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Annual gathering of international decorative painters



Former SALON'S

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When I was teaching at the Smithsonian Institution in 1996, a former student wrote from France that her teacher, Yannick Guegan, was planning to have an event celebrating Decorative Painting. He was inviting painters from all of Europe to his studio in Quimiac, France and I was invited to attend as well. I went with my painting partner, Ulrike Vaerst, who was originally from Germany. Her parents picked us up in Paris and together we drove westward to the coast. We had adventures on the way including a visit of Versaille and Chartre. We had no idea of what was ahead of us. We arrived rather early and checked into the hotel. A few nights later, as we were dining in the hotel and a ruckus was heard coming from the bar. I kept leaning back in my chair, trying to ascertain the origin of this riot when her mother said with some irritation, "Just excuse yourself and go see what it is." I walked into the bar and only remember meeting Robert Woodland of London. He was drinking with a group of English painters and going through portfolios. He showed me the page of a portfolio and exclaimed, "The man is good! The man is good!"  With that, he took his bent arm in the shape of a wing and kept repeatedly whacking it into me as he exclaimed, "The man is good! The man is good!"  I think it was the portfolio of the late William Holgate, but what I remember is that there was another book to look at and how many times Mr. Woodland would slam into me when we viewed it. So I went back into the dining room to fetch Ulrike to introduce her and to put her between Me and Robert when we looked at that second portfolio. Such was my introduction to what has now become The International

Decorative Painters' Salon.


During one day of the event we were looking at the exhibition of Guegan's students when I thought, "I should begin meeting people to find out who is here." The next person I saw, I introduced myself. It was Patrick Laheyene from Ghent, Belgium. He is a remarkable painter of marbles, wood grain and murals. He came from Belgium on a bus with a bunch of other Belgian and Dutch painters. Little did I know that on that bus were extraordinary painters with whom I would develop deep, long friendships. All of them were outstanding painters; Gert-Jan Nijsse, Curd Vercrusse, Randolph Algera and a very strange Dutchman named Jan Berghuis. The next day demonstrations were being held in a nearby town. 


Ulrike and I had no transportation, so we began to walk there.  On our way we were passed by a giant bus. It pulled to the side of the road and stopped. The door opened and Patrick Laheyne jumped out and invited us to ride with them. We were now in the midst of complete insanity. They were arguing and yelling about marble, wood grain, murals and painting; it was heaven. The first day of demonstrations featured the English painters. They

demonstrated their techniques one by one, painting successively for an hour or two each. Robert painted a phenomenal mahogany, using the edge of a scrap of cardboard. The whole day was amazing and featured the work of the great Don Gray and Tommy Valentine of England. The next day featured the Dutch and Belgian painters. The Dutch and Belgians had arrived early and all of them were painting in a row simultaneously in order to save time. Joris Arts interviewed them for the audience as they painted. It was remarked that they were lined up like a bunch of footballers and that format of demonstration painting stuck. At each successive Salon, the format and traditions evolved until it became the Salon we know some ten years later.

After that Salon, I began a long history of correspondence with

Jan Berghuis. So successful was Guegan's Salon that we decided it should continue. Jan had the idea of doing it every year in the Spring, to meet in a different city and to call it the Salon. He held the next one in 1997 at the NIMETO School in Utrecht, Netherlands. He even wrote a Manifesto which outlined the purpose and goals of the Salon, particularly to invite the most talented painters in this field. I held the next one with Ulrike Vaerst in 1998 at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia.


It took us one year to plan. I am most proud that we worked very hard to recruit the best painters we could find. The Alexandria Salon was the first Salon for some painters who have become hosts themselves as well as many very gifted painters.  Among those that came for the first time were Nicola Vigini (host of Salon 2002), Lucretia Moroni (a future host), Ross O'Neal (host of salon 2005), and Pascal Amblard (host of salon 2001). Ulrike had the idea to honour our eldest and most respected painters with a lifetime achievement award. The first two given out went to the grandmasters Don Gray and the late, dear, Tommy Valentine. Another innovation we began was to have "Post Salon Events". These were relaxed tours of the location of the Salon to museums, historic sites featuring Decorative Painting and the sites of our city. I only regret that I do not have the space to relate all the things I have learned, friends I have made, connections that were found and experiences I shared at all of the Salons.

Through the Salon I have been afforded the opportunity to travel, to teach and work in foreign countries and to invite some of these fantastic painters to come to Washington to teach and work. The Salon experience cannot possibly be communicated in words. The word "Love" comes to mind. Love of friends and  Love of times spent exchanging ideas with those friends. We have lost some dear Salon participants over the years and they are missed very much. Each Salon is a time to remember these people for their warm hearts and great gifts they shared with us. They are Lars Grano, Tommy Valentine, Bill Holgate, Kieth Warrick and Gordon Kio. We were all touched in our lives by them in profound ways. For about four days each Spring, the Salon generates an amazing energy and Love that uplifts each of us through our Art and craft until we meet again the next Spring.



What I find important about the Salon is that it is a meeting of

The very best painters in the world who want to share their researches through live demonstrations and an exhibition. Not only are the painters quite talented and intelligent, they are also very kind and generous. Secondly, the Salon is for the painters. It is absolutely non-commercial to keep it that way. The Salon receives donated materials form a variety of manufacturers, most notably Golden Acrylics who has been with us since Alexandria. Many others donate materials as well as financial support. In the future it is important to continue to recruit the most talented artists and to gain the support of more manufacturers. With the expansion of the Salon, the governance may need to change to keep up with this growth. However, we must retain the traditions and format that have made the salon an event to anticipate each year.


Patrick Kirwin, September 16, 2005