Abie Harris will turn 80 in early January, and his friends and colleagues at the Roundabout Art Collective in Raleigh have come up with a special way to celebrate the occasion and Harris’ long ties to NC State.
Harris is an NC State alumnus, having graduated with a degree in design in 1957. Following graduation, Harris won the prestigious Paris Prize in Architecture and was able to travel and study throughout Europe. He eventually returned to NC State as a professor in the College of Design and the university architect, a job that gave him a leading role in the development of Centennial Campus and the re-development of Main Campus.
But Harris is also an artist, focusing on drawing in pastels and acrylics since he retired from NC State in 1998. He is a charter artist at the Roundabout Art Collective, which will celebrate his 80th birthday with a retrospective of his life in art. The show, which opens on Jan. 3 as part of Raleigh’s First Friday festivities, will feature nearly 60 years of Harris’ drawings and paintings. Some of the drawings will be sketches of buildings on NC State’s campus that Harris did while he worked at the university. On Saturday, Jan. 4, Harris will open the studio and gallery in his home in Raleigh to showcase more of his works.
“There are drawings that were part of my work as university architect,” Harris says. “There are a lot of travel sketches and recent paintings that I’ve done. It will have a lot of variety.”
Even in retirement, Harris has maintained his ties to NC State, walking across campus every day to work out in Carmichael Gym. It’s a campus that he helped shape and design.
When Harris was hired as the university architect, Chancellor John T. Caldwell was clear about his mission. “Caldwell charged me with making the campus a better looking place,” Harris recalls. “Looking back at it, I feel very satisfied that the campus is much nicer today than it was then.”
The Court of North Carolina, for instance, had a street running through it when Harris started working at NC State. “We have taken parking lots and made courtyards out of them,” he says. “The whole emphasis was on the spaces in between. That is something that is starting to mature and blossom.”
The creative energy that Harris brought to his work on campus is now directed into his art. He says that joining the Roundabout Art Collective — and surrounding himself with high-energy, creative people — has been a boon to his own productivity.
“I very much enjoy the process,” Harris says of his drawings and paintings. “I enjoy the finished product because it’s very seldom what I imagine it’s going to be. I’ve always enjoyed putting ink or color on paper and seeing how those interact and take on a life of its own.”
Harris recently took on the unusual challenge of drawing music. Yes, drawing music. Harris was challenged by a friend who performs in the N.C. Symphony to draw the Goldberg Variations, compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, during a recent performance by the symphony. So Harris drew the music — he ended up creating about 50 drawings (right) and paintings — while listening to the symphony perform. “That was fairly unusual,” he says.
Harris is excited about the upcoming retrospective.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself going through this process,” he says. “I like to draw and hope to continue to draw. I hope that people just appreciate that process.”