Memories from Early Salons
Here you can read the experiences, ideas and thoughts of several Salon members over the years.
DON GRAY DORSET, 1997
"As we stand on the threshold of the new millennium looking back into history we must marvel at what went before. Then to consider the materials and equipment of today and all the potential offered by communications technology. Surely the enthusiasm and stimulants of a gathering such as this will be translated into the innovations of tomorrow. I can do no better than refer to Owen Jones (1806 - 1889) architect, designer and teacher of Applied Arts, appointed Superintendent of Works for the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851) who held strong convictions that historic and exotic styles were for inspiration rather than imitation and insisted on honesty to ones materials and soundness of craftsmanship, in short, artistic integrity".
RON GORDON, 2005
Now a craftsman with 54 years experience and with a special interest in lettering and gilding, I am constantly amazed when visiting the Salon at the wide variety of techniques displayed by the members in all aspects of Decorative Painting. Although we are bombarded in this shrinking world with increasingly electronic, impersonal, and mass produced products, it is gratifying to find a renewed interest in the art of Decorative Painting and the Salon has played a large part in this revival.
Many of us have had the advantage over our predecessors in having access to books and visual records, enabling us to draw inspiration from widely divergent sources of art. The scope widens however as we continue to develop new media and materials and pass on our discoveries to others. The nature of Decorative Art - to evolve with the times - keeps it constantly changing and challenging and the Salon is meeting this challenge.
I am delighted to find that we have many young crafts people, both male and female, who are accepting this challenge. They are setting themselves goals for the future, looking to new horizons, and in doing so are making the future secure for the art of Decorative Painting.
With all this enthusiasm the Salon is assured of a long life or as our motto states:
PATRICK KIRWIN, 2005
When I was teaching at the Smithsonian Institution in 1996, a former student wrote from France that her teacher, Yannick Guegan, was planning to have an event celebrating Decorative Painting. He was inviting painters from all of Europe to his studio in Quimiac, France and I was invited to attend as well. I went with my painting partner, Ulrike Vaerst, who was originally from Germany. Her parents picked us up in Paris and together we drove westward to the coast. We had adventures on the way including a visit of Versaille and Chartre. We had no idea of what was ahead of us. We arrived rather early and checked into the hotel. A few nights later, as we were dining in the hotel and a ruckus was heard coming from the bar. I kept leaning back in my chair, trying to ascertain the origin of this riot when her mother said with some irritation, "Just excuse yourself and go see what it is." I walked into the bar and only remember meeting Robert Woodland of London. He was drinking with a group of English painters and going through portfolios. He showed me the page of a portfolio and exclaimed, "The man is good! The man is good!" With that, he took his bent arm in the shape of a wing and kept repeatedly whacking it into me as he exclaimed, "The man is good! The man is good!" I think it was the portfolio of the late William Holgate, but what I remember is that there was another book to look at and how many times Mr. Woodland would slam into me when we viewed it. So I went back into the dining room to fetch Ulrike to introduce her and to put her between Me and Robert when we looked at that second portfolio. Such was my introduction to what has now become The International Decorative Painters' Salon.
During one day of the event we were looking at the exhibition of Guegan's students when I thought, "I should begin meeting people to find out who is here." The next person I saw, I introduced myself. It was Patrick Laheyene from Ghent, Belgium. He is a remarkable painter of marbles, wood grain and murals. He came from Belgium on a bus with a bunch of other Belgian and Dutch painters. Little did I know that on that bus were extraordinary painters with whom I would develop deep, long friendships. All of them were outstanding painters; Gert-Jan Nijsse, Curd Vercrusse, Randolph Algera and a very strange Dutchman named Jan Berghuis. The next day demonstrations were being held in a nearby town.
