AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– A new art exhibit opened Oct. 6th in the Ann and Ellis Johnson Gallery, which is part of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

The works displayed comprise the inaugural exhibition of local artist, Dr. Tina Whitehouse. And as you’ll see, the paintings are part of a funding effort for a good cause.

Whitehouse is serious about painting.

“Oil on canvas 90% of the time, I do oil on board sometimes, I’ve done some acrylics, but my passion is oil on canvas.”

She was a pharmacist at the VA Medical Center for 25 years… but that was just her day job. Ever since she was a child growing up in Jordan, Tina was passionate about art.

“Analyzing art in museums, but I never took any instruction in art as a student.”

She’s self taught, except for a few workshops over the years. 20 years ago, her husband bought her a pallet and easel … (Tina: “And he said, ‘Paint.'”)

When COVID happened, she learned about virtual art classes.

“I used those 2 or 3 years for intensive class training in classical art, because that’s been my passion.”

But how did her passion for painting lead to this stunning portrait of world renowned opera diva Jessye Norman?

“If I’m more passionate about anything else, it’s opera. I loved opera all my life and I was on the opera board here so I met her in person, saw her in a couple of concerts, and she stole my heart. She has the most beautiful commanding presence and voice and she is well-known all around the world, In Paris, people know her more than they know her in Augusta. I saw this photo of her and I remember her as a person so I wanted to paint her. And I rendered that painting just because I love her.”

Enter Tina’s good friend, Clyde Farr… who told the director of JNSA that a local artist had painted an extraordinary picture of the opera star.

Gary Dennis is the Executive Director of JNSA. He was intrigued by Farr’s find!

“And I said that’s great- let me see it. He showed me and it was breathtaking. And then they revealed it during Concerts with a Cause at St. John’s United Methodist Church… and afterwards we said, “Let’s do a gallery reception.'”

Clyde Farr, artist Dr. Tina Whitehouse, JNSA Executive Director, Gary Dennis

And that’s exactly what happened on Friday, Oct. 6th. Farr staged an elegant event, complete with a red carpet entrance. It was both a celebration and a fundraiser.

“And they were kind enough to do it in support of out 20th anniversary and the fact that we really need a new roof. It’s been 20 years since the old roof was put in place and we’re starting to get some leaks in the front of the building and it’s time for it to be repaired.”

The idea that her paintings could help fund a new roof for an arts school was both mind-blowing and intimidating for Whitehouse!

“You know my work is more emotional, I never intended it to be a commercial work, or to sell it, but each painting has a special emotion, a special significance for me, so I kinda go all over the place. I have multiple subjects that I’m interested in, mostly figures, and emotional spaces, so I’ll keep on improving. Every painting is another journey.”

Perhaps a journey without an end. How does the artist know when the painting is finished?

“Never. It’s never through. So I have to be like peeled away from my paintings. As you see I’ve brought my pallet now and I’m working on something- I’m not gonna say which one it was- there’s always more things to explore in a painting and every painting like I said is a journey of exploration – it’s a whole world of color that reveals itself. It’s amazing. I think anybody should try it.”

The folks who run the arts school feel the same way, that art should be accessible to everyone.

“We really believe the curriculum, the academic support, the nurturing time in a safe environment with professional artists, gives kids an edge in the world that they wouldn’t have otherwise and it’s all free.”

And we have this lady to thank: Jessye Norman made the initial donation to get the ball rolling. The first class was in 2003. And 20 years later, the school, which is located at the corner of 8th and Greene Streets in downtown Augusta, is a space that other arts groups use, as well.

“Thank you for mentioning that. I’m particularly proud of the fact that we really believe that the JNSA is a community asset and that it can be used by the rest of the community and if you come to our school almost any day between 9am and 10pm, you’ll see the building in use.”

You can see Tina Whitehouse’s inaugural exhibit for yourself at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts; it’s in the Ann & Ellis Johnson Gallery, which is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Noon – 3pm. The exhibit will be up through the end of October.