Closer Look

Art is Carol Conti’s career, lifestyle and family legacy

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Anna Waskey

Carol Conti has been perfecting her art for almost 40 years. Originally from Connecticut, Conti was born into an artistic family. Her great grandmother practiced art in the 1920s and 30s, Conti’s parents met through an art class in high school, and her siblings practiced art as well. 

While Conti has lived in various places on the East Coast, including Maine and Florida, she has settled in Franklin. However, she does enjoy painting near water. 

CAROL CONTI paints regularly in her studio space at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center which is filled with her colorful paintings.

“I just loved being right by the water and being able to paint the landscape,” she said, reflecting on her time in Maine. “I [also] like colonial architecture and painting the way the light would fall on the buildings and gardens. It was like a story book.” 

Subsequent to her time in Maine, Conti resided in central Florida from the late 1980s until 2016, when she retired from teaching art at public schools and relocated to North Carolina. 

“One of my adult students had a summer home near Lake Toxaway,” said Conti, explaining her move to Franklin. “A group of us decided to come up and have a workshop with an instructor. Franklin was one of the only towns near Lake Toxaway, so that’s how I found it. I just fell in love with the whole area.”

Conti’s favorite art to create is en plein air, which is a French term for painting in the outdoors. “Its purpose is so you can see the light effects on buildings or objects. I like to paint the mountains,” Conti elaborated. “Ever since I was little, I’ve loved the outdoors. I was painting, sketching, and drawing even when I was very small. In high school, I began painting watercolor outside.”

A FAVORITE way for Carol Conti to paint is en plein air, especially near water.

Conti is not limited to en plein air, however. Recently, she has been trying something new, using acrylic paint. Conti uses the mediums of watercolor and oil to paint portraits, still life, mandalas, and more. 

“The mandalas came about while I was in Florida [in the late 1990s]. I just wanted to try something different. I’ve always liked kaleidoscopes, the idea of meditation, the endlessness of a circle.” 

After the birth of her son, mandalas became the most practical and enjoyable art to create, as they become a sort of coloring book once the drawing is completed. One of her mandalas is dedicated to her great grandmother and includes photographs. 

Conti obtained her undergraduate degree, and later her masters, in order to teach K-12 art classes. Several individuals have had an impact on Conti and her work, namely, Betty Lou Schellem, an artist in Rockport, Mass., with whom she spent a week-long workshop. “She let us use her studio at night. It was so inspiring. At the time, I was working on small, 11×14 [inch] sheets. She kept telling me to paint full sheets, which are huge, at 22×30.” 

Despite her skepticism towards painting bigger, Schellem inspired Conti to create her first large painting, which took a prize and sold at a Mystic, Conn., show in the mid ’80s. “It put me in a different direction and she was just so encouraging,” recalled Conti. 

MANDALAS ARE a favorite art form for local artist Carol Conti.

In Connecticut, another artist, Ferdinand Petrie, enlightened her to the usage of contrast and highlights in en plein airpainting with oil paints. 

“One of my paintings was dull looking and he told me I just needed to add contrast. With just a few flicks of his brush, he added light and contrast. That was all it took and it turned the whole painting around,” she said.

Prior to her current location at the Cowee School of Arts and Heritage Center, Conti was teaching art classes at the Uptown Gallery on Main Street. A local oil painter, John Houglum, wanted to cut back on his time at Cowee and asked Conti if she would like to share the Cowee School space. Currently, Houglum is at Cowee School on Tuesdays, while Conti occupies the space during the remaining days of the week.

“I’ve never had a studio away from my home; it’s always been in my home, so it has been an experience trying to figure that out. I like it; it’s growing on me,” Conti declared. “I really love the Cowee community and I want to do more with the actual arts center here. I want to get more involved with the community, the events … just to get the arts to the community.” 

Anna Waskey is an honors student at Franklin High School.