Shortly after joining the Artists Collective | Spartanburg four years ago, webmaster Cynthia Manuel began hearing accounts of otherworldly encounters from some ACS members. Then, she began having experiences of her own that could not be explained.
Instead of scaring her off, these stories and experiences with “the unusual ghosts that inhabit the building” inspired her to write about them in a newly published book titled “The Wish Painters,” which will be released Oct. 3. A reading and signing party are scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in the new Underground Gallery at the Artists Collective galleries and studios at 578 W. Main St.; the event will coincide with ArtWalk Spartanburg. Limited prints of artwork Manuel created for the book also will be available for purchase.
“South Carolina is home to a remarkable number of ghosts – more than most places, it seems,” Manuel says. “In particular, Spartanburg is known for its most unusual ghosts. The Revolutionary War left countless dead, and the conflict with the Cherokee sent thousands from both sides to the afterlife. So, it’s somewhat fitting that there is no other place in the United States named Spartanburg. It seems only right that the place with the most ghosts would have a name all to itself.
“More specifically,” Manuel continues, “this story is about the unusual ghosts, referred to as the Wish Painters, inhabiting an artists’ collective perched atop a historic hill in Spartanburg. Like artists to a painting, the Collective's ghosts draw themselves onto an ethereal canvas of existence, allowing only fleeting glimpses. That vivid moment of illumination draws us powerfully to their enigma. Those who have been lucky enough to witness these apparitions never forget them.”
Manuel’s book begins with a story of the late Joel Poinsett, ambassador to Mexico who lived in the Upstate and is best remembered for bringing the beautiful Christmastime flower named for him, the poinsettia, to the U.S. The story goes that Poinsett had a mistress who lived in Spartanburg with their daughter. Returning from one of his visits to Mexico, he found the two had vanished. Stories of the haunting specter of the mistress and her daughter wandering the halls of the Artists Collective, the former West Main Street Baptist Church on a hilltop on the west Spartanburg location, have persisted. They’re always carrying a basket of beautiful red flowers – perhaps poinsettias.
Six stories in all, the other stories of unusual activity in the building include hearing chanting, having a presence in the print room “writing messages” and hearing and seeing other unexplainable activity. Manuel has woven factual history of Spartanburg County into each of the stories.
“The ghosts of the Collective seem to be a special breed,” says Manuel, who also has served as marketing chair for ACS for the past two years. “They do not merely haunt the 20,000-square- foot church-turned-art gallery with their forsaken mortal visage. Instead, they somehow render themselves as the desires of the spectator. As if painting a wish, these specters bestow the very vision of the viewer’s heart’s desire. Whether it is a solitary artisan or a mélange of metaphysical masters artfully decorating the halls and galleries of the Artists Collective | Spartanburg with our most sacred wishes, the exhibition is extraordinary.
“These entities don’t seem to be tethered to our realm because of unfinished business; instead, they appear rooted here to unearth our unfulfilled wishes,” she continues. “Does seeing this ghostly portrait of our lost dream grant us our wish? Some say yes – that their desire has been fulfilled. Others say it merely inspired them to strive harder until they achieved it. Yet others scoff and carry their unfulfilled desires to their graves, perhaps sentencing themselves to become wish painters in turn.”
Manuel adds: “Writing and illustrating ‘The Wish Painters’ was an exciting two-year journey of listening to and analyzing the stories, researching the history of the building and the Spartanburg area, and imagining how each of the ghosts came to be at the Artists Collective.”