Sitver’s art on display at Schwarzbart Gallery

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, West Knox

A cast of characters, real and imaginary, bloom in the paints and inks of artist and college student Esther Sitver. There’s the “Bird Lady” staring into the middle distance, a small avian creature perched on the window beside her. There’s Kevin, a fellow art student intent on his own palette and canvas. There are the portraits of beloved characters she grew up reading about, such as Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy from “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Esther Sitver’s first solo art show is on display at the Knoxville Jewish Alliance’s Schwarzbart Gallery through Aug. 10. There will be a reception with the artist Sunday, June 24, 1-2:30 p.m. The show includes 30 pieces from her sophomore year at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. It features portrait work as well as other subjects, including en plein air landscapes from East Tennessee and southern Florida, rich still lifes and architectural sketches.

Sitver, the daughter of Joe Sitver and Anita Kay of Knoxville, is a 2016 graduate of Bearden High School. In 2015, she became the first Bearden High School student to win Best in Show at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s East Tennessee Regional Student Art Exhibition, for a whimsical portrait of two of her friends as troll dolls.

Home for the summer, she is busy with art commissions and sales of originals and prints from her show. Some of Sitver’s greeting cards and postcards are also on sale at Earth to Old City and at the gift shop at Ijams Nature Center.

Sitver began taking art lessons when she was 3 years old and won her first art contest when she was in fifth grade, for a piece for Race for the Cure. When she was 16, she went to the Governor’s School for the Arts, where she decided on a career in visual art.

“That’s when I was sure. I decided I would make it work,” Sitver says.

She chose Ringling in part because there is a program devoted to career services. The college also gave her work-study opportunities, and she hopes to take an internship in the next couple of years, possibly at a greeting card company.

Sitver credits several teachers and mentors with encouraging her, beginning with the private classes she took with local artist Alice Carroll. At Bearden, she studied with Stan Hillard and Anna Boyd, with whom she stays in touch. Another source of encouragement is Mary Linda Schwarzbart, widow of Judaic artist Arnold Schwarzbart, whom the gallery honors and whose work is on permanent display there.

Portraits of people are her favorite subject, she says, particularly fashion illustration, but she is always stretching her talents. Sitver found a group of East Tennessee landscape artists, most about her grandparents’ age, who welcome her painting with them as they trek around outdoors.

She also sketches and paints the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of her favorite places.

“I care a lot about protecting our national parks,” she says. “I also like making artwork that brings awareness to a political cause, particularly women’s rights.”

She has done prints and postcards specifically to benefit certain organizations, including a postcard for sale at events sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.

“As a student, I don’t have money, and I don’t have time, but I can donate my art,” she says.

The Arnstein Jewish Community Center/ Knoxville Jewish Alliance is at 6800 Deane Hill Drive. The Schwarzbart Gallery is open weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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