Cover Artist: Shannon Whitworth
By Gina Malone
Shannon Whitworth’s love of painting and of making music go hand in hand. “When I hear music, I see colors and often landscapes, and when I am in nature I often hear music and get ideas for songs,” she says. Born in Fairfax, VA, she and her two older brothers spent some of their growing-up years in South Carolina’s Low Country and on Georgia’s St. Simons Island. “We played hard outside on the beaches and under those vast skies,” she says. “The smells and the feel of that time stayed with me even after we moved to northern Virginia where my father was a headmaster of schools and my mother grew a beautiful garden and kept all of us in line the best she could.”
That love of nature and facets of her creative life fed into one another. “If I wasn’t making something, or wasn’t somewhere outside, I was probably writing a song,” she says. “I loved putting my poetry to music, and when I met the right folks those songs ended up going on records and I started going on tour. The cure for those long tours was to get outside and make art.”
When her son was born, she knew immediately that she wanted to leave behind life on the road and stay home with him. Whitworth lives in Brevard and is married to Woody Platt of Steep Canyon Rangers. “During this time at home with my son, often solo while Woody was touring, I began to paint regularly,” she says. Artist Ann DerGara, co-owner with husband Tom Cabe of Brevard’s Red Wolf Gallery, took Whitworth under her wing. “She gave me that push I really needed to take my art to the next level,” Whitworth says. “I began to sell my art regularly out of Ann’s gallery, and once COVID hit, the world shut down.
With Woody off the road, I had even more free time to paint in my studio and I began to announce on social media when I had a new batch of paintings available on my website, and the next thing I knew I started selling my art all over the country.” She also stays busy creating custom pieces for interior designers. “I really love that I can make a living from home or from my barn in the backyard and still be very much involved with my son and family,” she says.
A friend, Susan Mayfield, is another teacher and mentor in Whitworth’s life. “She would have these wonderful retreats with other cool women, and she taught plein air,” Whitworth says. “I would always leave those classes with new techniques and a deeper understanding of color theory. Susan taught me a bunch about how to simplify what I was looking at and about using color differently than I ever had. Ann has shared with me countless tricks of the trade, including the business behind it all. I am so grateful for these women and the wisdom they share with me.”
Whitworth paints in both oil and acrylic, sometimes using mixed media as well. “It is often like pulling lyrics and lines together when I paint and use mixed media,” she says. “Oftentimes, my lyrics or blessings get written into my paintings and all of that is there beneath my final product—or faintly peeking through.”
As an example of the complementary effect words and music have on her art, she tells of playing banjo for an event at UNC Asheville in which authors Wiley Cash and Charles Frazier were discussing their work. “I was there to be the voice of Ella May Wiggins,” she says. “Wiley captured so powerfully the life of Ella May in his novel The Last Ballad and asked if I would sing her song. In order to understand whom I was portraying, I had to read the novel, and the next thing I knew I was inspired to create some paintings from Wiley’s novel as well as sing the song. Ella May got in my veins. I ended up recording Ella May’s song “Mill Mother’s Lament.” The song was included in Oxford American’s 2018 Southern Music Issue Sampler.
“I spent many years as a child not knowing what I was supposed to be when I grew up,” Whitworth says. “One thing I always did was follow my muse and create—whether it was music, writing, pottery or painting. Life kept opening doors to creative jobs and people, and that was really how it all happened. I am a much happier and more well-rounded person when I’m creating. I think we all are.”
Find Shannon’s artwork in Brevard at Red Wolf Gallery and at PLATT HOME. To learn more or to make an appointment for a studio visit, go to ShannonWhitworth.com or Instagram @shannonwhitworthart or @shannonwhitworthmusic.
Originally Published | The Laurel of Asheville | September 2021
Copyright © 2018 The Laurel of Asheville Magazine