RCAA artists illustrate themes from 2022 NEA Big Read selection “Beloved” for March exhibit at Vigo library

Sethe’s Beloved by Dian Der Ohanian Phillips

An art exhibit inspired by “Beloved,” a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Toni Morrison, opens March 1 in the Vigo County Public Library at Seventh and Poplar streets in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Several themes from the 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection will be illustrated by works in River City Art Association’s Artist of the Month gallery space in the lobby.

“Beloved” centers around Sethe, a runaway slave who kills her infant daughter to save her from a life of slavery, and the malevolent spirit of baby Beloved, who returns 18 years later to haunt her mother.

The power of love, guilt and agonizing grief, and desperation to overcome adversity are recurring scenes in the novel that Elise Spaid-Roberts interprets through the words in three of her blackout poetry paintings.

“Despair, No Stars, No Rudder,” an etched glass piece by Todd Stokes, and “Oppression,” an abstraction on canvas by Sheila K. Ter Meer, are perceptions of the physical, emotional and psychological torment Sethe’s family and friends endured to escape the brutality and indignity of slavery.

Dian Der Ohanian Phillips pulled colorful imagery from Morrison’s pages to create a watercolor on paper titled “Sethe’s Beloved,” as well as a charcoal and pastel drawing of Sethe wrapped in a quilt with two orange patches. “Brief Solace” represents warmth, comfort and protection from the cold reality of an unjust institution, especially against African-American women.

Another quilt representation created by fused glass artisan Edith Acton is believed to be one of the quilt codes for escaped slaves to follow on the Underground Railroad. The secret message of the Bear Paw block pattern assured them that they would find food and water.

Morrison’s “evocative and moving” writing also inspired Mary Mayhew’s “Future Promise,” an uplifting oil painting of the free character Denver, who shares a specific point in her life in a story she tells her sister, Beloved.

Artwork by an RCAA member is featured each month in the library. Membership details are on Facebook and at RiverCityArt.org.

About RiverCityArt

A non-profit organization based in Terre Haute, Indiana, that promotes, supports and enhances an appreciation of the visual arts in the Wabash Valley through art exhibits, demonstrations, seminars, workshops, and any and all other appropriate means. Membership open to artists age 18 and older.
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