Under her desk at Magnolia Art Gallery in Lake Oconee’s Parkside Commons, owner Lynn Blair still has her very first easels. In fact, she’s only ever painted on two.
“My desk easel and my other easel have been with me since I’ve been painting,” she said. “I’ve painted every painting I’ve ever done on those two easels.”
But Blair hasn’t been painting her whole life, just the second half of it. Once upon a time, Blair didn’t know she would have a 20-plus-year career as an artist.
Her first career took her all over the state, working in law offices, for mortgage companies, and, eventually, Georgia Power. But, even though she enjoyed the people she worked with and got to know interesting cities, like Savannah, very well, she hadn’t found where her heart belonged.
One day, after her children were grown, Blair found herself bored.
She wandered into a little combination art gallery and paint store in Lawrenceville, Ga., and began picking up canvases and paints.
“And this teenager, he was 15, said, ‘You ever had any lessons?’ and I said ‘No, sir’ and he said ‘Come back here,’” Blair said. “And there they all were, my future painting friends.”
So Blair sat down with them and began drawing and painting, to quickly discover that she had quite the knack for it. She realized she had found her calling.
Blair says she doesn’t have a particular style and that she paints whatever she finds interesting. Her personal gallery depicts all sorts of scenes, from a nuclear ship to young children playing in their backyard, but most of her paintings are landscapes.
“As you’ll notice, I really love painting the lake,” she said. “I love the lake.”
Beginning a Career in Lake Country
So, it’s no surprise that Blair began her professional art career by holding painting classes on her Lake Oconee home’s back deck overlooking the lake. She still holds classes in her gallery’s back room, but she has upped the ante a bit by hosting “Bottles & Brushes” painting parties, where students create their own original paintings while enjoying a glass (or two) of wine.
Although she still keeps up with her artist friends from that Lawrenceville gallery all those years ago, she has a beef with the way they taught her, one that has shaped her own teaching style.
Blair had to learn by practicing because her friends did not clue her in too many basic techniques, except for one, that using a Q-tip is the perfect way to make lights look glowy and realistic. So, she purposed that if she ever had her own students, she would teach them by showing them, by putting her arm around them and teaching them to move the brush.
She thought, “‘I’ll show them how to do it, and tell them what kind of brush to use, and that the faster you paint and the less paint you use, and the better it is.’ I give them tips.”
Blair said she prefers to take on students that don’t see themselves as already knowing how to paint because she finds that the ones that think they know how to paint usually don’t.
“But the ones who say, ‘I can’t draw a straight line,’ you can pull it out of them, if God has given them the gift,” she said. “And if you can’t, and they don’t have it, they’ll still end up with something they like.”
During those early teaching years, Blair sometimes posted herself out by Lake Oconee bakery Sweet Kneads to sell her watercolors in the afternoons. One day, Elizabeth Hutchinson told her the community wanted her to open a gallery.
Blair loved the idea.
So in 1998, she opened Magnolia Art Gallery in a 400 square foot space she leased from Hutchinson and found out just how much fun owning your own art showroom can be.
“It was really a rockin’ little gallery,” she said.
She more than doubled her square footage by moving into her second gallery, which boasted 1,100 square feet, but she was still looking for something bigger when Dan Sardella visited her store to tell her a new group of shops was cropping up by the lake that the developers planned to call Lake Oconee Village.
Would she like to get in on the ground floor of this idea and buy some space to expand her gallery even more? Why yes, she would.
So in 2007, Blair’s gallery found its final home in the 2,500 square foot shop on Parkside Commons, she smiles out of today.
Because Magnolia Art Gallery is a full-service gallery, meaning the Blair and her husband Walter work together to frame and hang their customers’ purchases, she often gets to see the homes her artwork goes to.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “I’m going to miss it.”
Many of Blair’s customers are repeat buyers who have become friends with her and kept coming back for more paintings throughout the 21 years.
“The best part is just watching somebody come in and fall in love and get excited,” she said fondly. “It’s fun to see someone falling in love and wanting to take it home.”
Blair said she and Walter met one of their dearest friends, Roger, through the gallery. She first met him when he came in to buy a painting in memory of his late wife of 42 years. “We adopted him. He would call us at night if he fell, and we’d take him to the hospital and get him patched up, and then we’d take him to the Huddle House,” she said with a chuckle. “So, we just became family through the years.”
But after 21 of those years at the Magnolia Art Gallery, Blair, at the spry young age of 75, is ready to retire to spend more time with her husband, who is now 80 years old.
“I’m going to spend every minute with him,” she said.
Meeting the Man of Her Dreams
Blair met her future husband Walter at her Sunday school class’s singles’ picnic hosted by Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead.
When she told her girlfriends she was planning to call Walter, they urged her not to because he did not have a job listed on the church roster, only interests like Bible study and aerobics.
“But I said ‘well, all I noticed was that he had a fine hug,’” she said with a chuckle. “And I needed a hug at that time in my life.”
Walter didn’t return her call for three weeks, but he finally called her to say that he had been in away in China. Walter did in fact have a job: he was an international pilot for Delta.
After a whirlwind courtship, he wanted her to move to China and be a missionary with him, but Blair declined.
“I said, ‘Sorry sir, I’m a Georgia peach, and I don’t eat fish heads and rice,’” she said with a laugh. “But really, I had two children, and I wasn’t leaving my kids.”
But their love was strong enough for Walter to build a life with her in Georgia, where they hunt and fish in their free time. When they married, Blair took an early retirement from Georgia Power’s legal department to move with her new husband to Lake Oconee.
Moving to the lake was like going back in time, Blair said.
“Everybody is friendly, because everybody knows everybody,” she said. “You can’t go to Publix, because you can’t get out, because everytime you go in there, everybody wants to talk.” And now, the two have found a new church home at Lake Point Community Church on the Eatonton side of the pond.
“God has used us here,” she said. “This is where he really wanted us.”
Expanding Beyond the Lake
But in addition to her local work, Blair’s artistic talent has brought her opportunities from all over. Her gallery hosted the Women Painters of The South East Juried show in April 2014, which required her to completely clear out her gallery to make space for the hundreds of visiting painters and their creators who descended on her shop
Her paintings have graced the halls of the Old Governor’s Mansion museum in Milledgeville as well as the active Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta, an opportunity that led her into a friendship with Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal. Although she is retiring from the gallery business, closing the doors to Magnolia Art Gallery for the last time on Aug. 31 and turning the space over to artist Janet Swahn, who will open Lake Side Art Gallery on Sept. 1, Blair plans to begin teaching on her home’s lakeview deck once again.
She’ll continue to take off into the woods for hunting excursions with her husband or spend weekends traveling to see her mother and children, but she will always come back to her brushes and canvases.
“I’ll be painting til I croak,” she said.