Multi-generational Western North Carolinian paints pride of place
“The creative process slows me down,” confides painter and musician Hannah Seng, who grew up in various pockets of Western North Carolina, including Banner Elk, Boone, Morganton, and Asheville.
And slowing down is a good thing. Or it should be.
“It helps us look inward and outward,” she explains. For Seng, painting is more about the process than the result, and although she says “art is like meditation for me,” she also loves the physicality of it, and wants more of that.
“I love dragging paint across a surface. I think there’s an intimacy and chemistry —alchemy almost — from the physical process of painting, and the wisdom gleaned from taking the time to work with a material and get to know it. I have a small studio, but want to paint on bigger canvases so that I can move my whole body.”
Seng draws and paints portraits, figures, flowers, still lifes, landscapes, birds, and animals. Studying flora and fauna and their habitats to illustrate them always inspires her to delve deeper into an understanding of her relationship to them and the complex eco system within which she and they coexist.
She also writes songs and plays traditional music on fiddle and banjo — constantly juggling and balancing those twin interests in music and visual art. They merged in her exquisitely clever “Hair Fiddle” series that came about when “I was playing a lot of fiddle and needing a creative outlet to bridge those two worlds,” as she describes it.
But an actual hair sample from Seng would likely reveal artistry saturating her DNA. Her dad — an art therapist — is a painter, sculptor, potter, and woodworker. Her mom is a painter and her two brothers are musicians who also dabble in visual art. Her grandmother, Eleanor Seng, was a painter who attended Black Mountain College, albeit briefly. As Seng explains, “Her father was a strict minister, and my grandmother snuck out of the house and went there one summer — until he came and dragged her out.” But she went on to study at prestigious Wesleyan College for Women in Macon (class of 1947) under Emil Holzhauer — the German painter who became a well-known member of the American Scene movement for his realistic depictions of working-class subjects, especially in the South.
Unlike her great grandfather, Seng celebrates creativity as “a middle ground for people to embrace or shed their differences and join together over the joy of music, art, and dance. We all just want to live a happy life, and art is therapeutic and problem-solving. When you’re making art, you’re solving the problem of how to get the materials to fit together in a way that you are happy with, and others will enjoy in a way that creates community.
“Especially in the digital age, it’s easy to lose that connection with community. And we are also of nature, but can easily think we are separate from it. The thread of inspiration for me through my art and music is pride in the place where I live and the splendor of its natural beauty.”
She adds, “traveling has helped me understand what a rich culture and history these mountains and the people here have, taking care of each other and respecting each other and letting people be who they are. The more I go away, the more I come home and cherish it for just how precious it is.”
Hannah Seng’s work can be found at Heartwood Contemporary Crafts Gallery in Saluda (21 East Main St., heartwoodsaluda.com); at Woodlands Gallery in Hendersonville (419 Main St., woodlandsgallerync.com); and online at Charlotte-based Lark & Key (larkandkey.com). For more information about the artist, visit hannahseng.com; Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest: @hannahsengart; and hannahseng.bandcamp.com/releases. (She’ll perform music during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, NC, July 6-9, gmhg.org.)