Ulrike and I had no transportation, so we began to walk there. On our way we were passed by a giant bus. It pulled to the side of the road and stopped. The door opened and Patrick Laheyne jumped out and invited us to ride with them. We were now in the midst of complete insanity. They were arguing and yelling about marble, wood grain, murals and painting; it was heaven. The first day of demonstrations featured the English painters. They demonstrated their techniques one by one, painting successively for an hour or two each. Robert painted a phenomenal mahogany, using the edge of a scrap of cardboard. The whole day was amazing and featured the work of the great Don Gray and Tommy Valentine of England. The next day featured the Dutch and Belgian painters. The Dutch and Belgians had arrived early and all of them were painting in a row simultaneously in order to save time. Joris Arts interviewed them for the audience as they painted. It was remarked that they were lined up like a bunch of footballers and that format of demonstration painting stuck. At each successive Salon, the format and traditions evolved until it became the Salon we know some ten years later.
After that Salon, I began a long history of correspondence with
Jan Berghuis. So successful was Guegan's Salon that we decided it should continue. Jan had the idea of doing it every year in the Spring, to meet in a different city and to call it the Salon. He held the next one in 1997 at the NIMETO School in Utrecht, Netherlands. He even wrote a Manifesto which outlined the purpose and goals of the Salon, particularly to invite the most talented painters in this field. I held the next one with Ulrike Vaerst in 1998 at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia.
It took us one year to plan. I am most proud that we worked very hard to recruit the best painters we could find. The Alexandria Salon was the first Salon for some painters who have become hosts themselves as well as many very gifted painters. Among those that came for the first time were Nicola Vigini (host of Salon 2002), Lucretia Moroni (a future host), Ross O'Neal (host of salon 2005), and Pascal Amblard (host of salon 2001). Ulrike had the idea to honour our eldest and most respected painters with a lifetime achievement award. The first two given out went to the grandmasters Don Gray and the late, dear, Tommy Valentine. Another innovation we began was to have "Post Salon Events". These were relaxed tours of the location of the Salon to museums, historic sites featuring Decorative Painting and the sites of our city. I only regret that I do not have the space to relate all the things I have learned, friends I have made, connections that were found and experiences I shared at all of the Salons.
Through the Salon I have been afforded the opportunity to travel, to teach and work in foreign countries and to invite some of these fantastic painters to come to Washington to teach and work. The Salon experience cannot possibly be communicated in words. The word "Love" comes to mind. Love of friends and Love of times spent exchanging ideas with those friends. We have lost some dear Salon participants over the years and they are missed very much. Each Salon is a time to remember these people for their warm hearts and great gifts they shared with us. They are Lars Grano, Tommy Valentine, Bill Holgate, Kieth Warrick and Gordon Kio. We were all touched in our lives by them in profound ways. For about four days each Spring, the Salon generates an amazing energy and Love that uplifts each of us through our Art and craft until we meet again the next Spring.
What I find important about the Salon is that it is a meeting of
The very best painters in the world who want to share their researches through live demonstrations and an exhibition. Not only are the painters quite talented and intelligent, they are also very kind and generous. Secondly, the Salon is for the painters. It is absolutely non-commercial to keep it that way. The Salon receives donated materials form a variety of manufacturers, most notably Golden Acrylics who has been with us since Alexandria. Many others donate materials as well as financial support. In the future it is important to continue to recruit the most talented artists and to gain the support of more manufacturers. With the expansion of the Salon, the governance may need to change to keep up with this growth. However, we must retain the traditions and format that have made the salon an event to anticipate each year.
–Patrick Kirwin, September 16, 2005
JAN BERGHUIS, 2005
Reminiscing over the years that we, the Salon, have been together I realize only now that we have grown up together.
We saw each others joy, pain, children, sorrows and other emotions.
