Haints in the Closet

June 2, 2011

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "The Very Nice Lady," 26” x 30,” Pastel, 1983.

An enigmatic presence in my life, my mother, Jessie Mae Terry, made her transition on April 9, 2011 at age 96. Longing for the mom prototype—June Cleaver in the TV program Leave it to Beaver—I released her. Over the years I had many questions, which Mom long ago avoided answering. Often, she responded to my inquiries by covering her ears, humming loudly to drown me out, or retreating behind closed doors. Then there was that closet. Though she allowed me to reorganize other storage areas in her home, the bedroom closet was off limits. “Wait until I am dead,” she adamantly said.  At the time I attached little significance to her attitude. Finally, I know “what” Mom needed to stay in the closet during her lifetime.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "Jessie Mae Terry," reproduced on a plate, from the installation, "I Mind, Eye mind, I Mind," John Michael Kohler Art Center, 1994. Photo by Vernessa Richardson.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "Jessie Mae Terry," reproduced on a plate, from the installation, "I Mind, Eye mind, I Mind," John Michael Kohler Art Center, 1994. Photo by Vernessa Weatherall.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, her family moved to Charleston, Missouri. There, in her early 20s, she graduated from Lincoln High School, after it was finally built. Hardworking and resolute, she made her way to Milwaukee, married, and started a family. My unanswered questions started when I was about seven. Walking home from school, two “friends,” upset that I was chosen to erase the board, began stepping on my heels and taunting “teacher’s pet.” Although timid, I believed I would be “whipped” if I went running home defeated. Remembering Mom’s advice to “scratch out an attacker’s eyes” to limit their vision, I turned around and began scratching my offender’s eyes out. Surprised, the bully retreated. Later when the terribly injured child and her mother visited our home, my mother denied providing that instruction. My “June Cleaver” dreams vanished, leaving instead “our relationship”–one that I constantly sought to improve.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "Eric Knight & Rochester Terry," reproduced on a plate, from the installation, "I Mind, Eye mind, I Mind," John Michael Kohler Art Center, 1994. Photo by Vernessa Weatherall.

Then there was the question of “will the real father please stand up?” Believing that Rochester and Jessie Terry could not possibly be my parents, I continually searched for my true identity whenever left home alone. One day, as a teenager named Evelyn Patricia Terry, I discovered my original birth certificate with an “Evelyn McMath” and my mother’s maiden name, “Jessie McMath.” When I confronted her, Mom gave me a photograph of Eric Knight, aka Evelyn Prescott, explaining him as my father from the Island of Barbados. Subsequently, Rochester Terry adopted me before they later divorced. I wondered about Knight, but never pursued it.

Hugs, emotional support, celebrations, and building self-esteem were absent as I was growing up. I wondered why in conversations with her. She responded, “Babies need hugs and kisses.” Instead of affection, my mother provided necessities.

Mom’s work history reflected steady growth–Star Gloves, American Motors, and finally retiring from Milwaukee County. She traveled in America and abroad to Hawaii, Haiti, and Jerusalem. Remarkably, at 80 years old and tiring of repeated hospital trips, she became a vegetarian after asking me how I stayed well. Juicing carrots and celery daily, for her remaining years, she was only sick once following a flu shot.

Finally clearing out that off-limits closet, I was privileged to discover another piece to my life’s puzzle: Mom’s divorce certificate from someone named Casey, over a year after my birth. I had heard her reference that marriage, but not in relationship to me. Before her transition, she recently claimed that the closet had “haints” in it. It appears, for her, it did.

Often, Mom bought artwork from my art exhibitions. That ‘closet’ discovery helps me to comprehend her purchase of my mixed media creation, If You Are Enslaved to A Secret Lie, The Truth Will Set You Free. Thankful that she provided channels of good in my life, I gradually began, after her transition, accepting whatever her situation was and our subsequent relationship. Financially, she was proud that she had my back, by supporting me when my sales waned. What I wanted from her, I learned to create. Discovering articles stressing communication as the key to affecting changed behavior; I eliminated spankings as discipline with my own children. After reading billboards questioning, “Did you hug your child today?” I began comforting by hugging and playing with them more.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "If You Are Enslaved to a Secret Lie,” (front), 4 ½” x 4 ¼”, Paint, wood burning. Jessie Mae Terry’s art collection. Photo by Vernessa Weatherall.

Evelyn Patricia Terry, "The Truth will set you Free," (back). 4 ½” x 4 ¼”, Paint, wood burning. Jessie Mae Terry’s art collection. Photo by Vernessa Weatherall.

Now, my channels for nurturing expand, flowing to my grandchildren and my friends. I surround myself with nurturing people–many who hug automatically, almost the moment they see me. So. I hug more, have one more answer and keep those wretched “haints” at bay.

Contact: Evelyn Patricia Terry
I will be exhibiting at Lincoln Center of the Arts, 820 East Knapp, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with studio partners Ras `Ammar Nsoroma and Laura Easey-Jones, Friday, June 10, 12 noon–9 pm. The exhibition is organized by Laura Easey-Jones. Visit evelynpatriciaterry.com/news for additional information.


How This All Started

October 1, 2010

By Evelyn Patricia Terry

"Beyond the White Picket Fence: The Computer Beckons," installation by Evelyn Patricia Terry, UW-Milwaukee Union Art Gallery, 2006. Photo: Vernessa Richardson.

