JOHN ALBRECHT HAS STORIES to tell. Growing up on the Isle of Palms during an era when modest homes were the typical fare on this Lowcoun-try barrier island, young Albrecht often ran along the stretch of the broad scenic beach taking in its distinctive scenes. Ospreys on wing against billowing white clouds, bottlenose dolphins breaking the surface of the water and ships passing along the distant horizon were just a few of the everyday sights for this island boy.
Then college at The Citadel happened. Life happened. The art lessons Albrecht had taken from his neighbor Ms. Gore seemed a distant memory for the hard-driving civil engineer. By the time he started his own environmental consulting firm in 1993, he was all about business. “For me, it was all go-go-go, all about the bottom line,” says Albrecht, a fourth generation Charleston resident. “How do I feed the backlog and keep people paid? How do I keep the lights on and food on the table? I came from a family that built a highly successful specialty millwork business, so starting my own business seemed like a natural thing to do. It was part of my DNA.”
In 2001 Albrecht’s wife of nearly three decades put a crack in her husband’s tough business facade. It was a just tiny crack … at least at first. “After discovering a few of my dusty, old paintings from my youth in a closet, she decided to give me art lessons for Christmas,” explains Albrecht. “I took the lessons from artist Martin Aherns at The Studio, a fine art school he owned with his wife, artist Joyce Hall. I’ll never forget it … I was in an adult class that met on Monday nights. After a demonstration by the artist, we’d work on our own paintings. I enjoyed it so much that when the art lessons my wife bought me ran out, I signed up for more.”
Albrecht didn’t give up his “day job” to become a full-time painter, but redis-covering art certainly reawakened the island boy in him. Before long, he was again seeing Charleston-area landscapes through the eyes of his youth, in all their vibrant colors and distinctive charac-teristic. He went on to study under local artists Joyce Hall, Laurie Meyer and others, refining his skills through several years of focused training until his “island boy” style of art finally emerged.
Today, Albrecht paints almost exclusively with oils. Inspired by his youth living on the Isle of Palms, he has a penchant for colorful landscapes with a lot of light and shadows. He loves plein air painting because it suits his fast and loose style. “When you’re painting outside, the sun is constantly moving, so the landscape is constantly changing,” he says. “You have to be willing to just go.”
But Albrecht always tunes into the demands of his work in progress. “Some paintings are tighter than others. When a painting requires thick, textured layers of paint, or more painstaking strokes, I follow my muse until I achieve my vision for the piece,” he says.
“Becoming an artist has changed me in a huge way,” concludes Albrecht. “It’s knocked off my rough edges and helped me tune into the beauty that’s all around me. I’m grateful for that.”
While Albrecht hasn’t given up his work life altogether, it’s apparent he’s moving in that direction. He’s currently building a larger home-based art studio and looks forward to a future when he can work full time as an artist, telling the stories of his life in the Lowcountry through his painting. That’s the time when the island boy within can forever run free.*
Patra Taylor is a full-time freelance writer who lives in Mount Pleasant.