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Interview with M.J. Cunningham, January 21, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with M.J. Cunningham, January 21, 2008
January 21, 2008
In this interview with Wilmington-based artist M. J. Cunningham, she discusses her personal and artistic background, her preferred mediums (including mixed media and encaustic art), and her experience being a part of Wilmington's art community.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Cunningham, Mary Jane Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  1/21/2008 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Hayes: Okay, welcome. Thank you for inviting me into your studio. I'm with, your name please?

Cunningham: M. J. Cunningham.

Hayes: M. J. Cunningham, and today's date is January 21, 2008, and I'm Sherman Hayes, University Librarian at Randall Library, UNCW, Wilmington, North Carolina. M.J. is one of the leading artists. Her studio happens to be at Acme Art, which is a well known artist studio location here in Wilmington, and we're here to talk about your art career, and processes, and opinions. Let me start by, is it really M.J.?

Cunningham: Mary Jane.

Hayes: And before we just get going, jumping into your art career and where you're at now, nobody arrives full cloth at this point in Wilmington. So why don't you give us a little background about where you grew up and where you got started, a little bit about your family history.

Cunningham: Okay, actually I grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, and then I went off to school to Kent State University, infamous Kent State, and at that time never took an art course. But then married my high school sweetheart. He was a West Point grad and so we went off in the military.

Hayes: And his name is?

Cunningham: Tom Cunningham.

Hayes: And what was your maiden name?

Cunningham: Arthurs. Mary Jane Arthurs, and we actually went together in sixth and seventh grade, and now we're going to be celebrating our 40-something anniversary pretty soon.

Hayes: So not to be impolite then, you're somewhat past 60 then?

Cunningham: Oh, yes. I should tell you that I paid my rent for the studio space with my social security check. Does that tell you something? But anyway, so we went off. Tom graduated from West Point and we went off, and he had 27 years in the service, and we traveled around the world. I have five fabulous children, ten grandchildren now, and I have this story that I tell about how I got into art. We were stationed at West Point, New York, and Tom was a professor up there.

Hayes: This is the army, right, United States Army?

Cunningham: Army, right, yeah. West Point, yeah. So we were stationed at West Point and I had five small children. The oldest was seven years old, and we lived in a duplex. He was a major at the time and we did not have one of those big wonderful houses for five children. We had this duplex, three bedroom duplex, five children, Tom and I. And if you know anything about New York winters, they're just horrendous. Well, one particular winter I had all five of them at home and it started snowing, and it snowed, snowed. I mean we literally could not open our screen door to get out, there was so much snow, and here I am in this house with all these little children, and that's about enough, but then the first one got the chickenpox. And then it was boom, boom, boom, and I thought, I'm going to lose my mind. I need to find something. I need an outlet here for them and for me too. So I took my first art course from a guy named Herb Abrahams, and he was a friend of Joe West Moreland's [ph?] who was the superintendent at West Point at that time, and he was the official hit man artist, and he went to Vietnam with West Moreland. But anyway, he came down from Connecticut to West Point and taught classes, and I took my first art class with him.

Hayes: But you had...why art?

Cunningham: I'd always aspired to do this and just never did. I was a phys ed major in college.

Hayes: So what year was this, in the sixties?

Cunningham: It was in the, when was it, yeah, the late sixties. So but anyway, so I took my first class there and then we continued to move. Our move to Wilmington was my 27th move. So this was my, I would take classes everywhere and, you know, and eventually I'd take a class here and a class there. Everywhere I went this was just my thing that I had just for me with my husband's career and all my kids and everything.

Hayes: Tell me about the classes. Were they credit bearing classes?

Cunningham: Some of them were. I only went to Kent State for two years and then for financial reasons had to drop out, and so I really was determined then to get my degree. So I would take classes that, you had to have so many credits in school to get a degree. So it took me forever to get my Bachelor's.

Hayes: Where did that come from?

Cunningham: That came from Thomas Edison in New Jersey.

Hayes: But even if it wasn't credit, you just needed that.

Cunningham: I needed that.

Hayes: And were they everything?

Cunningham: Everything.

