Betty Oliver first fell in love with art in the second grade. The St. Simons Island native got her start taking lessons from Bill Hendrix at the Island Art Center, the hub that would later evolve into Glynn Visual Arts.
“My grandparents moved to the island in the 1930s, and my parents followed in the early 1940s. I lived across the street from St. Simons Elementary, went to Glynn Academy, left after graduation for the University of Georgia where I earned a (bachelor of arts), (master in art) history, and later, a Ph.D. in art,” Oliver explained.
She went on to teach media art at Southern Polytechnic State University, now Kennesaw State University. After retiring in 2013, Oliver moved back to the island, building a house in the same spot her grandparents’ home had once occupied.
“When we’re not on St. Simons, we’re in Dahlonega, where my husband restored an 1850s log cabin years ago,” she said.
Like Oliver, Susan Ryles has a deep-rooted love of the Golden Isles. After retiring from her position as executive director of Glynn Visual Arts in 2021, she and her husband, Tim, moved to Americus while also spending time in South Alabama.
“It was hard to leave, but after extensive damage and renovations at our home from Hurricane Irma, the pandemic and my husband taking over ownership and management of his family farm in South Alabama in early 2020, we decided to move closer to our children in Atlanta and the farm,” she said.
“Americus is right in the middle of the two. It’s a lovely, sweet little town, just down the road from former President Jimmy Carter in Plains. I miss my Brunswick and St. Simons Island peeps terribly. It has been a supportive and nourishing community for me.”
But as artists are apt to do, both Oliver and Ryles used the isolation of the pandemic as a time to foster creativity and community. The two were connected through the GVA Artists’ Forum. The online gathering offered artists working in all mediums a link where they could chat on Zoom. They used the platform to share tips, tricks and simply commiserate.
“What we realized is that so many times we don’t realize that even though we may not work in the same mediums, we have much in common. The collaboration between Betty Oliver and myself came about in discussions of the pandemic, isolation and how it affects our art,” Ryles recalled.
Through their talks, Oliver and Ryles sewed the seeds that would become a full-fledged art exhibition — staged at their beloved Glynn Visual Arts. The show, titled the Space Between, will open at a reception at 5:30 pm March 10 at the center, 106 Island Drive, St. Simons Island.
The gallery is filled with Oliver’s paintings along with many of Ryles’ ceramics and assemblage pieces (including Ryles’ “Whack a Barbie” configuration).
“I have an awesome little studio in the backyard and time to work on my own art. I also enrolled in the Georgia Southwestern University Ceramics program and began working in clay again. The ceramics pieces in the show came out of that time and deal with the ‘boxes’ or the spaces we separate ourselves into. The assemblage pieces deal with the idea of the spaces between the feminine and femininity or what is projected and expected and what is reality,” Ryles explained.
“While Betty and I work in very different — maybe seemingly disparate — mediums, we felt the theme of the Space Between would allow us to show how different artists interpret themes very differently. There is a common thread of commentary on how we navigate these between spaces. We even leave a few ‘bread crumbs’ for the viewer. The exhibition offers a lot to think about and some really interesting work.”
Not only have the two created an innovative exhibition, they have also organized a space that presents many learning opportunities. Oliver says gallery-goers will find a plethora of styles.
“Watercolor, gouache, linocuts, ceramics, assemblage, sculpture, book arts and mixed media,” Oliver listed. “We hope that showcasing many different ways of making art will inspire creativity in our viewers. I hope to introduce viewers to new media, to help them find joy in art and to inspire them to make art themselves. It’s also our hope that the theme of our show, the Space Between, will provide viewers with an awareness that we are living in the ‘now’— the space between our past and our future, and that mindful creativity can greatly enhance our lives in the present.”