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Spirit of the Delta

Spirit of the Delta: The Art of Carolyn Norris

Dorothy Sample Shawhan
With an Essay by Patti Carr Black
Featuring an Interview with the Artist by Tom Rankin
Photographs by Kim Rushing
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Spirit of the Delta
    Book Description:

    Raised in West Virginia, self-taught artist Carolyn Norris (b. 1948) moved as a young woman of twenty-one to Cleveland, Mississippi, a quintessential Delta railroad town on the famous blues Highway 61. To create one of her first paintings, she tore the wooden back off a dresser to use as a canvas. She painted with available house paint and completed the painting with face makeup. Thus began the realization of a passionate need to paint.

    Eventually, Norris came to serve as the visual griot of Cleveland. She has used a variety of media, painting on canvas, wood, paper, cardboard, glass, plates, tiles, sheets, floor covering, and mirrors. She also uses her garage door as a giant mural chronicling community events. In her extraordinary images, Norris shows daily black life in the modern Delta.

    Spirit of the Deltacontains 115 color images pulled from Norris's twenty-five years as a painter. Her existing artwork has been photographed by noted local photographer Kim Rushing and copies of the works that no longer exist have been found whenever possible. The book features a biographical essay on Carolyn Norris by Dorothy Sample Shawhan and an essay on her artwork by critic Patti Carr Black, who places Norris within self-taught traditions. In an interview with folklorist Tom Rankin, which took place in 1991, Norris explains the centrality of art in her life.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-993-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-1)
  3. Carolyn Norris A Life in Color
    (pp. 3-16)

    When she was twenty-five years old, Carolyn Norris began her life as a painter on a bet. Jackie Ray Taylor, a house painter, self-taught artist, and the father of her two youngest children, Jacqueline and Janet, bet her five dollars she couldn’t do a painting like he could. In fact, she did him one better, and once she started, she didn’t stop. She said she “picked up a magazine and found a picture that touched” her, she drew it, and she has been “paintin’ ever since.”

    But the painting that marked the moment when she first thought of herself as...

  4. Carolyn Norris “A Moment That I Felt Something”
    (pp. 17-26)
    Patti Carr Black

    Of all the objects made by mankind, the art object—created out of emotional energy—links the mind and heart of the viewer to the artist and to human activity. The life of Carolyn Norris as an artist has been one of complex and consistent involvement with community and individuals. Her art, infused with her experiences in daily life, has a dynamism that animates it from within.

    For almost a half century art historians have struggled to find terms and categories for the almost indescribable and unaccountable work created by untutored artists from the South. Jane Livingston at the Corcoran...

  5. Interview with Carolyn Norris
    (pp. 27-44)
    Tom Rankin and Carolyn Norris

    Tom Rankin recorded this interview with Carolyn Norris on October 19, 1991. Rankin was chair of the Delta State University Art Department at the time. The focuses of the interview were an exhibit of Norris’s work for Black History Month and her process as a painter. Dorothy Shawhan and Terry Simmons, friends of Norris and DSU faculty members, were also in the room.

    TomCan you remember the first time you drew anything?

    Carolyn Uhm-hm. It was a Saturday afternoon, I was nursing one of the chilluns on this breast, and picked up the paintbrush and got turned on to...

  6. Plates
    (pp. 45-143)