John D. Lawrence, Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Art and Design and director of the Lamar Dod Art Center of LaGrange College, recently held an open house for his friends and colleagues to celebration the completion of the painting and digital photography studios at his LaGrange residence.
For the past three years Lawrence has been working on completing a new painting studio and a guesthouse that also has devoted space for his digital photography equipment. He has used a combination of salvaged materials from both the homes of his great-grandfather and grandfather to embellish the exteriors and interiors of the buildings. The result is a pleasing combination of form and function that allows Lawrence both the space to work in and a direct connection to his family’s Alabama roots.
Lawrence’s open house was held over two days on the last weekend of September and was well attended. As his guests arrived, Lawrence was there to greet them and offer them a variety of light refreshments from a nearby table. He then gave his guests tours of the buildings, pointing out the origins of the different moldings, door frames, wainscoting, beams and gables. His new painting studio was the main focal point of the event.
Lawrence is well known for his humanist approach to both his photography and his teaching, but now he is preparing to return to an earlier passion, his painting.
“About 40 years ago I did paint, I now want to get back to it,” said Lawrence. “Photography has become so easy everyone can produce a great picture, I am tired of it, I want to paint,” he said.
Lawrence may be a bit tired of photography but his passion for it is still evident in his work and how he describes himself. “I am a travel photographer, I like to work thematically, creating more of a documentary, not just taking pretty pictures but recording something,” he said.
Two of Lawrence’s favorite places to go to photograph are Italy and Greece. In the 1980s, through a grant from LaGrange College, he had spent a month in Italy, where he had the opportunity to retrace the steps of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In the future he would like to return to Italy and photograph the journey of a more modern saint, Padre Pio. He then would like to contrast the photographs of his St. Francis collection to the ones of his St. Padre Pio, the old verses the new.
At one point, Lawrence had considered returning to his family’s farm property in the Pickens County, Alabama, someday after he finally decided to retire. The problem was he didn’t want to leave the LaGrange area. He needed space to paint in, needed space for his photography and longed for a connection to his Alabama roots; his solution.
“Bring the old home place here instead of going there,” he said.
Lawrence went back to his great-grandfather’s Alabama house and with the assistance of hired help, salvaged huge old beams and a variety of beautifully carved and milled pine which he then brought back to LaGrange. He did the same with various materials from his grandfather’s house. Lawrence used these salvaged materials as decorative accents in the two separate areas that he was renovating at his LaGrange residence.
Walking through the guesthouse there is wood in every room, with huge thick beams framing the ceilings. “Those beams are from my great-grandfather’s house, they are over 150 years old. I didn’t paint or varnish any of the wood, I just sanded it all,” Lawrence said. “They are not structural, just decorative,” he concluded.
The mantle of the fireplace in the guesthouse is from his grandfather’s house, it had been in his father’s bedroom. The wainscoting in the cottage is also from his grandfather’s house. The gable over one of the entrances of his painting studio had actually been attached to his grandfather’s house until Lawrence and another man went into the old home’s attic and physically sawed it free.
Lawrence was quick to give credit for the actual construction of his project to Mark Olson, and to his companion, Deeonn Mattox, for her help on many of the project’s design issues.
Concerning Mattox, Lawrence said, “I asked her opinion on just about every design element I used involving the old beams and her suggestions were always right on. She found the antique flat files in an antique store in south Georgia that I use to store my photographs and she donated to me the old pine cabinet that fits perfectly into the kitchen shelving. I benefited greatly from her suggestions and counsel. Without her assistance I would still be wondering what to do next.”
Lawrence’s guests were impressed with both his newly transformed spaces and his displayed photographs. Some of the guests who were present on Sept. 29th, were Dr. Tom West and his wife, Ruth, Linda Giesler, Dr. George Henry and his wife Helen, Dr. Charles Smith and his wife Jeannie, Dr. Bob Copeland and his wife Jenny and Dr. Gene and Dr. Mardi Schaufler.
The Wests, who had owned Lawrence’s residence before he had bought it in the 1970s, enjoyed seeing the changes that had been made to the property. Their youngest daughter had been married in the backyard approximately where Lawrence’s built-in pool now resides. Lawrence was kind enough to also take the couple through his main residence to show them all of the changes that had been made there.
The Smiths have been close friends to Lawrence for many years, Dr. Smith fondly recalled the LaGrange College student trips that he had accompanied Lawrence on.
“John is a wonderful teacher, his students always had great respect for him,” Smith said.
The Smiths thought the finished project was great and Dr. Smith said, “He had all of this in his head, I think it was something that he needed to do.”
As his guests gathered in his painting studio, Lawrence explained the origins of its beautifully restored wood features. He also shared the stories behind some of his photographs that were displayed in the studio. The Henrys were among the admirers of Lawrence’s prints and the salvaged moldings and beams that adorned the studio.
The Copelands also thought the finished studios were beautiful. Jenny Copeland said,” I think it’s lovely. We have seen it during construction, he has done a wonderful job.”
Dr. Copeland said, “I think it looks great, and it looks just like him.”
Lawrence’s newly renovated studios are a loving tribute to his Alabama forefathers and a vivid testimony of his inner nature. Lawrence has successfully transformed his LaGrange residence to a warm and inspirational haven where he should be able to pursue his artistic endeavors for many years to come.