Hayes: Or were you starting to concentrate on something at that point?

Cunningham: Basically at that point was painting. You know, art has just expanded so much to so many mediums and, you know, when I was first started, you used a particular kind of paint, a particular kind of brush. They were the right things to do. Now, you can use anything. You know, you can throw bleach on a painting. You can use house paint. Anything goes, really.

Hayes: When did that start to change? When did you start to see things change?

Cunningham: Probably, I'm thinking on the classes that I took. I'd say in the seventies this change really started to infiltrate onto all of art, I think, that you could, were free to do more.

Hayes: That first class, I'm just kind of surprised that somebody of this person's stature is teaching basic painting. Was it a basic painting class?

Cunningham: Yeah, it really was.

Hayes: Just something he wanted to do.

Cunningham: No, he, you know, the artist, even the famous ones have to make money, and he was a friend of General West Moreland's and he was wonderful. He was just a great teacher. He really was. It was an honor.

Hayes: And your classes that you go into are generally a mix of all levels. I think that's something that people don't understand, that you could be in there as a beginner and then next to you would be somebody who's--

Cunningham: Yeah, some of the classes are like that. If you get into, some of these classes also included colleges and schools, and of course you have 101, 102. So then you become more into the levels, but if you take workshops some of them have a prerequisite that you are an intermediate or whatever.

Hayes: So they try to control things.

Cunningham: Yeah, some control over it, but so I just kept plugging along and eventually--

Hayes: What year was your degree then?

Cunningham: Oh gosh, when was that? You're asking me dates. That's my downfall. When did I get that degree? My husband was head of the West Point Prep School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey at that time. I'm thinking out loud. I don't remember, but anyway I eventually got a Masters from Hollins University.

Hayes: You got your Masters?

Cunningham: At Hollins.

Hayes: And what was your Masters in?

Cunningham: In art.

Hayes: Studio art?

Cunningham: No, it was a liberal studies. Master of Arts of Liberal Studies. So finally got my Masters. It was an emphasis in art. My thesis was art. My courses were all basically art oriented.

Hayes: And what was that school again? I'm sorry.

Cunningham: Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. It's a very small liberal arts school, female, all female, very elite, famous, you know. Lots of big name families.

Hayes: And what year was that?

Cunningham: Yeah, that was about eight years ago. So it took me a long time. I just kept plugging along.

Hayes: I'm just curious what your motivation was. Just felt better to get the degree, or just gave you a focus?

Cunningham: It gave me a focus. When I got my Masters, we lived in Chatham, Virginia, which is a real small town and it's probably the most southern place that I had been including the Deep South. It's the old southern families, old southern plantations. These women marry into these families and move onto these plantations, and, you know, the old furniture of the old child or the old silver garden club. But anyway that was the environment there, and my husband was head of a private school, and it was so small, and I loved it, but after about the fifth year, I was starting to get stir crazy. And so I investigated in Roanoke, Hollins in Roanoke was the nearest school that had a Masters program that I could get to. It was like an hour and a half drive each way. But still, you know, so I started, and it was a plug away type of thing. Again, I just, a course here, a course there and eventually got the Masters degree.

Hayes: Well, I think you've hit on kind of an interesting trend that I've noticed in lots of the interviews is that artists keep trying. They keep taking classes. I mean, the kind of image of the isolated artist just doing their thing is not true. Everybody that we talk to, most of them, do workshops. How many workshops have you done over-- ?

Cunningham: Lots and lots. I think it's because you're, I think one thing, you just, it's because our lives are so full. I basically did it because, like I said, we're so busy. With five children and of course a military career, if you're familiar with that, involves a lot of participation on the spouse's behalf. And the moves, so I really couldn't find my little nice and just concentrate. You know, like if you're in one place for a long time. You could do that, I think, but I had to go away somewhere to develop this. I thought about that and that's basically the reason I do it, and I still, I think it has to do with what I said before about art on this revolving thing where it's changing so much. The medium are just so exciting, and there's so many of them, and you can be so creative and inventive, but you have to be in touch with that world out there to find out about them. You can read and this type of thing, but I'm a hands on person, and all of my art is about the process. I love, you know, the caustic, the collage. I do lots of collages and--

Hayes: Get us an encaustic. Why don't you give us the couple little pieces of wax. I'll turn this off for a second.

