Feature Articles

January 2014

Caldwell Arts Council in Lenoir, NC, Features Works by Theresa Gloster at Caldwell Memorial Hospital

The Caldwell Arts Council in Lenoir, NC, will present an exhibit of works by Theresa Gloster, on view in the Art-in-Healing Gallery at Caldwell Memorial Hospital, from Jan. 1 through Mar. 28, 2014.

Gloster is a memory artist, a self-taught painter whose paintings exuberantly chronicle her childhood years in the small African American community of Bushtown, in North Carolina’s Caldwell County. Born in a West Virginia mining camp, Gloster grew up in the high foothills of North Carolina, where she lived with her grandparents in a household that included twelve children. More than five decades later, Gloster still lives in the same community, where her home now serves as an informal community center - a site regularly filled with family members and neighborhood children, and with painted memories that grace both hanging canvases and the house’s walls.

For most of her adult life, Gloster has worked as a beautician in a local beauty salon, a pursuit that undoubtedly honed her eye for colors, shading, and movement. She never painted, though, until her late forties, when she asked the Lord for a blessing that would allow her to know what “excellence” in His service might mean. Freshly freed from an unhappy marriage, she petitioned God for direction, and was led to know - to her surprise - that she was “supposed to” paint. Puzzled but obedient, she pondered what she might paint, and again found herself discerning the answer - the subject was to be her life. Knowing better than to question God’s judgement, Gloster set off to the hardware store, from whence she brought back a bagful of paints. Her journey as an artist had begun.

Since that moment, Gloster has never questioned her path, finding delight in every painting that she creates. As she paints, she finds herself caught up in reveries of memory, with sharply remembered moments from her past vying for expression. “There’s so much in my mind, that - it’s like, you’re trying just to get it out,” she says. When she chooses which moment to portray, she finds herself stepping into that moment, inhabiting it with an intensity that never fails to surprise her. “It’s like, you can paint the whole picture in a few minutes,” Gloster muses. “But then you say, ‘Now, I’m going to enjoy this picture. I’m going to go back in it.’ And then I’m going to take my time, and just work on it. . . Because in your mind - you feel like your mind is going in there. And the only way that you can connect, is with the paintbrush, and your mind. So you feel like you’re going into that painting.”

As she lingers, Gloster paints more, adding details, inscribing words, filling in the spaces with the tumbling traces of her unfolding memory. She talks about hearing the sounds and the talk, smelling the aromas, feeling the heat of the sun or the cool of the night. As she moves more fully into the experience, the painting shifts under her hand, new parts emerging, other ones vanishing under the brush’s amending advances. Finally, she steps away, hesitant to leave, but content that the piece - at least for now - tells the moment’s story.

The paintings gathered here convey some of these stories, chronicling a time of lived community, a time when families worked together to overcome the hardships of segregation and marginalization, a time that Gloster describes as one of collective transcending. The images are neither overly romantic nor overtly critical; instead, they’re simply - in Gloster’s words - “true,” tying together the lived threads of history, inspiration, and artistry. Each stands as a painted testimony to life in the South, a life lived both then and - through these images - lived again now.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Arts Council at 828/754-2486 or visit (www.caldwellarts.com).

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