An Examination of Memory Painting
Museum Gallery: June 2, 2021-August 1, 2021
Kentuck’s 2021 exhibition season, "The Mystic Cords of Memory," would not be complete without giving space to memory paintings, a category of American folk art. Featuring several living memory painters from the American South, Kentuck’s June/July exhibition represents the stories of these artists, told through each artist’s unique lens. Images of snake handling, church services, school days, and formative moments provide a glimpse into the past for viewers. This exhibition will feature the work of Maurice Cook, Theresa Gloster, Jessie Lavon, Ruth Robinson, Dorothy Shelby, and Jim Weaver.
Maurice Cook was born on January 8, 1948 in Carbon Hill, Alabama. He uses canvas, brushes, and acrylics to record some of his fondest memories of country life. “My feelings are very strong when trying to convey on canvas my impressions of what life was like growing up in the South.”
His hometown provided the backdrop and memories from family and friends provided the details. Maurice has no formal art training. He paints of simpler times, growing up in the South, being poor in material possessions, but happy. “There was love warmth, and compassion for one another. I want these impressions to come across in my paintings. I try to record my history as I remember it, using bright vibrant colors to give a folksy flavor.”
“I want all people to relate to my paintings, that is the reason for no faces. I try to tell a story using body language. My scenes are often of the Old South, eating watermelon in a field, playing barefoot in the yard, and living in a small house. It is not a ‘white or back thing’ although my characters are mostly black, it is a rural thing.”
“I try to present life as it once was and when one of my patrons says, ‘your art is so colorful and happy,’ they make me smile. I know I have been successful in my efforts.”
Maurice is a Vietnam veteran. He has worked as a juvenile detention officer, barber, welder, and fireman. Maurice has been painting professional since 1994.
He and his wife, Ester, have one daughter and reside in Birmingham, Alabama.
Theresa Gloster is a self-taught memory artist whose paintings chronicle her childhood years in the small African American community of Bushtown, North Carolina. Born in a West Virginia mining camp, Ms. Gloster grew up in the high foothills of North Carolina, where she lived with her grandparents in a household that included 12 kids. More than five decades later, she lives in the same community, where her home is regularly filled with family members and neighborhood children, and with painted memories that grace both hanging canvases and the house’s walls. She says everything is subject to being painted. “Wood, clothes, furniture, dishes, anything that is old, I use to paint on.” The paintings gathered here chronicle a time of lived community, a time when families worked together to overcome the hardships of segregation and marginalization, a time that Ms. Gloster described as one of collective transcending. The images are neither overly romantic nor overtly critical; instead they’re simply – in Ms. Gloster’s words – “true.”
Jessie Lavon's Folk Art paintings reflect the disappearing scenes of the South and of her childhood, where she was raised on her grandmother's farm in Forkland, a town in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Jessie and her family continue to live the rural way of life, and she depicts this through her colorfully painted tales. Jessie's first canvases were made when her grandmother boiled rabbit bones in water and dipped pieces of cloth in the mixture. Her paints were made from mud, berries, coffee grounds, flowers, roots, and herbs. The clothing patterns that Jessie uses in her art come from the original feed sack patterns that her grandmother used to make clothing.
In the late 1980s, Jessie had brain surgery and spent months in a coma. When she awoke from her life changing “nap”, she began painting as therapy, recalling the stories of her childhood. Each one of her paintings tells a story, such as the processes of canning, making moonshine, sharecropping, or Paw trading a cow for an outhouse. In her paintings, you will often see her snake tree. When the summers were dry, kin and neighbors would kill a snake, hang it in the hollow of a grand old tree, build a slow-burning fire in the hollow, and gather around to chant in the hopes that would bring rain for the crops. The conjure arts were taught to Jessie by her grandmother.
Jessie withdrew from the art circuit after her mother died in her arms. Now Jessie honors her mother in her paintings, depicting her mother in a green dress with blue polka dots. Jessie now lives in Greensboro, Alabama, where she continues to paint.
Her paintings have been displayed in galleries in the U.S., Canada, and England, including the Fayette Art Museum, Meridian Mississippi Museum, and the Library of Congress Reading Room.
Ruth Robinson grew up in Grand Bay, Alabama on a farm growing corn, picking cotton, and raising chickens and farming with a mule. She started painting at the age of 8. During her teenage years, all of her paintings were lost in a tragic housefire. Ruth didn’t begin painting again until the year 2000, while taking care of her elderly parents. Ruth’s paintings bring people from her past back to life. She paints on canvas and also small objects and furniture like chairs, tables, and almost anything she can find that’s made of wood or metal.
Jim Weaver was born in 1943 in the small town of Sheffield, Alabama. Weaver started painting in 2004, at the age of 60. Jim started doing shows and selling his work in 2005. Known for his paintings of his memories of growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s, Jim Weaver has become well-known in the folk art circuit, and his work has been described as simple, naïve, and childlike.
“I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to my work. I get smiles, tears, outright laughter. I want my work to make people feel good, because I feel good when I create it.”-Jim Weaver
Jim is in collections around the United States and was recently featured in articles on Al.com and the Folk Art Society of America's "Folk Art Messenger."
Hi my name is Dorothy Shelby, I picked up a brush and acrylic paint in
August of 2008. Almost 13 years ago, at the sweet age of 64 years old. As a
child in the 50's I saw an ad in an old magazine that said "Draw Me." I
sketched the picture and got a stamp and sent it in to the contest. Some
time later I received a letter in the mail saying I won 1st prize with a
ribbon. I didn't have money to go to art school, so I pushed that dream to
the back burner and forgot about it.
Going about my daily tasks in 2008, an idea struck me. I went to Hobby Lobby
and told them "I'm an artist" so I need paint, brushes, and canvas. My first
painting was of my mother. I painted her in a large red and yellow hat.
I paint memories from my childhood of growing up in Industry, Texas. I paint
myself in most of my paintings; as the little girl in the red dress. I have
been judged into many large shows, place in galleries across the country and
even showcased in the African America Museum in 2018. My paintings are
primitive folk art. I've sold painting all over the world, even as far as
I'm a wife, mother, grand and great grandmother, author, singer/songwriter,
and so much more. I'm the Senior Pastor of City of Refuge Church in Round