exact time frame yet,” he said, “but we do already have people who want to use it. So I’m trying to move it along as fast as possible!”

Blair said the new center will function as an extension of his art school in Blair, which he founded 20 years ago, originally in North Carolina.

“In 2008, I moved the school to Blair, which is my ancestral hometown,” he said. “We have students come from all over the world to this school, but it’s not a ‘community center’. I figured it might serve the community better to have a place in a more accessible area. The Furniture Building seemed like an ideal location, and the owner, John McMeekin, had decided to retire and sell the building. So it worked out really well.”

Blair said that community support for developing the center has been very encouraging.

“Terry Vickers and Don Bonds both contacted me about moving forward with the art center. Don is an artist himself, and he recently retired from a position in the county tax assessor’s office. He volunteered to do some of the heavy lifting as we make changes with the building, so I purchased some paint and he got it painted. Changing the color was a big step,” he said.

“I’ve also been working with Julianne Neal, the director of the arts in Fairfield County public schools. She works with the performing arts, and I’ve been talking to her for years about setting up something together. So we’re trying to make sure the building can accommodate not just visual arts but also performing arts.”

Blair intends for the school to include a wide variety of artistic media, including his own instruction in photo-realism and traditional brushwork. .

“We’re also planning to offer acrylic, watercolor, things like that,” he said. “And we’ll bring in guest instructors, even from around the world, who will come give classes or workshops in the building. What I’d like to see is a community center where people can explore a craft or an art, and where different art groups can meet. I think it will benefit Winnsboro greatly.”

Blair, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Painting from USC, has received a plethora of awards and recognition over the years for his photorealistic painting. He’s interviewed regularly for magazines, television and radio, and was even featured on the Japanese television show, ‘Battle of the Experts’.

“That was about five years ago,” he said. “Two Japanese TV crews came to Blair to film the competition. The goal was for me to create a painting that would fool one of the world’s foremost photographic experts into thinking it was an actual photograph – and I won. Then I went over there and won again, against their champion. It was a great experience.

“I think people like realism, and I think that’s what brings the students to visit me. Even if they’re not photo-realists, they certainly can pick up new techniques to apply to their own art.”

Blair keeps a busy schedule of teaching workshops and classes around the world, and often receives invitations to over a dozen places a year. He just returned from teaching in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, Australia.

“I’m fortunate to have this life,” he said, “but I do get homesick – I miss Fairfield County. I always look forward to coming home after every trip.”

He said that helping students develop into artists is what makes it all worthwhile.

“Art is therapeutic,” he said. “A lot of my students are creative people who chose careers in other fields, like surgery or carpentry, and now they are realizing a creative outlet later in their careers and are taking great enjoyment from it. You’re never too old to learn, and anyone can improve and become a better artist.”

Blair has no shortage of ambitions for fostering a new era of artistic expression in Fairfield County. Some of his upcoming project ideas include planning an illusionistic art mural near the Town Clock in Winnsboro and setting up a children’s art camp in Blair within the next few years.

“And my ultimate goal is to bring a college – an art college – to Fairfield County. There’s a lot of support for the idea, but it’s not a small task. It takes money, of course, and the paperwork is probably 3 or 4 feet high just to apply for the license,” he said. “But everything begins with a dream!”