Painter Bryan Koontz — whose family heritage in WNC dates back at least 200 years — earned a degree in Commercial Design at Appalachian State University, then worked in the print and graphic design industry for more than 30 years. The artist makes oil-on-linen landscapes and portraits and is a member of the Saints of Paint, a group of local artists who raise funds for nonprofits dedicated to preserving the environment, caring for animals, and working for positive social change. In early June, paintings from these artists will be available for purchase at the Appalachian Barn Alliance’s 2nd Annual Art Gala – “A Pastoral Palette.” Proceeds help preserve the agricultural heritage of the Southern Appalachians, as exemplified by the area’s historic barns, particularly in Madison County.
You often paint out in the woods, en plein air, don’t you?
So much that I’ve gotten to where I can smell a bear. They smell like the Galax plant; it’s a musky scent not as strong as a skunk. Then you can hear them crunching through the bushes where they’re foraging. That’s one of the benefits of being an artist: You get to go out and paint in some remote place where nobody is around for miles.
How did you take up painting?
As a boy I had a desire to draw and trace a lot of things. My grandmother, who had no training, could paint very good primitive paintings. When I was about eight she said, “Do you want to paint a picture?” I painted a barn, and that got me going in that direction. I can recall trying to draw out the barn. … My great uncle fell out of a barn as a young man and then polio set in to the injury so he couldn’t do manual labor. So he became a decent artist, traveling across the country selling paintings. I met him when I was about five, and grew up seeing his paintings in the houses of my aunts and uncles and my grandmother.
You’ve gone full circle. The first thing you painted was a barn, and now you’re painting one for the Barn Alliance.
I think it’s a good thing to try to preserve them and our heritage. When I was young there were a lot of barns around and you could go inside and play. One I remember was really big and pretty old, and I went inside and there was a beautiful, pristine-looking buggy that was all waxed and everything. I was amazed by that. Now a lot of [the old barns] aren’t being used, and they can be too expensive to maintain. Big winds come along and just blow them down.
You’re helping preserve historic barns while preserving realism painting, which doesn’t get as much attention these days.
That’s right, but I think realist art will always have a place, because people appreciate it when they see it. I try to make it feel like you were there, and you can immerse yourself in the beauty God created for us, and feel a sense of peace.
Bryan Koontz, Shepherd’s Mountain Studio, Weaverville, bryankoontzfineart.com. Koontz’s work is carried at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road in Historic Grovewood Village, grovewood.com); at Gallery of the Mountains in the Omni Grove Park Inn complex; at Martin House Gallery in Blowing Rock (martinhousegallery.com); and at Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery in Crossnore (crossnore.org). “A Pastoral Palette,” a benefit art gala sponsored by the Saints of Paint for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, happens 5-8pm on Friday, June 3, featuring new work by 12 local fine artists, including Koontz, and food from local bistros ($45). The art goes on public display Saturday, June 4, 11am-3pm (free admission). Venue for both events is Echoview Fiber Mill (76 Jupiter Road, Weaverville, echoviewnc.com) For information and tickets, see appalachianbarns.org.