No one wants to spend a lot of time waiting in a doctor’s office, but if you’re waiting at Piedmont Arthritis Clinic in Greenville, you’ll at least have plenty to look at. The sprawling fourth-floor space on St. Francis Drive showcases, at last count, 174 pieces of art, the vast majority by local artists.
Dr. Jeffrey Lawson, a rheumatologist at Piedmont Arthritis Clinic since 1979, didn’t plan on becoming an art collector, and he certainly doesn’t consider himself an art expert. He started buying it when his wife, Mary Lawson, was raising funds for the Greenville County Museum of Art, which she did for more than 25 years.
“Back then, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for local artists,” he says. “This was before Open Studios, before Artisphere. So I started buying local art at Art in the Park and through different galleries.”
Though he enjoys the colorful landscapes, beach scenes and 3-D pieces that blanket his office and wrap all four walls of several exam rooms, he says he’s more interested in the people who made the art than in the pictures themselves.
“It started as (my wife’s) interest, but then it became my support of the artists,” he says. “The thing that makes your art community grow is access to walls. The more walls you have access to, the more your art is in demand in the area, so they have access to these walls.”
Though he won’t commit to a favorite, a few artists make repeat appearances, including John Pendarvis, who has two in the waiting room, one of a jazz band in New Orleans and another called Red Shoes, depicting black and white children at play. Lawson says he appreciates the art, but mostly, he views Pendarvis as a friend.
Lynn Greer is another repeating artist in the collection since she often paints downtown Greenville scenes, a favorite of Lawson’s. “If I like it, I buy it,” he says, and he often gravitates to barns, South Carolina scenes and sports themes.
One eye-catching sculpture in the corner, affectionately dubbed Hans, was a particularly fitting addition to his office. It’s a human form made entirely out of wooden hands, “because that’s what we take care of here,” he says. A staff member had added a pink wig, but he says Hans’ headgear changes regularly.
The most expensive piece in his office collection—the couple has another collection at home—is a massive painting of a barn by Richard Wilson Jr. that he bought for $4,800. Most pieces land in the $250-$1,000 range.
“But I don’t have a favorite,” he says. “They all represent something.”
Lawson has spent countless hours working to improve the community in all of his areas of interest, from sports (Greenville High School’s Booster Club, Clemson University) to science (Roper Mountain Science Center) to charitable organizations (YWCA, United Way, Goodwill Industries), to give just a small sampling.
His arts involvement, including serving on the boards of the Metropolitan Arts Council and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, complements his art buying and is yet another way to give back to the city he calls home. “I’ve been on almost every board in Greenville County,” he says with the trademark staccato laugh that earned him the nickname Dr. Ha.
“I just reinvest in the community,” he says. “The more you reinvest, the more of an impact it has and the more the community will grow.”
Rapid-fire Q&A with Dr. Jeffrey Lawson
Are you still adding to your collection?
Not right now.
I’m starting to think about retiring.
What will you do with your art when you retire?
I don’t know, my wife hasn’t told me yet.
How do you decide what to buy?
I just look at it. If I like it, I buy it.
How do you get the best price at an art show?
Go back at 4:30 on Sunday (when the event is almost over) and you can get it for whatever you offer.
Do you view art collecting as a hobby?
No, I give away money, that’s my hobby.
Do you ever make art?
No, I can’t draw.
Do you have the most art of any doctor’s office in town?
I don’t think you’ll see any doctor’s office with this much art.
Do people give you art?
If a patient is an artist, they’ll usually give me something.