Dr. Myrtle Glascoe
In 1990, I worked at an art gallery one block from the College of Charleston and was in the earliest phase of pursuing an art career. I had little to no direction and was doing what every early artist does, trying different styles and pursuing sales in any medium you thought the public would glom onto. I was exhibiting some art at the gallery where I worked, but was growing dissatisfied with the resultant work and was desperately trying to find a voice to call my own. There were a few pieces that I was playing around with that would eventually morph into my current visual state, but I couldn't see it at the time.
Fate would show up in the form of Beki Crowell, another local artist that had a vision for the disenfranchised mass of artists seeking to show their work and legitimize themselves in the Charleston art market. Beki envisioned an exhibition called 'Freedom Space' and enlisted my help in putting that together. The idea was to rent a space and invite any and all artists to display their work. No one would be turned down and guaranteed at least 2 works would be exhibited (dependent on size constraints). I had two works of art in that exhibition.
Dr. Glascoe was organizing an exhibit, curated by Dr. Twiggs, as part of the opening festivities of Avery. There were to be 5 artists exhibiting and 4 of international renown had already been selected. She was on the lookout for a local artist to join the fray and stumbled upon 'Freedom Space' and chose my work to be a part of the exhibition. I received a phone call from her in which she outlined the exhibit and asked to meet with me in her office a few days later.
On occasion, I had seen Dr. Glascoe on the campus and at a few events, but had never met her and couldn't place the name with the face. From those earlier sightings I had quickly surmised in a single glance that she was a woman of deep substance. She carried that 'no nonsense' aura one associates with people of great intellect and purpose - the kind you didn't approach lest you waste their time with your foolish prattling - and if introduced, you immediately know that it was best that you to kept your mouth shut and offer only the most fleeting of responses to any questions tossed your way. I imagine I would react the same way today upon meeting Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou. In a word, the woman scared the hell out of me.
I knocked on Dr. Glascoe's door with the bravado and arrogance of youth. After all, hadn't she been so impressed with my art that she had chosen me to display with this so-called international cast of characters? The moment I entered and saw her seated behind the desk, the wind left my sails. She glanced up at me over her reading glasses and motioned for me to sit in a chair opposite her desk, then continued to read and pen notes on a document that was clearly more important than my visit. This simple act reinforced my fear of the woman and I sat straight backed like a fourth grader in the Principal's office and tried not to fidget while she worked. I sat there for what seemed like a lifetime until she afforded me her attention. She told me about the exhibition and the history of Avery Normal, then informed me that Dr. Leo Twiggs, the curator, would call and stop by my 'studio' (I was too embarrassed to tell her that I didn't have a studio and worked in my livingroom) to select works for the exhibition. I was so green at the time I had no idea that 'curators' were in charge of exhibits and selected or commissioned works for display.
I wrote about that painful visit with Dr. Twiggs earlier. It can be read by clicking here.
The day after Dr. Twiggs left, I met Dr. Glascoe outside the entrance to the Halsey Gallery to deliver my art. While she was unlocking the door, I looked through the glass entrance and was humbled and floored by one vision - an immense work of art by Tarleton Blackwell titled 'Green Dragon 1'. The massive triptych looked like it was moving before my very eyes. I had never seen anything that intense in my life and knew at once that I was in above my head. His work dominated the first floor of the gallery. My work was to be hung on the second floor and upon arrival, what little dignity I had left was mocked into submission by the sculptural work of Winston Wingo, hand dyed and woven silk garments by Carol Anderson and the multi-color woodcuts of Bahamian, Maxwell Taylor. I literally felt weak and sick and wanted to cry. My art was a sad joke compared to these artists and I wanted to run and hide. If I could have pulled out of the exhibit I would have. What a fool I had been to believe that I had the goods or ability to display in the same space as these artists! Dr. Glascoe glanced at me and saw my distress. She edged closer, hugged me around the waist and patted my back. I remember telling her that I didn't belong here and asking her why? She told me words that I have never forgotten to this day:
The rest of that afternoon was a blur. I remember going home (what a long drive that was), crawling in bed and putting the pillow over my head, wondering if I should even bother to show up at the opening. I did. I found a corner and remained there, trying not be noticed while watching Tarleton Blackwell hold court with his many admirers. I wanted to say something to him but was too afraid to approach him lest he find out that I was the artist who ruined the exhibit by putting my crap on the walls. I revered the man and it would take 5 years before I had the courage to speak to him during a group exhibition at SC State College.
"I see something in you, young man. You have the potential to become a great artist one day, but you must start taking your art more seriously. Maybe this will give you the incentive to study harder and apply yourself."
Dr. Glascoe's call to arms did not go unheeded. In the following months I destroyed nearly all of the decorative work I had previously created and embarked upon the path of discovery outlined by her and Dr. Twiggs. Since I never went to art school, I picked up every book I could find and read the biographies of many artists - my favorites being Aaron Douglas, William Johnson, Warhol, Matisse and Modigliani. I was not concerned with the how of their art, but by the why. Why did they do what they did? What were they trying to convey in their work and how had their lives and experiences influenced and informed their art? I turned my back on the commercial art market and took the road less traveled which has brought me to where I am today. It has not been a financially successful journey, but creatively, it has yielded riches and I wouldn't trade the journey for anything. This is where I belong and if I remain true to the art it will all work out. I believe that.
I lost track of Dr. Glascoe sometime in the mid 90's when she moved to the Midwest and I to Los Angeles to write for television. We reconnected last year at the funeral of Charleston's legendary jazz enthusiast, Jack McCray. She's moving a bit slower these days but the intensity and intellect remains, now equaled by the respect and depth of gratitude I owe this woman who singularly pulled me from obscurity and set my feet on the path. My heart rose and skipped a beat when I saw her at the panel discussion for my current exhibit. I will cherish the photo above and have it framed - not for the sake of reminiscence - but as a reminder that within each of us resides an opportunity to encourage and challenge the potential we see in others, and in doing so, perhaps change the course of a misdirected life for the better. Thank you, Dr. Myrtle Glascoe.