As many Furman students know, the TRee House Café & Studio in Traveler’s Rest feels like home to any creative. Its homey, colorful atmosphere is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and a panini while working or studying. Whether I need to get started on an essay or write an article for The Paladin, I always sit at the high tables in the corner closest to the door. I am particularly drawn here because of a collection of square canvases hanging on the wall, each hosting a different colorful scene. A favorite of mine is three purple and white irises woven into blades of grass, another is a bowl of crayfish on a checked tablecloth cooked with corn and red potatoes. I always sit in the seat facing a tranquil scene of a bare, golden field backed by pine trees and a cloudy sky, which I love because it reminds me of my hometown (which according to Furman friends who have visited, is mostly fields). These are the paintings of Lu Wixon, a local artist who has been working and teaching in the Greenville/Traveler’s Rest community for many years. I was so curious about the inspiration behind these paintings that I contacted Mrs. Wixon’s home studio. She invited me to her studio where she gave me tour of her work and offered some inspiring insights into her life as an artist.
Wixon’s home is a testament to her talent at working with various mediums. Hanging from trees and posts in the yard are large birds, cut from wood and painted in colorful patterns. Upon entering the home, the creative legacy of Wixon’s family is displayed above the kitchen table. “My parents were both musicians,” she said, pointing out a picture of her father, who played in an army band in World War II. In another photo, he and the rest of his band are pictured with Frank Sinatra. Wixon’s home studio is covered from wall-to-wall in natural scenes like trees, beaches and mountains that she has painted over the years. Surprisingly, the paintings that she showed me here are in a slightly different style than those displayed at TRee House; they are more abstract with vibrant, eye-catching colors. Wixon often paints on wood, an idea she picked up when she was a single mom and found that discarded wood was more affordable than canvas.
Wixon shared with me a piece that she is currently painting on a large wooden board, a beach at Edisto with dunes and seagrass flanking the view of the ocean. An actual photo of this spot was pulled up on the computer for reference. She stated that natural scenes like this are often her biggest inspiration. “I love to go on hikes and take photographs,” she said, noting that “sometimes I take details from more than one photo to put into a painting.” Wixon remarked that she achieves her unique style by trying to capture “what she thinks of when she sees a scene or photograph” rather than simply replicating what is there.
Wixon graduated from University of Louisiana with a degree in painting. She wanted to have the same schedule as her children and so much of her career was spent teaching art at Heritage Elementary School in Traveler’s Rest and Hollis Elementary in Greenville. During this time, she found it incredibly rewarding to help her students complete their own creative projects. She remembers one little girl who was near tears in class one day because she could not make her drawing look the way she wanted. After she adjusted the drawing for her, the student said, “Mrs. Wixon turns bad things into good things.”
The owner of TRee House Café & Studio, Kristen Heiselman, called Wixon, “one of the best art teachers I ever met.” Wixon also nurtured creativity for her own children. She said that her daughter was drawing even as she learned the letters of the alphabet as a child. Her son is a composer whose music was recently featured in the 2021 documentary film, "23rd Century Giants." Wixon now shares art with her grandchildren and showed me two children’s books that she and her husband wrote, illustrated and published for them.
Now that Wixon is retired from teaching, she is working as a full-time artist again. She hosts open studios in her home and has artworks in several galleries in the area. Recently, she received a purchase award from a gallery in Anderson, meaning that the painting she entered there was bought for permanent display. She says her husband, Steve, has been a wonderful supporter in all her artistic endeavors, creating a website for her on which she can display her work and promote her studio. Mr. Wixon’s artistry is also displayed in the home; their garden in the backyard is surrounded by a statues he made of rocks and cinderblocks. Wixon says that the Greenville community has also been an incredibly supportive place for her to grow as an artist.
When I asked Wixon if she had any advice for students trying to start a career in art, she said that working hard and developing a thick skin were the two key factors in her success. “You have to keep putting yourself out there despite being afraid of rejection,” she said. She then went on to say, “You have to accept failure sometimes.” Wixon feels “very fortunate” to have been able to find a job in her field, but said that it is sometimes necessary to work other jobs to support yourself while creating your art, citing her parents and son as examples. She said that satisfying her creativity has always been more important than making a profit. “I still would do this even if I did not make money at it.” In other words, she could not imagine a life without art.
Wixon’s artwork can be found on her website luwixon.com. Her next open studio will be in November, but she also schedules individual appointments to view her work through her email email@example.com or by phone 864-246-2402.