Delta life and spirit illustrated with art and essays in Norris book

by Tacy Rayburn

Published: July 10,2011

Tags: Book Biz, Carolyn Norris, Dorothy Shawhan, The Spirit of the Delta

This lavishly illustrated book is a retrospective of an inspirational, self-taught artist from the Mississippi Delta, Carolyn Norris. It includes a biographical essay by Dorothy Shawhan plus essays by Patti Carr Black and Tom Rankin.

Laura Weeks, owner of Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, recently hosted a signing event for the artist and author. Weeks was especially pleased to reconnect Norris with Lesley Silver, long-time owner of the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, so they could negotiate exhibiting the artist’s works.

“The book is a great representation of folk and outsider art that depicts Delta life and people,” Weeks said. “I liked the contributions from the writers, who are all well known.”

Weeks especially liked the interesting interview with Norris by folklorist Tom Rankin with Norris explaining the centrality of art in her life. “It gives a good feel for her work,” she said of the interview. “It’s obvious she’s filled with joy and a creative spirit.”

Norris was reared in West Virginia and at the age of 21 moved to Cleveland, a quintessential Delta railroad town on the blues trail, Highway 61. She was immediately inspired to paint and quickly ripped off the wooden back of a dresser to use as a canvas. She painted with available house paint and completed the painting with face makeup. The realization of a passionate need to paint sprang from that inspired beginning.

“That passion and commitment to art become immediately clear in her work and in speaking with her,” Weeks said.

Through 25 years as an artist, Norris has painted on canvas, wood, paper, cardboard, glass, plates, tiles, sheets, floor covering and mirrors. Her garage door became a giant mural chronicling community events, showing daily black life in the modern Delta.

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