Best Birthday Ever!

Artists learn new techniques and hone their skills with the help of highly recommended instructors at Alabama Art Colony’s weeklong event. Photo by Kenneth Boone

Sarah Carlisle Towery’s Alabama Art Colony turns 25

It started in a back room at the old Kowaliga restaurant. Sarah Wade and her siblings gathered six artist friends for a birthday cake and painting party to honor their mother, Sarah Carlisle Towery. They all had such a great time that they decided to do it again the following year. And the next year. And the year after that …

Twenty-five birthday celebrations later, the event has grown and become a bigger and far more grand gathering than Towery and her children could ever have dreamed, Wade said as preparations began for the silver anniversary celebration of the Alabama Art Colony (AAC), formerly known at the Sarah Carlisle Towery Art Colony.

“Mother’s mission was to promote the visual arts and inspire people to nurture their creative spirits,” Wade explained. “She would be so happy to see what it’s become.”

Towery, who was born in 1912 and died 10 years ago, was a lifelong lover of art who enthusiastically answered a calling to encourage creativity in others.

“When there was no art curriculum in the schools, she volunteered her time to teach regular art classes for the children. She did it for years to promote the arts,” Wade said. “Now, AAC gives scholarships to local art educators, so they can take what they learn in Colony workshops back to their classrooms.”

In addition, AAC has added an art walk to their annual residency painting event and offers two Uno workshops per year.

“Uno is a one-day class with one instructor,” explained AAC President Toni Adams. “It’s great for people who love to paint but have limited time.”

Uno classes focus on one technique, skill or medium, and the fee for the class includes all supplies and lunch.

“We wanted to make it very easy for the artists to just show up and not have to do anything to prepare,” Adams said.

The art walks are held on the Lake Martin campus of Children’s Harbor, where the Sarah Carlisle Towery Art Colony moved when the group outgrew the little room in the back of the restaurant. Open to the public with free admission, the art walk showcases the original works of each year’s Colony art students. The artists bring wine to share with visitors who tour exhibits in cabins 9 and 10. The artists are available for conversation, and many of their works can be purchased at the event.

“It’s a great way to pick up a beautiful work of art – and usually at a good price,” Adams said.

This year, the AAC event will include the raffle of two original Towery works from the private family collection. One piece is an oil that Towery painted in San Miguel De Allendde, Mexico, more than 50 years ago and has been professionally evaluated at between $600 and $800; the other is an original sketch from the book she used during a visit to France in 1976 and has been evaluated at between $100 and $150.

“Mother started traveling in the late 1950s, and she traveled and painted for 40 years,” Wade said.

Tickets for the pieces can be purchased at the Oct. 8 Art Walk from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. or purchase tickets online at Type Towery or the number 3080803 in the key words search to find the appropriate page. Tickets for the Mexico piece are $25. Tickets for the sketchbook work are $10. Proceeds from the raffle will fund the Colony’s scholarships to educators. The names of the raffle winners will be drawn at the Colony’s awards ceremony on Oct. 11. Winners do not need to be present to win.

In addition to the scholarship program, Uno workshops and the annual art walk, Colony volunteers also teach classes to children and adults at Children’s Harbor camps, Adams said.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community. Children’s Harbor welcomed us when we needed a place to accommodate more artists, and for us, teaching kids with spina bifida or other multiple disabilities is a rewarding ministry,” Adams said.

The Kitty Dark Arts Camp, which hosted fine arts workshops for elementary-aged children during summers in Alexander City, was a spin-off of the Colony as well, said Wade.

While the Sarah Carlisle Towery Art Colony started with just six artists and one instructor, the name was changed several years ago to broaden the event’s scope and accessibility. The event now attracts some 50 artists who travel to Lake Martin from across the country to learn techniques and better their skills under three or four well known and highly recommended instructors. Each weeklong event fills quickly, and there is always a waiting list, Adams said.

This year’s event will take place Oct. 6-11 with artists in residency at Children’s Harbor, where they will paint and practice new techniques under the instruction of Elana Hagler, Julee Hutchison and the co-teaching team of Patt Odom and Hugh Williams.

Hagler’s class will focus on application of proportion, gesture, composition, problem-solving techniques, creating air and light and attaining visual harmony in media of the students’ choices.

Hutchison, who lives and paints in Colorado, will teach oils and specializes in painting the human figure from life.

Williams was the instructor at the first birthday gathering in 1992 and will be joined this year by Odom, a master of color in psychological expression. Students in the Williams-Odom class will work independently in media of their choices.

As the Colony continued to meet annually, a board of directors was formed with Wayne Fuller – another of the original participants – as the president. Under Fuller, the Colony organized as a nonprofit endeavor, which lent stability and opportunities for growth to the artistic interest.

“We’ve just had such great leadership over all the years. We couldn’t have continued without the help of board members and the volunteers who do so much – many of them are not even artists,” said Adams. “The leadership has been wonderful. After Wayne Fuller was president, there was Virginia Bradshaw and Cadie Radney and so many others. Next year, Karen Jennings – who was an early board member – will be president.”

Jennings already is working on the Colony event that will occur under her tenure, as instructors for each weeklong school are chosen more than a year in advance.

“We like to know the instructors that will be on board for the next year at each event, so the artists can decide if they want to come back the following year,” Adams explained.

Instructors for the 2018 Alabama Art Colony will include Barbara Davis, Stan Kurth and Pat Weaver. Information about each of their classes is available online at

“It’s just so wonderful to have the opportunity to spend time with people who love to do what you love to do,” Adams said. “We are grateful that it has become what it is and that it will continue to grow and encourage creativity, just as Sarah Carlisle Towery hoped it would.”