Thad Hanna walked back and forth in the deserted exhibition hall, clipboard and pencil in hand. Pausing again in front of a painting, he muttered, “Lots of talent here. This is difficult.”

Hanna traveled from his Fredericksburg gallery to judge the Central Texas Pastel Society’s 12th Annual Member Exhibition and Competition, held at Temple’s Cultural Activities Center. The society’s exhibit chairperson, Nancy Taylor from Georgetown, and treasurer Nancy Manoogin from Temple confer in whispers as Hanna continues his trek back and forth across the floor. Twenty-five artists entered 77 pieces — all “original pastels,” the ladies emphasize — which is why Hanna’s task is formidable.

Most of the framed pastels mounted in this exhibit are for sale in prices from $25 to $500 and some have been purchased.

The entries encompass landscape, wildlife, abstract, still life and portrait subject matter.

The stillness of the hall was broken by the arrival of Marilyn Ritchie, a colorful woman and a seminal figure for the last 20 years at the CAC. Her position at the center? “I’m visual arts director/curator,” she said. It’s soon apparent that she’s a major cheerleader for the place as well.

“We have these three exhibits opening and running at the same time,” Ritchie said. She’s referring to the pastel show, the Central Texas Photography Club’s biennial exhibit hung in an adjacent space, and selections from the CAC’s permanent collection, which lines an illuminated hallway. “Each framed photograph is for sale,” she said, “and many will sell before these three exhibits close on Oct. 25.”

“It’s good to have three or even four exhibits open simultaneously,” Ritchie explained. “We get more public involvement that way.” And her eclectic direction has brought disparate exhibits to the walls of the CAC, such as shows of “out-art,” a type of folk art created by artists with little or no formal training.

Ritchie looks at the pastels on the wall and reflects: “What’s exciting is the way the pastel people — beginners to old guard — their quality has improved. It’s the same with photography,” she said, gesturing to the photo exhibit. “I think digital has helped.”

Visitors may discern a more professional technique and a surer vision in the selections from the CAC’s permanent collection. After personally choosing the artwork to display in similar shows over the past two decades, Ritchie decided this time to delegate the actual choice of which paintings would be hung. “I’d never done that in 20 years,” she said, “but see how good it looks?”

Ritchie sums up her take on the CAC and its mission: “We want to do more — more of everything. Three seasons of music instead of one, not just art on the walls, but classes that involve more in the community. We’ll have another out-art exhibit next year, for example. All kinds of activity, all kinds of folks.”

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