Hundreds of people celebrated the Georgia Artist Collection’s 50th anniversary along with Betty Foy Sanders’ final exhibition at the Georgia Southern Center for Art and Theatre Thursday.
“Mrs. Sanders touched my life and the life of many students... with her presence, support, artwork, money and love of people,” said Dr. Curtis Ricker, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
When her late husband Carl Sanders was governor, Sanders founded the Georgia Artists’ Collection in the 1960s at then Georgia Southern College as part of a state-wide effort to fund arts departments, said Jason Hoelscher, the Center’s gallery director.
Georgia Southern’s Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art is named in her honor.
Over time, Sanders helped grow the collection by a few pieces per year. The collection includes artworks that were either created by Georgia artists, about Georgia and its people or were made with local materials, Hoelscher said.
Also, Thursday’s celebration was as much about Sanders’ newest exhibition, called “Fluid Structures.” The exhibition includes two-dimensional drawings, paintings that have rocks and minerals and furniture inspired by the drawings.
“That exhibition is all works that (Sanders created) within the last five years...we’ve got 40 of these [drawings] in the show, and she has at least 200 more on her table,” Hoelscher said. “At the end of day, she sits in her recliner. She has these markers and she just draws, just constantly.”
Hoelscher and Sanders realized a while back that the 2017 academic year would mark the 50th anniversary of the Georgia Artists’ Collection. They then worked at planning a commemorative event in the upstairs gallery and an exhibition for “Fluid Structures” in one of the downstairs galleries.
“As the plans for it went along farther, she [Sanders] decided that this would be her swan song, her final show,” Hoelscher said.
Students, friends and family reflect
Many students, both art and non-art majors alike, attended the gallery reception. Bailey Deal, a sophomore English major and art history minor, had the opportunity to discuss one of Sanders’ pieces, “Valley,” with the artist.
“I was saying (to Sanders) that the crystal valley and other rocks work,” Deal said. “If it was just a painting, you’d say ‘Ooh, nice painting’...but you want to look at it because of the crystals. The paint makes (the crystals) stand out. It makes you look at everything.”
Public figures, like current Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal, Statesboro mayor Jan Moore and Georgia State Senator Jack Hill attended the gallery event.
Sen. Hill is a Georgia Southern alumnus. He attended the university when Gov. Sanders was in office, so he remembers what the governor did for higher education,
“(Mrs. Sanders) never forgot that she was from Bulloch County, which is a touching thing...if she can make the trip down here, the least I can do is come, buy a book and say hello to her,” Sen. Hill said.
Roxie Remley, who taught at the university for 26 years and helped grow Georgia Southern’s art classes into a department, also attended the celebration at the CAT.
“It’s wonderful. I can’t believe that she can produce beautiful exhibitions at her age. I can’t paint [anymore],” Remley said. “I used to have exhibitions all over the Southeast... but now I spend my time going to other exhibitions.”
Also present at the event were members of Sanders’ family, like her nephew, Ricky Chandler. Chandler liked that he could see the final results of his aunt’s work at the CAT, as Thursday was the first time he had visited the building.
“I maybe knew 10 percent of her work as an artist and 90 percent who she is as a person...she’s generous, can be demanding...she’s a Southern lady, so she wants you to sit down and serve you lunch, “ Chandler said.
Though Sanders lives in Atlanta now with her family, Chandler pointed out that Georgia Southern remains special to her.
“She loves Statesboro and rural Georgia in particular...what does my heart good is to see all the student following,” he said. “She loves that.”