Passing time with Paul S. Brown: Pines, Horses & Courses

Central North Carolina’s early settlers were mostly Scots. They arrived in a region of America known as the Sandhills, which today still looks, I imagine, like the great Caledonian forest of their former home once did. Longleaf, Pitch, Red and Lobolly Pine trees cover the sandy soils, a local geology which would lead to future prosperity. The sandhills and ridges were laid down by ancient seas and sheltered by the Appalachian Mountains to the west. These ensured the correct conditions for pine trees to grow.

The early settlers found the pines could be tapped for resin to make turpentine, tar and pitch, be logged for timber and the cleared ground make way to grow that most lucrative crop – tobacco. Raleigh, the state capital, is named after the explorer. Elizabeth I granted the exploration rights to this part of America to Sir Walter. He is credited with the discovery of tobacco, which is grown in the area to this day.

The wealth of Southern states like the Carolinas increased with the arrival of the railroad. Around half-way between New York and Florida, the area became a good stopping off point for recreation. Southern hospitality ensured a warm welcome to visitors and food was often cooked on an outdoor grill – the term barbecue had been coined here in 1697. The railroad also facilitated large scale logging and lumbering. By 1870 one third of the world’s naval stores were produced from these forests, including the masts for Royal Navy ships.

In 1899 George Vanderbilt completed Biltmore, his estate in western North Carolina, the largest home in America. And so the state’s reputation as a destination was sealed. In the central part of the state wealthy industrialists saw potential in the rolling landscapes of the Sandhills. Many built holiday homes and estates from which they entertained their friends.

Some of the most famous golf courses in the world are also established here. Pinehurst, Mid-Pine and Pine Needles attract tournaments like the U.S Open and the Masters and deservedly earn this part of the Tar Heel State the title of the Home of U.S. Golf. The Pinehurst No. 2 course has recently been “re-landscaped” so it resembles once more its Edwardian style. With sand grasses and rougher fairways, this sustainable native planting makes a big change from the deep green and heavily irrigated look more typical of a modern golf course. The area picture is completed by lakes and equestrian estates, with fishing and horse riding providing hours of entertainment.

The towns all naturally take some part of their name from the pine trees that still surround them. Whispering Pines, Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Pinebluff and Aberdeen – they were settled by Scots after all. These forests and lakes teem with wildlife: deer, cougars, raccoon, coyotes, bobcats, possum and beaver. So today it is still countryman territory too with hunting and shooting being big sport.

It was in this environment that Paul S. Brown grew up. He is a Southerner, full of country sport, passionate about a hickory smoked hog roast, close friends, dogs and walks. Tracking deer or riding out, this land is his.

The sand and clay beneath his feet are vital to him. These are the red and yellow ochres of his paintings in their raw state. He is firmly connected to this place. On my visit to see him in late March I felt this man from the South emerge. The vast skies provide a unique light. The old red tobacco drying barns, rolling hills and pine scented air inspire. This isn’t Paul in London with a studio in Battersea, this was Paul at home.

The connection to England is provided by his charming wife Serena and joined by a wonderfully smiling and bouncy Nat, their 9 month old son. The cottage they have now in Southern Pines is a much loved place.

Paul delighted in showing me around his “hood.” The house he grew up in with an attic room overlooking the pines, which his parents have only recently moved from; his first home with Serena when they came to North Carolina from London, which was beside a lovely lake. The studio where he learnt to draw, taught by D. Jeffrey Mims at the age of 10, can be found in the grounds of Weymouth, a home built by the author James Boyd. It is a classic example of the grand entertaining estate of the Carolinas. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Anderson, amongst others, were regular guests here. The house is still a retreat for authors and writers and is home to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Paul and I had lunch at the Pik N Pig, one of his favourite places to eat. It must be the only BBQ restaurant in an aerodrome, and has two types of sauce from both sides of the State, one more honey-based and thick from the West and the other, Eastern, more chilli and thin. All this mixed into some good walks with his spaniels, on one of which we came into close contact with the handy work of the beaver. I was very impressed by the skills they possess for tree felling!

Of course one of the other most important spaces for Paul is his studio. This is located in the town of Carthage some 13 miles due North from Southern Pines. The town has an interesting history and Paul has his studio in one of the most remarkable old homes. Messrs. Tyson and Jones established, in 1850, a buggy (horse carriage) building business. This partnership grew into a large company, the factory and a grand house for each owner and his family dominated the centre of town. Until the advent of the motor car there was little to stop the wealth they had created.

Sadly today much has changed, the factory is gone, Mr. Jones’s house is a B&B and Mr Tyson’s glorious Victorian mansion has been extended and altered in the most shocking way. Paul loves it for that and for the huge former bedroom studio spaces he has taken with northern light flooding in through deep sashes. However here in Carthage he isn’t working always on his own. Carmen Gordon, an artist who works in the adjoining space, brings a lively and playful atmosphere to the studio. She paints in a style similar to Paul and is delighting at her new found work.

He was working on two large canvases when I visited. His palette is the main subject in a depiction of an artist’s lunch. A rustic hunk of bread and zingy cheese break the day, as the palette is put down and time taken to stop. You are drawn into the thoughts of the artist as he considers that afternoon’s brush strokes. The other painting has a much more personal and poignant story but reflects the birth and celebration of Nat. The blue ribbon for a boy, also Serena’s favourite colour. The champagne cork from a bottle shared in London all tied together with a white peacock feather.

Around the studio are the sketches and ideas for other work with the objects that will become the paintings for our next London exhibition of his work in June, which we will warmly welcome.



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