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An Examination of Memory Painting: Exhibition Recap

Kentuck’s 2021 exhibition season, "The Mystic Cords of Memory," would not be complete without giving space to memory paintings, an important subgenre 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 features the work of Maurice Cook, Theresa Gloster, Jessie Lavon, Ruth Robinson, Dorothy Shelby, and Jim Weaver.


Maurice Cook


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Theresa Gloster


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.”


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Jessie Lavon


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Ruth Robinson

While growing up in Grand Bay, Alabama, Ruth Robinson experienced a childhood of work on the farm where her grandfather and his brothers were sharecroppers. The families, including young Ruth, grew corn, picked cotton, raised chickens, and plowed fields with a mule. At the age of eight, Ruth began painting and continued through her teenage years until all her paintings were lost in a tragic house fire. The loss of her work devastated Ruth, and she did not paint again until the year 2000, when she spent a lot of her time caring for her elderly parents.


Ruth’s paintings are about the people—often family—from her past and present. By painting memories of her loved ones, Ruth brings those people back to life. She paints onto a variety of surfaces including canvases, small objects, chairs, tables, and almost anything she can find that is made of wood or metal.

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Dorothy Shelby


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Jim Weaver


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An Examination of Memory Painting will be on view in Kentuck's Museum Gallery until August 1, 2021. We encourage you to visit this show in person! We are currently open Monday-Friday, 9:30-5:30 and Saturday-Sunday, 12-4. Facial coverings encouraged. If you're interested in purchasing a piece from this show, please contact mbell@kentuck.org or call (205)-758-1257 for more photos and details. Click on each image for a closer look.

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