Cunningham: Are we okay here? Is there anything else I need?

Hayes: No, you're fine. What I was saying to the people, we're in Acme Art in your large studio here and I'm struck by the variety of work that you have going. Behind me here is a set of still life with what I would say is a very traditional study. Is this in oil or acrylic?

Cunningham: Oil.

Hayes: Oil on canvas and then you were showing me earlier some fabrics that you're working on, and then I'm pointing to a painting slightly here behind you, and on the wall. And those are very abstract versus still life. And you mentioned the term of what you're holding in your hand. What is this form of art called?

Cunningham: This form of art is called in encaustic and it comes to us from ancient Rome and Egypt. Ancient battleships were covered with wax to protect them and make them waterproof, but then they started using it for an art form and many of the, well the mummy masks that you see in museums today are basically made with encaustic.

Hayes: Beeswax?

Cunningham: Beeswax.

Hayes: How do you spell that word?

Cunningham: E-N-C-A-U-S-T-I-C and basically that word, I'm trying to think, it has to do with heat because you would paint. I'll show you. This is beeswax. This is how I buy it and then you can make or buy different colors of beeswax. So you paint with it.

Hayes: Now, you had said at the beginning they're very expensive because of know...for a bee. So are they going to substitute another kind of wax?

Cunningham: They have started. I've been getting some information from my supplier by way of the internet that they are using other kinds of wax. You can't use, like, paraffin. It has to be some kind of a pure thing. I'm not sure what the new product is, but anyway, so I have a variety of colors here. You also have a medium that you use just like you do with oil paints.

Hayes: So what's the process then with this?

Cunningham: What's the process? First, you can see, he showed you the pictures here, but here's a piece.

Hayes: You work on a board then?

Cunningham: You work on a board. It has to be hard. If it's soft, of course if you bend it, this wax is going to break, but, you know, they've unearthed these mummies and the masks are still intact from how many years ago. So it is a very substantial, hearty medium.

Hayes: Do you paint?

Cunningham: You paint. You have a palette, a heat palette. You melt your wax on there. You put a base coat on like this and then you melt your wax on your palette, and it has to be fast because this wax hardens really quickly. And then every coat that you put on, you have to heat that and you heat that coat so that it bonds with the coat underneath of it. And then the neat thing about it is you can carve out of a, if you remember that picture up there. You can carve and then you can paint in where you carved, and then scrape the top off, and then you'll have a line.

Hayes: So this isn't multimedia. This truly is a separate art form. Are people blending other things with that?

Cunningham: They are. Encaustic is--

Hayes: I see some fabric behind you. Are you thinking of putting fabric into that?

Cunningham: I could do that, but I think I'll leave that alone. But see, I'm using, let me show you this. Here's that. This is with using collage, and this is incising. Of course, this is all rough textured. You can make it very smooth and shiny. You can make it rough. You can build it up like the figures I have over there.

Hayes: How many people are doing this?

Cunningham: Not a lot around here, but over the country, if you go online and look up encaustic art you'll find hundreds of artists. And I'm trying to become connected with more of them, so that, you know, they're starting to have national shows and things like that. So I'm really wanting to be involved in more like that.

Hayes: Let's go back to workshops because you had said to me that you had to go somewhere to learn that. So what was that process involved?

Cunningham: I love, I don't know if you're familiar with Kenyon? Are you familiar with Kenyon [ph?]?

Hayes: But these people may not be.

Cunningham: Okay, Kenyon is a school in Western North Carolina that started out as a primary fine craft school back probably 100 years ago, and, you know, they did weaving, and glass blowing, and pottery, and things like that. And they still do. That's still what they're known for, but in the summer they offer two week fine arts courses by some of the top instructors in the country. So I was reading the catalog and I read about encaustic. I thought, I love it, this sounds great. So I took encaustic class for two weeks from an instructor from Iowa. She was just fabulous and that's how I got started.

