Taste and insight are longtime residents at Morris & Whiteside Galleries.

It’s pure Hilton Head Island, I guess, that our Big City art gallery is on a quiet road, sheathed in trees.  You might even miss the Morris & Whiteside Galleries sign on your right, the first time you head west on Cordillo Parkway.  Don’t fail to take that drive, though.

Morris & Whiteside Galleries, in the historic Red Piano building.

Quality and skill and heart are hanging here in such abundance, and to such a high standard, that it’s hard to describe.  “Big City” is a harsh way to say it.  It’s just that American art doesn’t look better anywhere else than here.  These are established artists with national reputations.

The paintings and etchings and sculpture selected by Morris & Whiteside reflect what’s best about the story of art in this country.  And yet not all of the subjects are American.  It’s just that a living artist’s etching that’s as good as a Whistler, and a Stephen Scott Young painting of Bahamian boys with a sailboat that’s lit like a kind of Wyeth gone to the tropics – multiplied by

Saturday Sail by Stephen Scott Young

dozens – has an effect on you that’s very much like awe.

The explanation has to be in the eye of the selector.  Founder Jack Morris studied drawing and painting at the University of South Carolina in a time when the University offered no graduate degrees in art.  Jack went to Harvard to study arts administration and did graduate work in art history.  Then he wrote Contemporary Artists of South Carolina, a seminal view of art and artists in the state, that’s been called, “A wonderful and important piece of southern cultural history.”

Camini Rooftops , a copper etching by Stephen Scott Young

This discerning eye served as executive director of the Greenville County Museum of Art, where the Andrew Wyeth collection grew to more than 30 paintings from every period of the artist’s career, and where the Jasper Johns collection is utterly unmatched thanks to Jack’s long acquaintance with the artist.  Although they met in New York in 1962 or 1963, they were already related through an important teacher at the University, Catharine Rembert, one of Jasper Johns’ early influences.  Jack’s book on the art of South Carolina is dedicated, “To Catharine Rembert, from one of her boys.”

Jack went on to open commercial galleries in Houston, Dallas, Santa Fe and Scottsdale, where his Scottsdale Art Auction is in its ninth year and has become a top auction of Western art.

The taste and insight that grew from this background shows up in Jack Morris’s ability to select the very finest.  And that ability certainly gets a workout.  For example, Jack selected 379 pieces from a field of over 3,000

Iron And Brick by Stephen Scott Young hangs above Jack Morris’s desk.

for the upcoming April 6 auction in Scottsdale.  And the 3,000 submissions were from top artists with whom Jack is already familiar, so there was no “excess” to trim.  It takes weeks of conference calls, some as long as five hours, with Jack’s associates in New York and Scottsdale to finalize the selection.

What does he look for?  The answer seems to start with knowing the process and the medium in which the artists are working.  So Jack can see

Amantha – Sea Breeze by Joe Bowler

the sheer skill.  Yes, the overall artistic effect is the life of the work, but the basic quality is best recognized by someone intimately familiar with what it takes to produce that effect.

That knowledge – and all that experience exercising it – shows up in the work on view here on Hilton Head Island at Morris & Whiteside Galleries.

Jack is moving the South Carolina Art Auction, in operation since 2000, back to Hilton Head Island this year from Charleston, where it had taken place since 2005.  Renamed the Hilton Head Art Auction, the event will take place October 5, 2013, coinciding with the first weekend of the Hilton Head Island Institute.

Jack Morris’s stake in Hilton Head Island began in 1958 as a regular visitor.  A property owner here since 1974, Jack and his wife moved here full-time in 2000.  And although most of the artists of national note at Morris & Whiteside Galleries are not “local,” a few are.  Joe Bowler is an example.  Joe is one of

Amantha – Little Ballerina by Joe Bowler

the original figures of Hilton Head Island’s art community.  A prominent illustrator in New York during the 1950’s and 60’s – when advertising and magazine publishing depended on illustrators – Joe Bowler moved to Hilton Head Island in the 1970’s, after photography and TV narrowed the field in New York.

The skill and the ability to “draw quickly and well” that the demands of illustration imbedded in Joe Bowler, and the versatility that it called for, came together with an artist’s heart.  You can see some of the results beginning May 10, when Morris and Whiteside Galleries will feature a special showing of Joe’s paintings.  The artist is capable in so many ways, and creates so many different moods, that it’s hard to pin down a single style.  But don’t miss his luminous “Ballerina” paintings.  Like the gallery in which they appear, they clearly are a labor of love.

Morris & Whiteside Galleries are housed in the historic Red Piano Gallery, site of South Carolina’s oldest professional art gallery, at 220 Cordillo Parkway on Hilton Head Island.  Partners Jack A. Morris, Jr., J. Ben Whiteside and David G. Leahy comprise more than 70 years of experience.