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Wednesday, 05 December 2007 00:00

An artist’s journey: Landscape artist Craig Forrest brings his love of art full circle

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

It’s almost as though one can hear the creaking sighs of the old, hand-hammered barn boards in Craig Forrest’s paintings. His brush strokes evoke the weathered wood with its gentle warps, many knotholes, and varied colors.

Forrest’s landscapes draw from the local community — a home perched on a hill near Cherokee, the great oak tree by the First Baptist Church in Sylva, creeks and coves in Caney Fork, fly-fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The images are both familiar and timelessly agrarian, their character influenced by the great Andrew Wyeth.

Forrest was born in New Bern — hence his coastal studies of fishing boats and marshes — and knew going in to college he wanted to study art.

“I had always had an affinity for drawing,” Forrest said.

At the time both East Carolina University and Appalachian State University bore excellent art programs. However, Forrest wanted to move further from home than ECU would allow and chose to head to the highlands of Boone.

In school Forrest worked with several mediums including acrylics and oils but was drawn to watercolors. Although he found the medium challenging to work with, he enjoyed its ease of use — water, paint and paper versus primers and paint thinners.

“Watercolor is a real fluid medium,” Forrest said. “The possibilities are limitless.”

After earning his B.A. degree, Forrest went to work for First Citizens Bank. It wasn’t art, but the job got him transferred to Bryson City. Forrest loved the mountains, and when the company wanted to transfer him again — out of the mountains — he refused. He stayed and went to work painting professionally.

From 1984 to 1996 Forrest worked at Allison’s Chevrolet in Sylva, painting in his spare time. However, by 1996 his wife Wanda, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, needed care. Forrest stayed home and began painting more.

During that time he did his first reproduction of a painting of the historic Jackson County Courthouse. The reproduction was done by scanning the original and using an inkjet printer with pigment based ink — resulting in a giclée image, a term coined to define a reproduction made using an inkjet printer of a work done in another medium. The technology advanced and allowed Forrest to begin offering images of his works at affordable prices in addition to the original paintings the images copied.

Forrest’s work is available exclusively on his Web site, www.sleepyhollowstudio.com, and at It’s By Nature gallery in downtown Sylva — a distinction he jokes is a result of his slowness at painting. Gallery owner Sandi Cooper met Forrest when she and her husband first relocated to the area 15 years ago. Forrest gifted Cooper with a painting that became one of the first pieces of art she hung in her new home.

When Cooper decided to open her gallery — a total career switch from being a nurse midwife for 20 years — she asked Forrest if he would be interested in exhibiting his work there. He said yes, and when Cooper expanded her Main Street shop to include additional gallery space a year later, they celebrated with a show of Forrest’s work.

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