Loading...

A true expressionist, Laura Spong did not like to portray tangible things, like landscapes or people. “I’m not so much interested in representing something that you see as I am in trying to evoke some kind of inner response from the viewer. I know what a tree looks like. I don’t need to draw another tree.” When people noted identifiable objects in her finished pieces, Spong took offense and frequently repainted the image. “I find it a challenge,” she said “to start with a blank canvas and construct an interesting, complete arrangement of colors with no givens.”

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Spong was a cum laude graduate of Vanderbilt University, where she majored in English and was formally enrolled in only one studio art class. It was not until the mid-1950s—following marriage, six children, and a move to Columbia, South Carolina—that she took art lessons seriously. These initial lessons were with J. Bardin and Gil Petroff at the Richland School of Art, an affiliate of the Columbia Museum of Art. Of her two instructors, it was Bardin who strongly advocated abstraction. In the 1960s, her education continued under Sigmund Abeles and William Halsey, the latter a Charleston modernist known for his abstractions with highly textured surfaces.

Spong was an active participant in South Carolina’s art community, participating in both local and statewide juried exhibitions. She was a regular award winner and earned significant recognition from her fellow artists, many of whom worked in more traditional and representational modes. For a period of eighteen months beginning in 1969, she worked for the South Carolina Department of Archives and History where she helped to restore and laminate old documents. Between 1973 and 1983, she oversaw arts and crafts programs for the Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. Afterwards, she held several different retail positions, before devoting her time entirely to art beginning in 1991.

It was in her later years that Spong’s career took off. She rented space in a Columbia complex of artists’ studios which frequently hosted joint exhibitions. She also showed her work at galleries in Columbia, at museums in Florence and Greenville, South Carolina, and in a few out-of-state locations, including a 2008 residency and group exhibition in Germany. A solo showing and companion catalogue—Laura Spong at 80: Warming the Chill Wind with Celebration—marked her eightieth birthday in 2006. In recognition of her myriad contributions to the state’s cultural climate, she was honored with the 2017 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in the category of lifetime achievement. Laura Spong’s work is represented in the collections of her adopted state’s leading museums, including the Columbia Museum of Art, the Greenville County Museum of Art, and the South Carolina State Museum of Art.