I’d only been sketching a few minutes when a friendly voice approached. “Whatcha doin’?” he said as he sat on the bench. After spelling his name, Theophilus said, “Most people call me “T.” I’d been here so many times as a child, and thought I’d met every person and explored every detail of the island. But there are always people to meet and learn about and there is always more to see and consider.
I’d been drawn to this social corner store for several days, sometimes snagging a seat on the shady bench across from Terrie’s Take-Away and other times, sitting the sun on the side deck of the liquor store. Though this spot was hot, I loved the view of the Terrie’s, cloaked in sea grapes, surrounded by chickens, cats and people. From here, I can also see Uncle Ralph’s house and tableau, a group of items on a glass table that for years Ralph has arranged – and rearranged – with found items: shoes, conch shells, beer bottles, crumpled paper bags. I’ve never seen an artist or art professor arrange a still life with as much flair or cohesion of disparate items as Ralph who explained, “That table I work on and this whole corner – the store, the license plates, the colors – is a result of my own creative expression. We are all creative and this is my way of showing it.”
With his words in mind, I considered the act of photographing, sketching and painting Ralph’s corner. In my art, I am copying another person’s art. Ralph composed this corner and I am simply presenting it from one view. So much art is like this, especially two dimensional work which must be why my friend Angela half jokingly calls two dimensional artists “flat-eye” indicating that all we do is copy while 3D artists CREATE. She’s got a point, I admit. But copy I continue because the magic of drawing and painting is in creating a little portal to show the viewer a place, color, idea, memory, or person. It can be a reminder or a window presenting a person or place we have known or a painting can introduce an idea or place not yet imagined by the viewer. I believe there is value to the prompts two dimensional art becomes. So with due credit, and permission from Ralph, I find myself drawing at his corner frequently on a recent trip to Harbour Island. And talking with people like T.
Sometimes, when sketching, it occurs to me that I don’t get much accomplished. People are friendly and curious and I end up in deep conversation more than I end up drawing. It also occurs to me that I can sketch at home but I can’t talk with Ersley, Donna, T, Ralph, Bernadine, and Bernadette at home. Being with them now is my only chance to hear their stories, their views, and their wisdom. In paying attention to people, I learn about a place that, though distant and not my place, has been in my heart since I first visited as an 8 year old. My hope is that the stories of the people here are conveyed in my paintings and one way to start this process is to listen closely…which brings me back to T.
T told me about his work as a fishing guide and about the people he meets from all over the world. He also told me, with intense passion, about his brother’s artwork. He went into great detail about the driftwood his brother and sister-in-law prepare for paintings and about the colorful scenes and people the talented couple, Ersley and Maxine Wilson, are able to create. The pride, admiration and support in his voice was contagious so I packed up and headed down to the shop, following T’s instructions.
Along the way, however, I was temporarily distracted by the church were Stephen and I married 22 years ago. It was being decorated for a wedding and I had to stop for a quick sketch. I’d barely begun when a man approached asking about my drawing. After several questions, he described his own artwork and his self taught methods. Before I could respond, a golf cart flew by with T hanging off the back yelling, “Laura, That’s my brother! That’s my brother!”
I am delighted by the multiple coincidences but shouldn’t be surprised. This is how things go here with people who are willing to help each other and talk to each other. The lives here are a part of a tightly woven web and if a visitor is lucky, she can find herself caught in the web and a part of the connected community…at least on the periphery for a magical moment. Again abandoning the sketch, I walked briskly to the bayside and found the Wilson’s store. But not before saying good-bye to Ersley who gave me a bonus tip: “My 13 year old, Madison, will be working in the shop. Be sure you ask her to sing you a song, her own song.”
Some 13 year olds might clam up if a stranger approaches and requests a song out of the blue, but as I stood in the middle of the store, Madison sang a song about summertime and I knew I was in the most special spot in the world at that very moment.
I’m not sure what I expected after each of the Wilson brother’s passionate descriptions of the paintings, but I was immediately enamored with the work hanging in the space. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there is a definite cohesion to the group due to the use of color and the intimate portrayal of island life: Maxine and Ersley are able to beautifully capture the water, the sky, the greenery, the people, the animals and the architecture in a way that a visitor, like myself, can not do. Calling the artwork simple is not quite the right word. As an artist who tends to overcomplicate compositions and scenes, I greatly admire the straightforward approach in the Wilson’s work. In one last stroke of luck on our final evening on the island, I happened to meet Maxine (thank you, for the introduction, Charles!). She explained that often the couple collaborates on the pieces, with Ersley doing the drawing and Maxine doing the painting. I wish I’d been able to talk with Maxine more and get to know that family better – within a few chance encounters, I learned of multiple talents. And it all started with meeting T down at Terrie’s Take-Away. Perhaps next time, I’ll learn even more about the Wilson’s.
Next up: endless sources of inspiration everywhere including, of course, the Princess Street Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura