Painting in its proper place

sgilman@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

Don Stephenson, right, a Clayton resident, presents his painting to Mayor Jody McLeod.


Though it lay forgotten for months, the winning entry in the 2013 Clayton Poster Contest Award is now hanging in The Clayton Center.

Don Stephenson’s 18-inch by 24-inch watercolor – “Thank Clayton! Thank Greenways!” – won the biannual contest last September, earning favor from judges and a $1,000 check for Stephenson.

“The winning entry always tells the most story, and this one tells the story of the greenway,” Mayor Jody McLeod said. “I think the reason it was such a great piece is that it really tells the story of where we are as a community for active families.”

Stephenson divided his painting into quadrants and filled each one with a scene from the greenway: canoeists on the Neuse River, a cyclist, a painter and a nature lover on a footbridge. A red “Greenway” sign cuts up the center.

The Clayton resident graduated from Four Oaks High School and earned his master’s degree in zoology from N.C. State University. He recently retired from Johnston Community College, where he taught biology for 26 years.

When he paints, Stephenson said: “My goal is to create original works that reflect my love of the natural world. My work is representational, but I don’t strive for photographic realism.”

Judges were Mayor McLeod; Councilmen Michael Grannis, Art Holder, Bob Satterfield and Jason Thompson; Town Manager Steve Biggs; Clayton Center executive director Scotty Henley; and Clayton Cultural Arts Foundation chairwoman Lyn Austin. They chose Stephenson’s entry over 11 others and held the awards ceremony in September.

Clayton Visual Arts then presented the $1,000 check and took possession of the painting.

“Then we take it out and have it photographed and have it turned into posters,” said Larry Strevig, president of Clayton Visual Arts.

Normally, Strevig said, the group would have presented the painting to Town Council sometime in January, but it was not until last Monday that he and Stephenson made the official donation.

“It just got lost,” Strevig said. “I kind of forgot about it for a couple months, and then at the January meeting, I said, ‘Whatever happened to that picture?’”

One of the group’s members had stored it in her home, and when Strevig brought up the topic, she said she had already made the photos for reproduction purposes. Now if you enter The Clayton Center through the front doors, walk up the stairs and down the hall, all of the contest winners are on display.

The Clayton Visual Arts receives funding from the Town of Clayton Cultural Arts Fund, private donations, the Johnston County Arts Council and the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. The group also makes money selling artist spaces at the Millstock festival on Horne Square and from the posters. The group’s biggest fundraiser is now the Christmas tour of homes, which raised more than $3,000 last year.

Every month, the group is responsible for an art show at The Clayton Center. On the first Thursday of the month, it hosts a reception for the featured artists. Strevig said the group has brought between 150 and 200 artists through The Clayton Center since 1999.

“Our mission is to bring art to the people of Clayton,” Strevig said. The monthly art exhibit is “our method of bringing art to the people and getting the artists to come out and participate.”

Posters of previous winners cost $10, and posters of this year’s winner are $20. For more information, contact Strevig at or go to

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