When Rep. Ray Russell moved into his Raleigh legislative office in January, he knew right away how he wanted to decorate the walls. There were family photos of course, but he also wanted to highlight the beauty of District 93 as well as the talents of area artists.
First he talked to local businessman and water colorist Joe Miller—as famous for his gorgeous landscapes as he is for starting a global art supply company in Boone—who agreed to lend the spectacular “Farmer Brown’s in Winter,” which is on display outside Rep. Russell’s office.
“I’m thrilled to have an artist of Joe’s caliber lend art to my office,” said Rep. Russell. “He’s won national awards for his work, and rightly so. Not only is he a wonderful artist, he’s a great philanthropist as well. His program, ‘Brushes for Vincent’ provides art supplies to school children locally and across the globe.”
In the 1980s Miller was a pharmacist and drug store owner who followed his real passion and began taking watercolor lessons. Later, he began stocking art supplies in a corner of his drug store and built that into the global art supply empire known as Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff.
Rep. Russell also called on West Jefferson’s Florence Thomas Art School where director Joni Ray agreed to lend artwork on a rotating basis. The first instillation comes from Robert Ray called “Appalachian Sentinel #8,” an oil-on-canvas painting of a rustic barn amid rolling hills and trees with an ominous cloud overhead.
Robert Ray has lived in Ashe County since 1963 and said that growing up in the mountains has given him an appreciation of the beauty of the area’s landscape and its people. He is a self-taught painter who says he finds inspiration in an everyday backyard or a famous masterpiece. His work can be found at the Art Cellar in Banner Elk.
The Florence Thomas Art School is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide resources for instruction, exhibition, and experiences in the fine arts and heritage crafts for Ashe County and the region.
Russell said, “It brings me such joy to find reminders of home from these works of art when I am in Raleigh. I am reminded of the beauty of the landscape that I must work to protect and the beauty of the people I am serving.”