LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Sharon Richardson began painting the grounds of Elms Court in September 2011 and captured the landscapes through the four seasons. Richardson will showcase her oil paintings by appointment from Dec. 5-30 at Elms Court. Below, Richardson’s painting of the entrance to the property gives a tease of what’s to come behind the gate.

Local artist freezes time at antebellum property

Published 9:37am Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NATCHEZ — Sharon Richardson spends a lot of time paying attention to the shifting of the light during the day.

A little more than a year ago, the patterns of light and landscape at Elms Court caught her attention in a way that had to be pursued, and now she has produced more than 100 miniature oil paintings of the 160-acre property.

On Dec. 1, the opening reception for Richardson’s paintings of the property will be on display at Elms Court from 4 to 6 p.m.

It all started when Richardson attended a luncheon at Elms Court. Richardson said she couldn’t escape the beauty of the surprise lilies in front of the house, and after getting permission from Elms Court owner Anne MacNeil, she took pictures of the scene and started painting in her home studio.

“They said they had always wanted someone to paint Elms Court, and I told them, ‘I can make that happen,’” Richardson said.

And when that was done, Richardson said she went back to find something else to paint.

“When I am choosing something to paint, I look at the light and how it makes me feel,” Richardson said.

That meant the artist needed to spend the year looking for landscapes within the same landscape to paint.

“I wanted to paint it during all four seasons,” she said.

“I finally got to know how the light is during the day. I usually prefer early morning or late evening light, but during the late spring and early summer when the foliage is so thick, in the middle of the day the light really produces some nice dappling — it’s really hard not to find something to paint there.”

Some choice of which landscapes to paint were easy enough; in one painting, Richardson depicted the moss hanging over a path in the early spring.

“Anne had told me that was the first thing she sees in the morning, so that was my first spring piece,” Richardson said.

But other landscapes were the result of happy accidental finds. Richardson said several paintings of lightly rutted tire paths ringed with trees and wildflowers were the result of her exploring the property and finding it ringed with service roads.

And some of the paintings ended up accidentally preserving small pieces of Elms Court’s history before they were lost to the forces of time and nature.

Pointing at one picture and then another, Richardson said, “That tree is no longer there, and that gate — Hurricane Isaac sent an oak tree through that gate, and it is no more.”

Because she is living with the effects of post-polio syndrome, which causes long-term nerve damage and weakening of the muscles, Richardson has to use both hands to grip the brush when she paints and isn’t able to work outside anymore.

So to capture the essence of Elms Court, she would take lots of pictures of the property and load them into her laptop computer in her studio. Once she had chosen the photo of the landscape she wanted to use, Richardson enlarged it on the computer and set to work.

“It really is useful to have the computer,” she said. “I can zoom in on the picture if I don’t understand something.”

When producing the paintings, Richardson said she works on six at a time, and that each painting is done “when it finishes itself.”

But even as the opening reception of the new landscapes approaches, Richardson said she’s not done.

Because she was focusing on the things that initially attracted her to the property — the flowers, the old buildings — Richardson said she missed other things during the year, like how the light would play across the terrace of the house.

“It’s really a wide variety of subjects, and all you have to do is wait for the lighting to change,” she said. “(The owners) feel like all of the beauty you pass through going to the house is part of the experience of going to Elms Court, and the house can’t be separated from the landscape.”

“When this 160-acre property presented itself, I said I would be painting there as long as I can.”

Richardson’s work will be available for purchase at the opening reception.

It will also be available for view and purchase by appointment Dec. 5-30.

To make an appointment to see the exhibit, call 601-445-5431.