Anne Dergara: Home To The Hills

Back in 1978, Brevard artist Ann DerGara had what could be described as the Scarlett O’Hara/I’ll Never Starve Again moment of her career. “I had a small studio in Atlanta and I’d just gotten my first big commission to produce large-format prints of some of my work,” Ann remembered one recent sunny morning, sipping coffee in the kitchen of her Brevard home. “The studio was unheated, it was winter and it was cold, my hands were freezing from being in the water that’s part of the process of printmaking, and I didn’t have any money to hire someone to help me. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to be a starving artist.” But rather than abandon her art for something more financially reliable, she turned her artmaking into a business; and now, nearly thirty years after that cold Atlanta winter, she definitely hasn’t starved, she has the respect of galleries and museums around the world, and her career is very much alive and well. Dealers and art publishers from Germany to Japan clamor for the prized reproductions she makes of her own work on her own press, struck from plates she also creates herself; and her original work has hung in museums and galleries from Sydney to Paris. Shimmering with vibrant color and boldly drawn shapes, her themes during her long career have ranged from the landscapes and animal motifs of more recent years to the purely abstract work of her early career. 

The only thing she ever wanted to be was an artist. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, but raised in western North Carolina by parents who encouraged her interest, Ann made her first painting when she was eleven and her first sale when she was just thirteen. “My mother’s side of the family was Norwegian, and very creative,” Ann said. “One of my mother’s Norwegian relatives designed clothes for the royal family. There was an uncle who was a goldsmith, and I have a cousin on my mother’s side who co-wrote the musical ‘Godspell’ and the sitcom ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’.” Ann’s father, one of Hendersonville’s Whitmire clan, was a pragmatic aeronautical engineer but went along with her choice of an art major at Georgia State and, later, the Atlanta College of Art.

New York was the undisputed center of the contemporary art world then, and the magnet that drew Ann in the early 1960’s with fifty dollars in her pocket and a job offer designing aisle and window displays for stores. “I couldn’t afford art classes, so every Saturday I went to the School of Visual Arts and sat in the corridors outside the classrooms and listened to the lectures,” Ann recalled. It was what she thinks of as her experimental period, using the only materials a small salary would buy, india ink and shoe polish among them. But some of her pictures were purchased nonetheless, many by department stores for their windows. 

Borne by the counter-culture’s move west in the late 1960’s, Ann drove crosscountry to California, where she met and married an enlisted man and spent the next thirteen years living on a military base. “That was my abstract period,” she said, “with all that social upheaval of the Vietnam War, and the Watts riots. It really affected what I put on canvas, but I still think the natural world, especially the mountains where I grew up, was buried in there somewhere, waiting to come out.”

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