This past week, the Victor Small House hosted not ghosts but artist Stephen Greer of Jacksonville and many local Coharie Indians.
Greer’s collection of North Carolina Native American paintings, some with local connections, is currently adorning the walls of the Small House where an artist reception for the artist was held Thursday evening, Jan. 10.
“This means the world to me,” said Greer during the reception. “To be able to have an exhibit and get such a positive response, it’s quite a confirmation of yourself. I take it real personally.”
Others take his artwork personally, too.
“We are thrilled to have his Native American paintings here,” said Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Sampson Arts Council, “especially since he is debuting two very new paintings, done in 2013, of local Coharie Indians.”
One of Greer’s new paintings features local Coharie Indian Cathy Ammons in her ceremonial dress. Present at the reception in the same dress, Ammons saw Greer’s portrait of her for the first time. Her hand instantly went to her check and the tears began to flow. “She was very emotional about it,” Greer noted afterwards, emotion evident on his own face.
A little over 10 years ago, when his friend and author Stan Allen invited him to a pow wow, Greer had no idea how what he was about to witness would impact his life and the direction of his art forever.
“When I saw and heard the North Carolina Native Americans, in full regalia, making their grand entry into the ceremonial circle, I knew I would record that experience in paint,” shared Greer.
Greer continued attending more pow wows and “each time became more committed to creating this collection.”
“I just love pattern, color and rhythm,” said Greer, explaining that his artwork is inspired by Native American dance, history, myth and legend. “Also, their regalia is just monumental.”
Although Native Americans and their culture is his current inspiration, Greer has been artisically inspired since he was a child.
“I was creating art as soon as I could get to the wall with a crayon,” said Greer with a laugh. “I really can’t remember not being an artist.”
Over the years, art has been somewhat of an adventure for Greer. “It’s like time traveling. I’m in another time and place when I paint,” said Greer. “It’s hard to explain. It’s like an altered state.”
Time has also brought about changes in the way Greer paints. All of Greer’s artwork displayed at the Small House was created with bright acrylics, but interestingly, Greer said that his first experience with acrylics was “very negative.”
“I was used to painting with oils. Oil takes a long time to dry so you can keep manipulating it, playing with it. Acrylics, on the other hand, dry very quickly. Eventually, though, I came to appreciate that characteristic of acrylics,” explained Greer. “It made me make up my mind about what I was going to paint and stick with it. I had to commit to it.”
Greer’s committment has certainly paid off. Numerous locals attending the reception commented on how much they admired his paintings, and Donatelli shared that the way Greer “builds layers of color” really impressed her.
However, Greer’s committment isn’t simply to the paint on the canvas; it’s to the Native American people, subjects who will always be dear to his heart.
Local Coharie Indians, likewise, return Greer’s kindess and respect. During the reception, Ammons and other Coharie Indians honored Greer and his artwork with traditional Native American music and dancing.
Greg Jacobs, a member of the Coharie tribe and an administrator with the tribal council, told Greer as the music started, “Our love for you is patterned after our love for Jesus. We love Him because He first loved us, and you have also shown us a lot of love. We hope we can make your heart feel as warm as you’ve made ours feel.”
Greer’s paintings will be on display in the Small House through Feb. 28.
For more information about the Sampson Arts Council and the Victor Small House, visit sampsonarts.net.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 123 or via email at email@example.com.