My practical-minded mom suggested majoring in cooking so that I might always be employable at a hospital or other institutions. Having no career notions, I attempted to follow her advice. But instead, my art career began after one of my University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Home Economics professors, Ms. Jean Stange, suggested that I might be an artist. She was aware (no doubt) of my poor performance in other department classes. In a cooking class, my soufflés fell and my white sauce had lumps. In interior design, I didn’t like matching or even looking at sofas, rugs, paint swatches, and curtains. However, I loved Ms. Stange’s Related Art class and I excelled.

Growing up, drawing was second nature to me. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to learn degrees could be earned based on one’s ability to draw. Mom once said her grade school teacher relegated children caught drawing to the corner  to wear a dunce hat. Consequently, her conditioning discouraged promotion of drawing.

"Play the Race Card: The Patriotic Bride Wore Black, Red and Green," by Evelyn Terry. Mixed media found objects, 2009. Photo: Fred Fischer, Tom Fritz Studios, Inc.

I knew I was an artist when I walked into a Mitchell Hall printmaking room and saw an art student pull a print on an etching press. For the first time, my continuous feelings of misery from being on earth dissipated; I felt overall joy and a strange new sense of my future opening up to embrace me and invite me forward. Though the road to becoming and being an artist has often been bumpy, I was determined to keep the feeling of peace and contentment that the environment of creating art provided. I strive daily for that feeling when I am not in the actual act of producing art. After switching to art classes, I began almost immediately to make a leap to becoming a professional artist by selling my artwork in festivals. Additionally, opportunities came along through galleries, art consultants and museum associations.

As a professional full-time visual artist who has worked conceptually, figuratively, and with abstraction exploring such subjects as race, religion, relationships, recycled art, and raw food health, I have created artwork in the areas of printmaking, recycled found objects, pastels, painting, public art and installations. The “Play the Race Card” series is my current body of work, which conceptually addresses continuing US race issues from my self-actualized perspective. I have received two fellowships, several grants, and a selection of exhibition awards. Through the assistance of art consultants, my work has been collected widely. I have artwork in more than 400 collections throughout the United States (also Japan and Germany) and Milwaukee-area museums. Presently, I have a book manuscript, Permission to Paint, Please! 150 years of African American Artists Connected to Wisconsin, contracted to the UW Press in Madison, Wisconsin. It is now in the editing process.

In 2009, I started the Terry McCormick Gallery in the lower level of my duplex after a series of burglaries, arson and the death of my long-time companion, self-taught artist, George Ray McCormick, Sr. He left a plethora of his creations including sketches, woodcarvings, and sculptures. My gallery exhibits the work of both contemporary fine and folk artists. It carries my last name, Terry, and that of Mr. McCormick’s.

"Last Supper Club Dinner," George Ray McCormick, Sr. Wood-burned carved wood, acrylic, and plywood, 4' x 8,' 2008. Photo: Larry Sanders.

Click below to read about and hear Adam Carr’s (88.9 Radio Milwaukee) visit to my gallery:


You can learn more about me and see some of my work at www.evelynpatriciaterry.com.

You may also visit my website for gallery information or call 414.264.6766 to make a gallery appointment. I am pleased to share my ideas as a blogger and will generally concentrate on issues important to artists and artmaking.

Dilemma: Selling or Not Your Art

September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

We do not question if workers in factory need to be reimbursed for their work.   For some workers their work represents just manual labor, but for others, results of their work represent pure art.  They take pride in what they do and joyfully use their creative talents.  They might  manufacture a car that for some collectors in future would represent a piece of art.  A hairdresser can consider creating a new hairstyle a work of art born from her creative genius. A baker can consider his/her cake an eatable piece of art.

I bet that Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect who designed the graceful Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum (www.mam.org) did not have a problem receiving monetary reward for his services.

People usually do not feel humiliated when they are reimbursed for their for profit or  non-for profit work.  In any case, they usually get reimbursed for their work, talent, time, service, etc.   They do not feel that they undermined their hairstyling, baking, manufacturing, designing, consulting, social service, etc. talents because they put price on their labor/service.

So why some artists like Spyros (please, forgive me for using you as an example) who confesses in his last post “usually feels somewhat embarrased guilty about selling his  work” ?

I had many arguments with a lot of visual artists about the same dilemma: selling or not selling artwork.   I think that answer is simple.

First of all, it is a very personal decision.  Nobody has to sell his/her artwork. One can make art for his/her own satisfaction and hide it from others. The others can show their artworks at “not for sales” exhibits or donate their art, or just ask potential customers to pay as much as they wish for their art.   Would that be less “humiliating” then honestly valuating artist hard work and trying to make decent living while using artistic talents and pouring your souls in artworks?

Why not recovering your fixed and variable costs of producing artwork, adding some $ for profit, etc. that could finance your lifestyle or pay for further improvement of your artistic skills?  There is nothing shameful in doing what you love, use your unique talent for that and  enrich other people’s lives with your fine art or product (yes art is a product of your work).    It is not shameful to be reimbursed for any kind of work.  Artists choose any of the numerous  methods to figure retail prices (or wholesale price ) like the “Ad Hoc Method;  Going Rate: Rules of Thumb;  or Cost-plus methods.”

It would be wonderful if all artists have other sources of income and just create art “for love of it.”  However, we need to stop thinking that it is somehow offensive to put a price on art.  I visited The Hilligoss Galleries in Chicago few weeks ago.  Some paintings cost there more then $100,000. I do not believe that their painters feel offended when they look at those numbers.

Artists work very, very hard. They deserve to be rewarded for that hard work.

–Tina Skobic