Hayes: Do you remember her name?

Cunningham: Brit Street. Strange name. But anyway, so she was just excellent. So I got started and I worked on it some, and then I decided to apply for a grant, a state grant, and I applied for a state grant, which I got to go to a workshop in San Francisco. And it was taught by, her name I can't remember now, but it was sponsored by RNF Paints which makes the encaustic waxes. So I had that experience. So I've had some good training in it. It's very electricity oriented and I was doing it in my home before I had my studio, and my studio was on the third floor, in the attic, and every time I'd plug everything in, I'd blow the fuse. So I had to give it up until I got this studio, and then I came down here, got it all set up, plugged everything in, and blew the fuses. So I had to have an electrician come in and fix my wiring so that I can do it down here. So that's another thing. A lot of people are interested in learning, besides being pretty expensive, the medium itself, you have to have great electricity, which most people don't think about. When I think about, you know, back in olden days in Egypt and Rome, you know, they had these slaves firing up the heat so they could melt this wax. And imagine, you can see why it died out for a long time.

Hayes: I'm kind of curious. Here you are, veteran artist, traveled the world, done so many different things. Why do you keep trying a new one all the time? Is this just your character?

Cunningham: I have no idea. It's my personality. I am constantly going, constantly doing something, wanting to do new things. I've always been that way. I don't an answer for that. That's my personality, I guess, but that's who I am.

Hayes: But you still stay back with roots. I mean that's the other thing.

Cunningham: I'm still what, I'm sorry?

Hayes: Go back to roots as far as I see the--

Cunningham: I do. If you look out there, I have the landscapes that I do, and I go to Bald Head, been involved with that. And I really hadn't done landscapes that much, but if you go over to Bald Head you have to do landscapes, don't you? So I got involved and I've kind of got a whole series of landscapes that I'm working on too.

Hayes: Did you do the No Boundaries there?

Cunningham: Yeah, No Boundaries.

Hayes: That was excellent, but I agree. It just calls you to try that.

Cunningham: You have to, but I really think, in my artist statement I always say that I feel the idea. If I get an idea, it deserves its own medium. I can't explain this. You know, like some artists just paint, and paint, and paint, you know, use canvas and paint, keep painting different things on a canvas. My love is what I'm painting with or how I can interpret my idea with different mediums, materials. And I love the challenge.

Hayes: Encaustic, is that what you're--?

Cunningham: Encaustic.

Hayes: And then you've made it mixed media by including the collage, and writing. Then let's talk about your painting. Over the years, have you tried every different subject? I see some pretty abstract things and you're working now on a still life. Do you ever do people? I don't see much in the way of figures.

Cunningham: I'm actually, I'm taking a figure drawing class at UNCW, right now. So that to be 65, I can take classes for free. So right now I'm studying with Eric over there. So I do want to try. I have done. I had one up there for a while. I have done some figure painting.

Hayes: And I see some figures in some of the encaustic.

Cunningham: Figurative, yeah.

Hayes: But that hasn't been one of your-- and then you said you did landscapes which were a pretty traditional subject, right?

Cunningham: Right, and if you see, they're pretty un-- you want me to get one?

Hayes: Sure, sure.

Cunningham: Want to do landscapes, but I don't want to do landscapes like everybody else. You know, so this is, the gold and it's like something from 18th Century England.

Hayes: Is this oil?

Cunningham: Yeah, this is oil.

Hayes: So representational, other than your still lifes, hasn't been what you've--

Cunningham: That's where I started. The guy that I started with at West Point was Old Masters. He really was, and I have a whole bunch of those, canvases that I've taken off the thing that I had, but they were still lifes, and they really looked very Old Masters. And I think that comes back when I get into this painting with the shadows and the dark, and I think part of it, all of these learning experiences all add up. They keep adding to the final thing. So that all works.

Hayes: The abstract, though, is probably your normal-- and mixed media.

Cunningham: Mixed media, abstract.

Hayes: Which is a way of saying that it hasn't kind of evolved as a subset strong enough for everybody to know what it is, right. I mean, mixed media seems to be everything else. What other categories do we have? We have painting and a subset of, what, watercolor. Do you ever try watercolor?