So the Salon is a reflection also of life itself. The Salon goes beyond decorative painting. Evidently we meet all once a year; but the communication after lingers on daily. And friendship goes to all corners of the world. Professionally many among us meet frequently due to shared projects and teaching for each others´ students. The Salon is very much alive. Personally I am very happy with the outcome of what once started. I consider it as a temple and worshipping of each others abilities and visions. The Salon can only exist by keeping it alive and bringing in new energy. That means a lot of enthusiasm of us individually. As in life, the Salon evolves and renews slowly. It is as the "Circle Dance" we did with Don Gray at all closing dinners. We all hold hands in a special "chain"-like way. One may break away from that chain of people but through a clever system the Salon itself will remain strong. I have witnessed through all these years so many talents. Women and men.
To come to the Salon is a special thing to do. Sacrifices are made financially, in time and in technical sense. One has to travel to meet up again with the Salon-friends. So the gathering MUST be something special when so many come out once a year. And to create a Salon, done by prominent -members, is something that inflicts ones own life very much.
The main issue is decorative painting in all different forms. Ornamental, grisailles, imitating materials, Trompe l’oeil or sign-writing.
Whatever skill or talent one has, only the very best will be part of the Salon. And only the finest personalities in life are found within the Salon.
We all worked very hard to create the only and first unique gathering in the world....without discriminating on believes and religion.....you have to be a good and trustworthy both as a person and painter.
I came to the very first gathering in Belgium by mistake in 1992,but what a revelation it was. Then in 1996 I met many, many more beautiful characters that influenced my work and also personality. They uplifted my thinking, and so many from all over the world became closer friends then my own neighbours. They sustained my ideals for a new group that uplifts the craft with knowledge and technique, new visions and startling surprises in a new adventure . The prediction for the future came out, I realize only now. In 1997 the Salon was re-founded in the Netherlands in the form as we know it now. Then 1998 the first (Kirwin-) Salon-USA was a fact. So many new talents came in that Salon and determined further the future. We never saw so many public-visitors as in Sweden which was again repeated in Paris. The decorative craft proved to be alive and kicking.
Obviously many spin-offs came from the Salon....commercial and educational. There is only one original !!!! Most unique and ONLY once a year, exclusively. Each Salon is a piece of Art on its own. The painters work separate for the exhibition and live-demonstration nervously a whole year long. All those panels together is an explosion of energy. Therefore it is also an honour to organise one.
It is meaningful,......therefore it is a temple.
PIERRE FINKELSTEIN, 2005
Since participating for the first one in 96 in Quimiac, I have not missed a Salon. A student asked me once: “Is it worth going to the Salon every year? Are not they every year the same?” Why is it that I am drawn to our annual meeting with such a drive?
SOUL: the soul of the salon is all of us :the new comers, the freshly graduated students, the established decorators, and old timers alike. That thirst for knowledge and sharing with fellow painters from all over the world is what brings me back every year. This undying spirit makes me discover a few new paint tricks and friends every time, and hope it does the same to all the participants.
ARTISAN: where else can you have access to such a wealth of artisans, passionate about their trade, and willing to share with other, to encourage the one-year painter? We have very few guilds or organization that can promote and educate our artisan, this is one of the best, and it is free, so all that can show their Stuff can participate.
LEVEL: the quality level seems to increase every year, I guess a healthy and friendly competition amongst us, make us try to surpass the previous year and come up with our latest tricks and jobs partly to impress, partly to seek approval from our peers and to inspire aspiring student painters.
ORGANIZATION: this little organization is more like a gathering place for all of us to get together, meet new painter, spend 3 days just painting without a client and of course to have a great time, not to mention some of the most memorable evenings.
NEW: the new faces we meet, the new paint techniques, the new ideas, the new sample we see, the new material we can try out, the mix of new trend and old world techniques are such awesome source of inspiration that there is never a dull moment.
So my fellow painter you will see this year, next year and the following one as long as I can make it, and also because Patrick and I are the only “never missed one” attendees and we are in a serious competition for the most year running (joke)
PATRICK LAHEYNE, 2005
A Tribute to all the Salon hosts
It all started in Kuurne Belgium 1992. A small gathering of Belgian decorative painters demonstrating techniques and having an exhibition of their work organized by the local painters association. Also a few Dutchmen were invited to demonstrate their skills, which gave the gathering an international colour.
