The Valdosta Daily Times
If you’ve been to the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts in the past four years, you have seen the quiet art of Bill Shenton.
Shenton is an artist — a graphic designer who creates logos and images for arts center events and publications, a painter and photographer as works in his office attest. Yet, it is as curator that Shenton’s invisible artistic hand is most regularly felt as visitors walk through the arts center’s galleries and enjoy the exhibits.
Since May 2009, Bill Shenton has been the man who hangs and arranges the Turner Center’s exhibits.
Though he had little interest in ever designing newspaper or magazine layouts, his University of Georgia classes on these subjects have influenced his work as curator. He applies the ideas of page design to arranging paintings, drawings and photographs along the center’s walls.
“Hanging a show is an aspect of graphic design. You must consider color, shape, size, and scheme,” Shenton says.
In preparing for exhibits, artists will bring their works, lean numerous canvases against the gallery walls and leave Shenton to hang their shows. Often, when the artist returns, they are surprised to discover that Shenton has discovered thematic qualities to their works which they had never realized but seem, oh so, obvious by the way in which the curator has chosen to arrange them.
Done right, a viewer rarely thinks of the curator while viewing an exhibit. As Shenton explains, the focus should be on the artist’s work. Seeing numerous exhibits done right, it’s easy to take for granted or even forget the careful work, concentration and consideration of the curator.
And that’s the way it should be, Shenton says.
“I’m really just a guy with a hammer ... the focus should always be on the artist and the art,” Shenton says.
In initially applying for the position of the center’s curator, Shenton viewed the job as simply being “a guy with a hammer,” granted, one who also possesses a UGA graphic design degree. Then, family friends warned Shenton that such a job also has a political
aspect in dealing with numerous artistic temperaments, but he likes artists and liked the challenge of working with various people to create and arrange dynamic shows for the center.
“I was confident in doing the job with what I learned in art school,” he says, adding the most difficult aspect in the beginning months was standing in front of a few hundred people to introduce artists or announce juried show winners. Shenton has become more at ease with public speaking, saying, “They’re in my church or on my turf.”
He spends a great deal of time in the center, scheduling future exhibits, talking with artists, discussing art with the public, but in terms of preparing for a new round of four exhibits, he has little time. Within a matter of a few days, he must take down the old shows and hang the new ones.
“With my job, there are peaks and valleys,” Shenton says. “So much of what has to be done has to be accomplished in limited time. ... This job is high stress about 5 percent of the time.”
Given the duties of being the center’s curator, Bill Shenton seems to have the perfect pedigree.
The son of Brother and Penny Shenton, Bill grew up in Valdosta. He attended city schools. He began considering art as a career choice while at Valdosta High School. He received instruction from teacher Pat Smith, who urged him to take classes from VHS art teacher Teresa Middleton.
Choosing to sit at the front of the class was an uncharacteristic move for Shenton, but he asked to sit in the desk next to Middleton’s desk. He wanted to learn as much about art as possible and wanted his teacher as close as possible to provide immediate critical review and support.
“Teresa Middleton is the art teacher who has had the biggest influence on me,” Shenton says.
Graduating in 1998 from Valdosta High, Shenton continued his art studies at Valdosta State University. He entered VSU with two art scholarships. He received one scholarship from the Lowndes/Valdosta Arts Commission, the organization which would five years later create the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts.
Though he appreciated his VSU art instruction, Shenton wanted as many art choices as possible to consider. After 18 months, he enrolled in the UGA art program to specifically study and earn a degree in graphic design.
But Valdosta is home and he returned. He has been married to wife Anne for the past three years. In his off-time, Shenton enjoys the outdoors, fishing, camping. Artistically, he takes photographs as his personal artistic endeavor. He still draws and occasionally paints.
For now, he mostly trains his artistic eye on creating graphic designs for the center and arranging attractive exhibits for other artists.
Will the arts center ever display the works of Bill Shenton?
He smiles and says, probably not, not while he is curator, but one day, he would like to see an exhibit of his works. One day, somewhere down the road, he plans to return to painting and other endeavors when it is time again to concentrate on his own art.