The next time you’re at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, whether in arrivals or departures, take some time to enjoy the art that is displayed on the walls, on the floors, and even hanging from the ceiling. Ever wonder where that art comes from, and who creates it? I spoke with Seneca-based artist Nancy Oppenheimer, whose work is the latest piece to be installed at the airport, to talk about her art, her process, and how she came to have a painting hanging at GSP.
According to GSP’s call for entries document, there are three broad themes that all commissioned artworks must fall under: landscapes/water (where we live), textile manufacturing history (where we come from), and technology and mobility (where we’re going). Oppenheimer, who is drawn to nature and the outdoors, went with the first option and was chosen as one of eight artists whose work was selected for Phase 2 of GSP’s art program as part of its WINGSPAN terminal renovations.
The painting, a massive 14 x 5-foot oil landscape, depicts the sunset at Lake Keowee, and Oppenheimer says she wanted to convey a sense of peace and calm to busy travelers, even if they didn’t take the time to stop and look at her work. If they do stop, though, she wanted to include enough detail to give them something to look at, including a sailboat with three sailors and the sun peeking through trees on a small island.
Keowee is dotted with islands, but Oppenheimer says her island is something of an amalgam, not an exact representation of any one island—but, she says, “The mountains don’t change, so I painted them the way they look.” Her home looks out on the lake, but the shoreline is also not exactly representative of any stretch of existing shoreline. “It’s Keowee-ish,” she says.
She was, however, very exacting when it came to the sailboat in the foreground of the painting, visiting the Keowee Marina to have someone show her around a sailboat and photograph the details to get it right. And her husband was dispatched with his kayak out into the lake at sunset so he could get a picture of the light as it appeared out where the boat would be in her painting.
Most of the painting, really, is light, or a reflection of light—warm oranges and yellows broken up by blue mountains, a hazy green coastline, and the fall colors of the trees on the island. You imagine the easy conversation of the sailors on the water and feel the gentle rocking of the boat. Her goal of conveying a sense of calm is achieved.
But while the painting is peaceful, the process wasn’t always. When I called Oppenheimer to talk about her painting and the airport commission, I asked how she was doing. “Well,” she said, “I’ve had a bit of a tragedy here.” The painting was complete, and the final step was to varnish it—a process, she says, that both seals the painting and bring the colors back to the surface—and something had gone wrong with the varnishing process, with just days to go before the installation. Still, we had a nice conversation about her art philosophy and background before she was able to fix the issue, with a little help from YouTube.
When I arrived at the airport for the installation, she and I met in person, and we talked about how nerve-wracking it was to entrust “her baby” to an art transport and installation company, in spite of their years of experience. When the painting arrived (through a terminal ramp—the transport truck was escorted onto the tarmac and it came in the way arriving passengers do), there was some momentary panic about the fact that the canvas, which had been stretched tight when it left her studio, was loose and a bit wrinkled, but the installers assured her that it was due to the difference in temperature between her cool studio and the hot truck.
Indeed, the wrinkles had nearly all smoothed out by the time painting was installed, and Oppenheimer hugged the installers to thank them when they left. All that remained was for her to film a short video for the airport’s PR team (which will be on GSP’s YouTube channel in a few days, along with other artist interviews that are already there), and this commission was complete.
Article by Sharon Purvis. Photos courtesy of Nancy Oppenheimer and Sharon Purvis.