There was no vision behind it at that time nor any plan to repeat this event in the future. There was simply a revival going on within the decorative painting world to bring back these old techniques, which were almost lost and only known by the old painters generation.
The only purpose was to catch young people’s attention and show them what the possibilities were within the trade.
At that time I had already started during 5 years with a year of specialization year at the painter’s department of the school where I work. I was struggling to find my way through all that decorative stuff by studying books, looking at videotapes and making a lot off mistakes because I didn’t have the money or the time to take lessons. So I took the opportunity with both hands to go to the gathering of the masters in the trade. I’d finally would see them at work.
I stayed there watching all day, steeling with my eyes, testing my knowledge and learning to know the masters. I was a revelation, I got lots of energy and wanted to get started to improve myself. There was still so much to learn, so much practice to do. This was the turning point it stimulated me to become a good craftsman within the decorative painting business and to secure the skills to be able to teach at a high level.
So I practiced and practiced, invited a few of the masters to the school to demonstrate and to criticize my work. Because of these they invited me to come along to the school of Yannick Guegan in France in 19996. There the ball really started to roll. I was an admirer of Yannick, I had studied his books for so many years and now I was going to meet him in person. I would be able to see his work from up close, I was thrilled.
The visit exceeded all my expectations; suddenly there were decorative painters from England, USA, Sweden and Holland with outstanding portfolio’s and samples. Everybody was talking about the profession. It was an exchange of information and ideas.
Again I was injected with lots of energy.
I got to know all these wonderful people who had the same interest, aspiration and ambition and they were willing to share their knowledge with me. I was excited to see all that beautiful work and to feel that positive energy. And I wasn’t the only one.
I haven’t mentioned any name so far. I did this on purpose, it is so easy to forget someone and I’m sure the Salon members, who will be reading this, will recognize themselves between the lines.
But there is one name I feel I have to mention and that’s the name of my good friend Jan Berghuis.
He was so thrilled and inspiring there in France that he wanted to reorganize this event in Holland the next year. I didn’t know Jan that well at that time and I didn’t know what to expect. But as we all know by now, he is the true soul behind the Salon event, he came up with a name for it. Thanks to his commitment the Salon was born and came to life. It might as well have stopped there in Quimiac France. But Jan put his shoulders under the project and has set the standards for others to continue his ideas. And they did, we have been travelling each year to a different town or city in a foreign country and every organizer has been giving the best of him to be a perfect host for the people who want to participate the Salon. I have seen it grow over the years, I have seen people’s work become better and better and I have made many friends. The Salon events have inspired me, and still do, increasing my level. It has opened doors, it gave me the opportunity to teach abroad and to meet a lot of nice people. I would like to thank everyone who keeps the spirit alive.
NICOLA VIGINI, 2005
I had the great opportunity to be asked to join the Salon in 1998 which was being held in Alexandria, Virginia by the one and only Patrick Kerwin. It was the single most exciting meeting that I had ever joined. Being able to connect back to my European roots, meet more of my contemporaries like Pierre Finkelstein and Lucretia Moroni, and generally be with people who share my passion for art made me feel more connected to a community. From that moment on, I was hooked. I have not missed a Salon since and look forward to seeing my artistic comrades in a different venue each year.
The basic vision of the Salon appealed to me because there is such unique talent and novel ideas that come together and are shared amongst the members and general public alike.
It was a great honour at the request of my dear friend Jan Berghuis to host the Salon in San Antonio, 2002. We were fortunate to have been sponsored by the International Painters and Allied Trades. After visiting many foreign countries, San Antonio was a completely different feel, but the participants quickly caught on to the Texas ways, lots of food, drink, and late nights. One of my most favoured memories during our Salon was the last night, post farewell dinner, where the festivities lasted late into the night our studio (6 am to be exact) Lots of dancing, cascarones and basically some wild partying, including belly dancing enjoyed greatly by Benny Carlsson, host of Salon 2004. Thanks to Curd, host of Salon 2003, lots of Belgian beer was supplied.
