by Carey C. Giudici
"It's not the object you're creating that's important; it's the process that's important."
That oft-repeated reminder from Bill Hendrix, local cultural icon and lifelong "free spirit," summarizes his personal philosophy, and approach to bringing out talent. He didn't just talk about the importance of process: he lived it.
Opening a high-quality art school in the sleepy resort town of St. Simons in 1950 would have seemed ridiculous to anyone who didn't believe the island would nurture a growing community of students. Other artists with his credentials and extraordinary natural talent were teaching elsewhere, in cities with large student populations.
But St. Simons Island has always attracted people who look for a natural process, starting with the native Americans and early planting families. So it's not surprising that once he visited St. Simons, my father was hooked.
Many of his students probably didn't realize that--at no extra charge--Bill Hendrix would teach them a bit about becoming free spirits themselves. His art classes focused on trusting your instincts as much as technical proficiency
Some students, like Dee Williams and Karen Keene Braswell found a lifelong interest in art and would became instructors at the Center. Even students who came here to retire, like Ana Bel Lee Washington, quickly developed into recognized artistic talent.
Yet those who developed their artistic gifts at the Coastal Center for the Arts remember personal development as much as their growth as artists.
And even people who went on to very different careers trace their personal growth to contact with him.
A valuable snapshot of those first years of the art center was published in the June 1954 Journal and Constitution magazine's cover story, "Artists are Thick as Fiddlers on St. Simons."
In the article's picturesque photo of one of the school's popular alfresco classes, a dozen women--dressed as if they'd just dropped in from an Atlanta suburb--are all looking in different directions. No surprsie here. Bill Hendrix encouraged each student to find their own subjects and techniques rather than mimicking his.
They seem to be having fun, like their teacher; he often remarked that he'd never worked a day in his life.
It's also certain that he wasn't looking for flaws in one student's painting. Every student remembers his constructive criticism coming in clouds of encouraging comments.
Most also felt excited about being with "a part of history" when learning from Bill Hendrix's. After all, in New York he'd been at a cocktail party with Salvador Dali; and Dali's wife, he reported, had pinned a real fish to her lapel.
And getting up close and personal with many art greats was fun on the tours to Europe, the Middle East, Mexico or the National Gallery organized by Bill and Mittie Hendrix.
Now, decades later, Brunswick residents say that at least the island's new condos "make good wind breaks." Intersections begin to resemble parking lots. And the process of change is a constant challenge to the families of those ladies who posed on the beach 50 years ago.
Yet the Island's art community is still going strong, and in almost every social setting at least one former student of Bill Hendrix can remember the teacher's lasting influence on their life. The process of receptive growth that filled the center of Bill Hendrix's life and art is still going strong in St. Simons Island.
Author (in striped shirt) with his father and siblings.
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