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if ART Gallery Artists Laura Spong and Leo Twiggs Win Verner Award for Lifetime Achievement

May 16, 2017

if ART Gallery artists Laura Spong and Leo Twiggs have won the 2017 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement, the South Carolina Arts Commission announced today. The Verner Award is the highest award in the arts in South Carolina. This year’s Verner is Twiggs’ second; in 1981 he was the first person to receive a Verner Award as an individual artist.

Columbia’s Spong, a native of Nashville, Tenn., was born in 1926. She is among South Carolina’s most prominent abstract painters. Spong was included in Abstract Art in South Carolina 1949 – 2012, the South Caroline State Museum’s historic overview of abstract art in South Carolina. In recent years, Spong has had solo exhibitions at the Spartanburg (S.C.) Museum of Art, Young Harris College in Young Harris, Ga., and if ART Gallery and a two-person exhibition with Carl Blair at the Florence (S.C.) Museum. Spong also was represented in group shows throughout the Carolinas and in Georgia and Tennessee. The South Carolina State Art Collection, the South Carolina State Museum and the Greenville County (S.C.) Museum of Art have acquired both early and more recent paintings by Spong in the past decade.  

Since the late 1980s, Spong has been a full-time artist, keeping a studio at Vista Studios in Columbia since 1991 and gradually increasing her now considerable reputation. Much of her career has been documented in three exhibition catalogues, Laura Spong at 80: Warming The Chill Wind With Celebration of 2006; Laura Spong 2006 – 2011: Age As An Administrative Device of 2011; and Laura Spong At 90: Six Decades In Paintings, all published by if ART Gallery. 

Orangeburg’s Twiggs, born in St. Stephen, S.C., in 1934, is among South Carolina’s most revered and important artists, arts educators and arts administrators of the past 50 years. His recent series of paintings inspired by the 2015 Charleston Massacre at Emanuel AME church has traveled extensively through the Carolinas. In 1980, Twiggs became the first visual artist to receive South Carolina’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts. His 2004 career retrospective, accompanied by a catalogue, opened at the Georgia Museum of Art and traveled to the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, S.C., the Greenville County (S.C.) Museum of Art, the Delta Fine Arts Center in Winston Salem, N.C., and the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.


Twiggs has had more than 70 solo exhibitions, the largest being Civil/Uncivil: The Art Of Leo Twiggs at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park in Charleston, S.C., in 2011. His work was selected for the South Carolina State Museum’s 1999 millennium exhibition 100 Years, 100 Artists. Among the many other places where Twiggs has exhibited are New York City’s Studio Museum in Harlem; the Schenectady (N.Y.) Museum; the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, Italy; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University, Ithaca N.Y.; the Mississippi Museum of Art; and the American Crafts Museum in New York. Twiggs’ 1997 exhibition, Commemoration Revisited, a return to paintings of tattered images of Confederate flags 25 years earlier, received national attention. Already during the 1970s, his work was included in several national exhibitions representing a who’s who of African-American art.

Twiggs’ career and body of work is extensively documented in the 320-page, heavily illustrated, 2011 book Messages From Home: The Art Of Leo Twiggs (Orangeburg, SC: Claflin University Press). He is featured in dozens of books, articles and other publications, including Elton Fax’s 1977 book Black Artists of the New Generation; the Studio Museum’s 1978 catalogue Leo Twiggs: Down Home Landscape; Samella Lewis’ 1990 book African American Arts and Artists; Amalia K. Amaki’s A Century of African American Art, 2004; and the 2006 if ART catalogue Leo Twiggs: Toward Another Retrospective. 

Twiggs was born in 1934 in St. Stephen, S.C.  In 1956, he received his B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. In 1961, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1964 earned his MA from New York University, and in 1971was the first African-American to receive a doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia. Formerly a distinguished professor of art and executive director of the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Twiggs is S.C. State professor emeritus and distinguished artist-in-residence at Claflin University.