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Kelly Fitzpatrick, In Twos

Tom MacDonald, head of the American arm of the English firm of booksellers Henry Stevens, Son & Stiles, once sold me eight copies, neatly rolled together, of Captain John Gascoigne’s famous 1776 map of D’Awfoskee Island in South Carolina. We shared a meal over the transaction, and he related the story that his firm was heir to the remainder of the stock of Jefferys and Faden, the publishers of the plan. Tom believed—and proposed with conviction—that good things come in twos, or in this case, eights. The eight folio sheets had been neatly stacked and inadvertently set aside until some two hundred years after their printing when I went looking for Southern material.

There’s an old saying that bad news comes in threes. I’ve found this to be so at times. But I prefer to attach my superstition to Tom’s more positive prognostication and experience has, over the years, fallen in line with that brand of optimism. In the early 1980s, we owned twin copies of William Bartram’s great Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida: Each a first edition and in original boards, yet each uniquely bound–one as spectacular as the other. There were two sets of Havell’s printing of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America in a three-year span—that counts. In my furniture dealing days, I had two cellarettes: each in walnut and one from each of the two Carolinas—in the span of maybe six weeks. These things happen. I can’t say that one item physically serves to attract the other. Instead, I have come to believe that when the first comes along, its pursuit and presence simply serve to awaken in us an awareness of the form, type, or artist, and we are thereby primed for the second.

Our gallery subscribes to an internet portal that serves as something of a clearing house for the work of deceased American painters. Anyone can search the web by inputting the name signed on a canvas and, in milliseconds it would seem, be directed to this site. The data presented there offers everything from biographical information to auction records to a sorting of the various galleries that profess interest or inventory related to the artist in question. The very best works by Kelly Fitzpatrick that we have called ours came to us in just this manner and in the span of no more than a month.

Of all the twentieth century Alabama artists we’ve encountered, Kelly Fitzpatrick of Wetumpka is easily the popular favorite. He was at the heart of the regional art scene in the 1930s and 1940s, and his work continues to influence Alabama artists today. His brilliantly colored, vigorously painted views of Southern life and landscapes grace the walls of many homes throughout the Southeast, and exhibitions of his work continue to draw crowds of enthusiastic visitors. Fitzpatrick played an instrumental role in the creation of several regional art organizations, including the Alabama Art League and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, and was the founder of the Museum Art School and the Dixie Art Colony. His signal work, Negro Baptising (1931, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts) served as the frontispiece in Painting in the South: 1564-1980, the first modern survey of historic Southern art.

We never know where we will find or how we will come to know about the paintings we source. Telephone inquiries can be innocent. This one from a gentleman—distinguished by his voice, manner, and Long Island address—who needed the help of someone familiar with such things to e-mail me an image of a 1935 Fitzpatrick genre painting, Negro Shops, Wetumpka, Alabama. The second call was from a young woman charged with cleaning out her late father’s trailer home in Arizona. She handled the transfer of the image with more finesse, but demonstrated little sophistication in the exchange. Negro Shops, Wetumpka showed the local citizenry—a few John Rays among them—going about the necessaries of life. Fitzpatrick’s Biggest Show on Earth, executed just a year later, showed the same folks at play.

Each piece is a masterpiece—oil on canvas and of the same dimensions. One is a nocturne illuminated by the fair’s bright lights, while the other shimmers with visual evidence of the day’s heat. Tom was proven right once more. Very good things do come in twos. And, in this instance, they continue to operate as a duo—purchased by the same museum and hanging today as a pair.

Negro Shops, Wetumpka, Alabama (1935)
Oil on Canvas
30 x 36 inches
Signature Details: Lower right
Region: South Carolina
Owner: Collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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