Mona Lisa#039;s Smile

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 28, 2006

You may think the only place you’d find the Mona Lisa is at the Louvre in Paris. In fact, the Renaissance lady with the mysterious smile is currently residing right here in the Camellia City.

Actually, a talented newcomer to the area created this particular version of La Giaconda. Artist Etheridge James Hall, better known as &uot;Jimmy&uot; to family and friends, painted his own amazingly accurate version of Da Vinci’s famous painting for one of his longtime clients in Florida.

A love for the past

&uot;My clients appreciate the look, the style of the Old Masters. But, of course, like most of us, they can’t afford to purchase the real thing,&uot; Hall explains.

The artist, who has a tremendous appreciation and love for the techniques of artists from centuries gone by, creates reproductions of works by Da Vinci, Vermeer, Rubens and others.

&uot;That’s what got me really interested in painting in the first place, my admiration for those Old Masters. Rubens had these amazing, life-like flesh tones. I couldn’t believe how they could do so much with so little,&uot; the artist, relaxing in his home studio, says.

Hall, a former rancher, started his artistic career some 30 years ago during a visit to the mountains. He and wife Judy found themselves snowbound and a little stir crazy.

&uot;Judy said, ‘Why don’t you draw something?’ Well, I did. I started sketching and liked what I did so much, I just kept on,&uot; Hall laughs.

While Hall studied at the Art Students’ League of New York for a while, much of his training has simply been self-study and &uot;lots of experimentation.&uot;

&uot;You’ve got to experiment with brushstrokes, with color, with light and shadow. There’s a lot of trial and error and it takes a lot of time. I’ve made a lot of goofs,&uot; he admits.

‘Go with what’s right’

The artist says he has chosen to focus on working strictly in oils because &uot;it’s my niche.&uot;

&uot;Painting in oils is where I excel, and it’s where I want to keep improving. I am learning all the time and I won’t quit learning until I die. When you find that thing in life that’s right for you, you know it – and you go with it.&uot;

Hall, formerly of the Orlando area, has used his talents for production work for some of Florida’s top theatrical productions and worked with the Ringling Museum. His work has been shown at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and the South Florida Art Center among other venues, and he and wife Judy spearheaded the Society for Entertainment and Arts Development.

&uot;The idea was the get kids involved in the arts, and it’s still going on and doing very well,&uot; Judy says with a smile.

From denim to canvas

In addition to his reproductions of classic art works, Hall enjoys portrait painting and has done a number of commissioned portraits for clients around the country as well as local patrons.

An unfinished portrait of Jim Solomons leans against the base of an easel in his studio, while another work in progress, a portrait of Kay Sherling, sits beside the Arthur Stewart original. The Stewart painting, badly deteriorated over time, is being re-created by the artist on a fresh canvas.

Hall even created a feast of wearable art in 1990 when he painted 35 jackets for a specialty boutique, &uot;Miami Twice.&uot;

Judy shows off a denim jacket featuring a Native American warrior on the back. &uot;I told Jimmy this one was staying in my closet,&uot; she says with a grin.

Hall’s painting of Mona Lisa is the sixth commission he has painted for his Florida clients.

&uot;They love my work and they are really glad to be able to get this type of work done. They loaned Mona Lisa back to me for a little while, and everyone who has stopped by is enjoying seeing her in this beautiful frame,&uot; the artist says.

Home, sweet home

Hall and his wife Judy have a joint artistic work in progress – their historic Walnut Street home.

The McBride house, which is listed on the Alabama Registry of Historic Places, dates back to the mid-1830s. That makes it one of the city’s oldest homes still standing, and one its owners greatly love.

&uot;We were visiting the Solomons (Kenny and Kathy) for the first time in years and we just fell in love with Greenville. Orlando was just getting too big, too stressful, too much traffic – too many Yankees,&uot; Hall says with a wry grin.

When they saw the old house on the last day of their Greenville visit, it was love at first sight.

&uot;I saw it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, the porch, the porch. I don’t even have to go in. I want it!’&uot; Judy laughs.

The house, which had sat empty for a few years, wasn't in the best of condition, Hall admits.

During the past year, the couple and daughter Julie have invested plenty of sweat equity in their new home.

&uot;We’ve done a lot, and there are still things to do. But we are discovering fascinating things all the time about the house,&uot; the owner says as he shows off a pretty green bottle with porcelain stopper found between the walls of the house. An interesting piece of lumber found in the attic is displayed over the studio mantel.

&uot;There’s no telling what can be discovered in, around and under this house,&uot; Hall says.

There’s no telling what kind of exceptional talents are drawn to this small town, either.

&uot;Jimmy’s a phenomenal talent. I just hope this family decides to stay put. They are a great asset to the community,&uot; friend Priscilla Davis, retired GHS art teacher, says.