Bishopville's Ed Challenger has drawn on a wealth of life experience to become one of the region's most talented and versatile artists
Ed Challenger receives inspiration for his art everywhere he goes. Whether it’s from an old scrap-metal junkyard, the light falling on his wife’s face as she reads, the rounded stones on a pathway or the texture of a sweater in an Andrew Wyeth “Helga” painting, Challenger says he “gets dizzy” thinking about all of the art he wants to make.
His inspirations are as diverse as the works themselves. There are painstakingly executed still-life paintings in egg tempera, Impressionistic oil paintings with dimension and texture, bronze sculptures with marblelike patinas, abstract ink blots on rice paper, fanciful fiberglass collages, and spirited plein-air pastel paintings with perspectives from all over the world.
Ann Coates, owner of Bishop’s Stock Art and Wine Gallery in Snow Hill, one of the few places where Challenger’s work is for sale, comments, “Ed Challenger is one of the region’s most versatile artists. Few artists are able to achieve such success in different genres. He’s just incredible.”
Indeed, Challenger is an award-winning artist, previously honored with the Rottler Award for Excellence from the York Art Association, and the Award of Excellence at the National Juried Exhibition at the Art Institute and Gallery at Salisbury University.
Challenger’s studio and home in Bishopville, which he shares with wife Emmy, is like an art museum, with his own work and that of artist friends covering every wall in an eclectic mix. The couple moved from Pennsylvania to the Eastern Shore in 2001 to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
On July 4th, Ed will celebrate his 80th birthday surrounded by family and friends—not that his impending status as an octogenarian means anything to him. He’s currently in the middle of another tedious egg tempera painting, of Elk Mountain in Pennsylvania; he will travel to Tuscany this fall (sure to produce more magnificent plein air work) and talks of taking up horseback riding with his granddaughter.
Challenger was born in New Castle, Del., and attended the Museum School of Art in Philadelphia (now the University of the Arts). His career has been as varied as his art, working for ad agencies and art institutions while continuing to be self-employed as an artist and sculptor. During his four years in the U.S. Navy—where he was a Golden Gloves boxer—he saw the “seamier sides of life” in New York City and Philadelphia, taking in the full visual wealth their of abstractions: wall graffiti, industrial hardscapes, rusting patinas and layers of paper posters. Challenger says, “You have to will yourself to do abstract art. You just make yourself sit down and start. Something spontaneous happens, and you start building from there.” But, he adds, abstract work is “easier to fake” than realism, where he often uses a magnifying glass to allow him to paint in fine details.
An intriguing part about being an Ed Challenger art aficionado is waiting to see what he will do next. One day, he’ll finish that egg tempera painting, and he has some plein air events planned. Then, he says, it’s time to “turn the wheel” on the printing press in his studio and make some monotype prints. The anticipation is delightful.
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