Who could forget the carrousel at the Paris Salon? This was the last chance I had to spend time with Bill Holgate before he passed away. I was fortunate enough to take a ride around with him and his wife.
The fact that the Salon is returning to the Netherlands this year is especially meaningful since it was held there the year before I joined and became a model for future Salons. It is evident that the Salon has developed into a rather organized affair with paint companies, guilds and unions supporting the future of decorative painting. It is important to keep the quality of the Salon in tact by making sure that everyone demonstrates and that their work is of the highest quality.
My specialties are trompe l’oeil, mural and Grottesca which is an Italian style of ornamentation that stems from the Roman times.
–Nicola Vigini, San Antonio , TX
PASCAL AMBLARD, 2005
Having hosted Salon in 2001 in Paris, I have been invited to write a short text for our website. I heard about Salon in 1997. One of my colleagues at Ipedec who was there by chance, heard of it locally, went there and we he came back to France he told some people, including me, about it. As I am selftaught I have a constant feeling of inferiority. My curiosity and thirst for learning are therefore unquenchable. An international gathering of decorative painters sounded to my ears like THE place to go, NOW! I called the next organizer (Pat Kirwin), sent some slides of my work and that was it. I was allowed to come, exhibit and demonstrate .
In Washington I met many people. The one thing I did not know is that I would become friends with most of these guys, that we would meet again and again, have fun, work and teach together. Pascale, my wife, and I had an incredible time. Love at first sight for this group of people. Some magic was going on. I remember, for example, everyone sitting on the floor of a classroom, like schoolboys, silent and focused listening and watching Don Gray demonstrating. I was impressed. I had goose bumps.
A few years have passed since then but the magick is still there. I can see in the eyes of our new members that they have, for our group, the same passion I felt in Washington. I remember Nicola Vigini (Host of Salon 2002) saying that Salon changed his life. It is a big statement but I can say it too. More friends, more jobs, more fun and each year I try my best to bring a nice canvas to the exhibition.
As a conclusion, I would just like to say that being a member is a luck and also a responsibility. Salon is just as good as we, individually, make it. It means being aware and protect the values we believe in, and at the same time open up and be confident in the energy of our group for the future.
SUSAN ARNILD and ERIK PEITERSEN
We are both educated as sign painters. Together we are a fine family with children in the age of 14 to 23. But what this story shall be about, is the importance that the Salon has represented in our professionel life.
What Susan concerns, it all started, because I needed educating myself
at a higher level. We had both till now practiced different techniques, but wanted to come deeper into the substance. So I looked around and found
Institute Guegan in Bretagne/France, where I had the opportunity to join the courses a month at a time, which was a good possibility for me, because I could not be away longer than that, from at family of three boys.
This was in 1996, and parallel with my first course in Bretagne, the first Salon was held in Quimiac. Unfortuneatly I could not join neither this first, nor the second or third, but I joined the fourth Salon in Norköbing, Sweden in 1999. And ever since I have been hooked !
Now we both approched the thing, we so much wanted: to learn about decorative painting. In Denmark the traditionall decorative painting had faded for many years, and finally was taken out of the apprenticeship ofhousepainters. That means that for almost a century decorative painting did not exist as an education. Thats is why we felt so strongly for the Salon, where we met with traditions from other countries and the enthusiasm from other painters.
We consider the Salon a rewarding place for exchanging inspiration, whether the point is conserving the old traditions or developing new experimental techniques. Thus the annual Salon has become not only a chance but a necessity for us. The entusiasm and passion that spread out from everybody means, that you travel land and sea to come and join.
In our daily professional life we always associate to the warm and enriching days at the Salon. How often do we not, in the course of the day, realize that we use techniques and details, that we would never have known without the inspiration and knowledge from our colleagues and the Salon.