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A beautiful life: Center for Faith and the Arts hosts reception for Connie McNeill exhibit

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
Artist Connie McNeill is intimately acquainted with chaos and unpredictability.
Born in Japan, where she is Kaneko rather than Connie, McNeill was working for the Japanese government in her native Hiroshima in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped by the United States.
Of course she remembers the devastation, the horror of that August day and the days that followed. She has spoken in depth of that experience for the Post, sharing her memories.
She does not dwell on those memories, though, nor does she seek catharsis in revisiting that terrible time in her art.
“I don’t want to paint it,” she says. “I don’t want to touch it.
“I don’t want to even think about it. That’s the way I survive.”
She prefers to focus on life’s tranquility and serenity ó and that’s what she creates, or recreates, in her art.
An exhibit of Connie McNeill’s paintings opens at Center for Faith and the Arts with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 25.
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“I just like to be happy,” McNeill says.
This beautiful, petite woman exudes a wry warmth, and those in her orbit will sense the importance of human connection to her, as well as her orientation toward joy.
With nature as her inspiration, McNeill captures beauty with her paintbrushes. Her work is a visual travelogue of landscapes ó Yosemite, Hokkaido, the Adirondacks, Ocracoke Island, the rolling hills of Scotland, City Park in Salisbury.
She’s never been interested in doing portraiture.
“I like nature,” she says, “the woods, the mountains.
“When I see them, the spirit of the natural surroundings ó it’s really refreshing and fulfilling. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
She loves the back yard of her cottage at Trinity Oaks. “I get so excited about the flowers, all the bright colors,” she says.
Flowers, including hollyhocks, Dutch iris, nasturtium, feature prominently in her painting ó and McNeill is also a master in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.
One flower she loves is Queen’s Anne’s lace. One of her favorite paintings features the lacy white flower, considered a weed by many. “It’s so gorgeous,” she says.
Lately, McNeill has focused more on photography than painting. A surgery earlier this year robbed her of some of her energy, although she says it’s returning.
In her photography as well as her painting, she is looking for scenes, moments of beauty ó like a daylily with a bug crawling on top of it.
McNeill is looking forward to her show, which is, she emphasizes, “no memorial art show.”
“I’m still living,” she says, laughing.
After the bombing of Hiroshima, McNeill went back to school to learn English. She worked for a time as a waitress in the U.S. officers’ mess hall. She then began to work for the American government as an interpreter, which is how she met her husband, Andy McNeill. They got married in 1961 in Japan, and in 1963 moved to Salisbury. She began painting in 1970.
Since then, she has been an important part of the art scene in Salisbury, as a member of the Rowan Art Guild and later a board member of Waterworks Visual Arts Center for nine years. In 1997, she was awarded the Waterworks’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
She’s taught watercolors and Sumi brush technniques as well as conducted art workshops and demonstrations throughout North Carolina and in other states.
Several years ago, McNeill designed the Christmas Honor Card for Rowan Helping Ministries, a piece called Christmas Sunrise. She also painted “Crane Angel,” inspired by a Japanese folk tale, for Downtown Salisbury’s first Angel Project.
McNeill’s paintings will be on display at Center for Faith and the Arts through May 30.
The opening reception, which is free and open to the public, is from 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 25.
Center for Faith and the Arts is located in the basement of Haven Lutheran Church, 207 W. Harrison Street.
The center’s galleries are open from 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, call 704-647-0999.
nnnContact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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