Howard Hunt finds the artist in everyone at Elmwood Park studio

Hunt with Sills

Local artist Howard Hunt juggles many roles, among them being a mentor to the students in his “Paint Your Bum Off Wednesday” classes. He helps amateurs and experts alike explore new artistic territory and get their art in the public eye.

By Damian Dominguez
April 17, 2014

Meet Columbia’s Howard Hunt – father, real estate agent, contractor, former USC rugby coach, photographer, painter. He also mentors other artists through his “Paint Your Bum Off Wednesday” classes at his Elmwood Park studio.

Hunt fills his studio with color and laughter by bringing together amateurs and veterans for drinks, snacks and painting as a community.

Art is “something a lot of people want to do, and they’ve never tried to do it,” he said.

Hunt said he had the time and his new studio provided the space, so he decided to start the classes for artists of all levels of experience.

One student, Peggy Sills, has been coming to the classes for months. “He’s a great mentor,” she said as she painted, using a print of a Matisse piece as a guide.

Kate Heald, another friend of Hunt’s and a student, said he’s a good mentor because he’s “there to help you enjoy painting.” She said she returns regularly because of the “unintimidating atmosphere.”

“If I want to pick a place to paint and relax, that’s definitely it,” she said.

Hunt and artists choosing paintings
The lighthearted, fun tone at Hunt’s art studio helps keep nerves at bay as the artists select what paintings they want to display at their first art show at Wine Down.

This atmosphere is essential because it makes students comfortable, said Hunt, who has been holding the classes for two years.

He keeps things fun and lighthearted with one simple rule: “We don’t talk about politics.”

But it can get serious too, especially when it comes to improving students’ confidence, he said. Hunt pushes the six or seven students who come to the Wednesday sessions to showcase their art in galleries and shows throughout Columbia.

Hunt said he doesn’t tell his students what to paint, but instead guides them in painting whatever they want. But when they’re all painting different things and getting engaged in conversation, a lack of “focus and discipline” does become an issue, he said.

That, Hunt said, is when his experience playing and coaching rugby – he coached at USC twice, for a total of seven years – comes in handy. As he sits and guides a student next to him, he draws lines on the canvas like a coach drawing up plays.

Hunt said that focus and discipline are important in his real estate business, Front Porch Realty, as well. “The art is enjoyable; the real estate pays the real bills.”

Hunt, 52, said he has bought, renovated and sold Columbia real estate since buying his first house in 1984.

He said he’s not just flipping houses: “I can take one of the worst houses in a neighborhood and make it one of the best.”

“I’m not just replacing carpet; these are $100,000 jobs,” he said.

Maria Powell, who has worked with Hunt at Front Porch for four years, said he has a smaller, more personal approach.

“He’s creative when he takes on projects,” she said.

Hunt said he had worked on over 30 residential projects throughout Columbia as well as some commercial work, including what was then the Columbia Brewing Co. on Senate Street in the Vista and a crab shack at the Lake Murray Marina.

Listen to Hunt’s reaction to the Wine Down show and to Sills’ reaction to selling her first painting.

Hunt, who had been working with the Village Artists at Sandhills, said he used all that experience two years ago to build his studio, HHuntArt, at the northern edge of Elmwood Park where he also built two stages to host community events like the Big Easy Music Festival last year.

Reggie Sullivan, a local musician, helps Hunt plan events to support charities. It’s all in the spirit of “spreading the love around,” Sullivan said. Hunt said his passion for helping Columbia youth has driven his philanthropic efforts and that wants to provide guidance and help for at-risk youth in the city.

Hunt said he’s still working out plans for another music festival, LIME Fest, on April 20. The name is Caribbean slang for relaxing and spending time with friends, which he said he picked up in Barbados.

Hunt, who has a bachelor’s in art studio from USC, said his paintings are inspired by his love for traveling and photography. He primarily paints landscapes, using photographs he takes as the basis for his paintings.

Hunt toasts artists
Moments before making a toast congratulating his students on their first public art show, Howard Hunt tells them, “This show is beautiful.”

He shows his art in local galleries and at First Thursdays on Main, and he gave his Paint Your Bum Off Wednesday students the opportunity to do the same at Wine Down on March 6.

It was the first time many had displayed their work publicly, and, despite the cold and rain, more than 40 people crammed into Wine Down at 1520 Main St..

“It’s like watching kids in a candy store; it’s their first time out,” Hunt said. “I’m very happy for them.”

Sills sold her first painting that night, an oil of a dancing angel in a red dress.

Hunt said he wants to continue building on his students’ sense of achievement and mounting self-confidence. He wants to get their art in more shows and to push them slowly out of their comfort zones.

Sills, who sold that first painting for $50, said: “He’s a true Renaissance man.”

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