Remembering a Rock Hill Artist

Two Paintings by Michael Balbi

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Rock Hill Reader the Magazine

When I first met Michael Balbi on a hot summer day in 1990, he was standing at his easel, working in oil, and painting the old Whitesides Home on Park Avenue in Rock Hill, South Carolina, shortly before the historic home was torn down.

I paused to introduce myself and talk to him. Meeting him was very special. He had worked at the DuPont Gallery for over thirty-five years and at PTL for around ten. He was incredibly talented, and we talked at length about his background and plans for various paintings. He was such a visionary. He was excited. He was passionate. He was kind. Very imaginative myself, I felt as if I were talking to an artist in France. How many people stand and paint at an easel in Rock Hill, South Carolina? Of course, we were near Winthrop, but he wasn’t a student. He wanted to capture the essence of that home, and, indeed, he did.

A few months passed, and I contacted Mike. Several of us were doing a reading of Paul Green’s The Hot Iron, and I needed something to suggest the scene. Mike and I drove to an old home in Fairfield County (now torn down, of course). Mike did some preliminary sketches, and, voila, he offered the painting which featured a slave’s cabin, with a single door, a narrow porch, a flickering candle within, and rickety steps, clothes on the line, beneath a barren oak tree. This painting provided the perfect backdrop for the play.

Another time, when I was performing an original dramatic monologue set in Tryon, North Carolina, after the Civil War, when I portrayed a woman reminiscing about the poet, Sidney Lanier, and about her own trials as a Confederate soldier’s wife, I needed a backdrop. Mike Balbi provided this one: he put together two pieces of poster board to portray the old Tryon Inn before it was burned.
An incredibly brilliant man and artist, his works should have been displayed in “Old Rock Hill.” He was still painting at 82. He had the passion of Renaissance painters.

Submitted by Martha Benn Macdonald

%d bloggers like this: