Animal magnetism

When Chris Southern was 8, he had a painful experience that altered the course of his life.

Deciding his white bed was too plain, the budding artist devilishly tore his crayons from their box and used them to transform the boring frame into a world of color. He worked and worked until his mother found him, immersed in a vivid disaster.

“She tore my hind end up,” recalls Southern, a Burlington native and resident. “It was the end of color for me, and the beginning of pencil.”

And he’s been using that pencil ever since — to create incredibly detailed sketches.

Known for his tasteful, affectionate scenes depicting wild animals and hunting dogs, the artist notes that he “never saw [drawing] as a desire to do it. [My subjects] just wanted … to come out.”

Southern, the owner of “hairy mixed dog” Brownie and a beagle, Tiger Boy, says he drew his first “real” piece, a portrait of deer eating acorns, in 1997.

“I really wanted to see how good I could be, how far I could push it,” he admits. “After I completed my first piece, I carried around the original, and everyone liked it and wanted one.”

So he drew another. Same result.

“Still folks wanted it,” the artist remembers. “I couldn’t believe it.”

His goals have since expanded; today, Southern talks freely about his hope of crafting a legacy.

“One day I want to be compared to the other great graphite artists. It’s a high priority that I have, and it sees me through.”

In fact, Southern — who studied at the state university in Greensboro and with acclaimed wildlife painter Terry Isaac — has already transferred his richly rendered charcoal portraits into a line of gifts (notepads, mugs, greeting cards and Christmas-tree ornaments).

About his fifth appearance at this week’s North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville, Southern reveals that, financially speaking, “It is my No. 1 outdoor show.

“I think it has a lot to do with the [long] weekend,” he speculates. “There’s a lot of tourists … a great amount of people.” (His booth there is a wooden, fort-like structure adorned with an antique deer head. “People can’t miss it,” the artist admits.)

In fact, Southern’s work has proven so popular at the Apple Festival that the artist now prepares a debut piece just for that weekend.

Henderson County is among the top-10 apple-producing counties in the country, and the four-day event celebrates the hope and hard work that go into each year’s harvest.

Southern knows a little about hard work himself: This year’s signature piece, “Black Lab,” took him 250 hours to complete.

[Amy Wadsworth is a freelance writer based in Stanley, N.C.]

The 2004 North Carolina Apple Festival happens in downtown Hendersonville Friday, Sept. 3, through Monday, Sept. 6, with food and craft vendors, a three-day music lineup, and dozens of auxiliary events, including orchard tours. Visit for an updated schedule of events.

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