Cunningham: I don't like watercolor. I mean, I like watercolor but I've never been able to do with watercolor what I think I should be able to do.

Hayes: Sculpture.

Cunningham: I do assemblages, like, I keep leaving you. Things like, I don't know if you can see here over there, but this is kind of a sculpture. It isn't really.

Hayes: I think so. I mean sculpture is broadened out to include--

Cunningham: This is called Tree House.

Hayes: Go ahead and sit down and get focused there.

Cunningham: And it's a transfer on a brick actually, and this I made out of clay, and then you see on the wall over there, I like to do these column assemblages. I mean nothing like Sandy's.

Hayes: Assemblage is a sub-form of sculpture.

Cunningham: Yeah, it can be, right. It's between collage and sculpture, assemblages, you know, type thing.

Hayes: And collages kind of come up but not really as a separate category. Photography has tried to push its way in. I'm trying to think what other--

Cunningham: Print making, encaustic, and the only thing I stay away from actually is watercolor. I've done photography. Let me show you one more thing that I've done. Anyway, this picture from the Museum, Fayetteville Museum.

Hayes: Wow. Nice.

Cunningham: Anyway, this is another thing that I've done and when we moved down there. It's a chair that I made. I made that chair, yes, and it's called, Just Sitting here Reflecting, and what it is, we came down here from Charlotte and I worked at UNC Charlotte in the Art Department. And then I taught at the Art Institute of Charlotte. So, but anyway, then I also worked at _________________ Center for Art, and it was an art, what was it? You know, we had artists come in from all over the world to study there for short periods of time, like have internships. So I worked there for a while, excuse me, and when I was there we sponsored Chairs on Parade, which was a counterpart to Cows, if you've heard of the Cows on Parade in Chicago and Florida it was Flamingos on Parade. And every major city had something on parade, and they commissioned artists to do different things. Well, our theme were chairs, and you can see all through here. So in mine I did-- this piece is at the Mint Museum in Charlotte now. But anyway, so that Chairs on Parade was another thing. Make it more confusing that I do so many different things and love to do it. But anyway, so this is my--

Hayes: Let's do this one you just showed me off the right here. You don't have to move that big screen. I'll try to take this down, but there is--

Cunningham: I can move it out a little bit.

Hayes: But it gives a person a flavor what you have here. It's a multipurpose Oriental screen.

Cunningham: And it's BYOB and a U on the end. BYOBU. It's a Japanese screen and it was taught by Tom Mikishima, this artist here, who, he was a D.C. artist for a long time. But anyway, he's Japanese descent. But it's totally made from scratch, the boards.

Hayes: This is from a workshop that you went to?

Cunningham: This was up at Kenyon, yeah. I love to go up there. My husband went with me and took a photography class this time, when I did this. It's just so beautiful. Have you been there?

Hayes: Yes.

Cunningham: Oh, it's so beautiful, and it's so healthy, and you get up at seven o'clock every morning and do yoga, and they make this all natural, fabulous breakfast, and the day is just wonderful place. It's my, in fact that was our year, we just decided that was going to be our vacation last year, and he took a course, and I did, and it was fabulous. Just so--

Hayes: Was this a set of techniques he was teaching you here?

Cunningham: Yeah, well, building the screen was the same, building it, and then the materials that he used, and of course, it's really unusual. I'm really excited. I want to do some bigger ones, but you have to order special products to do it with, and I'm in the process of doing that right now. So I'm really anxious to pursue this. I think it's very unusual and different, and there's an awful lot of art. I mean, it's hard to be different in the art world today. Do you agree to that?

Hayes: Well, but let's talk philosophically who's going to buy it? I mean that's the other side of it. Do you find an outlet for your?

Cunningham: I do. I sell well. I mean, I'm in several studio galleries.

Hayes: What galleries?

Cunningham: Art Source at the Raleigh, and I'm in one in California. We used to live out there and then at Montage that just opened up over in Leland, and then Corporate Canvas, and Botega. And I've been--

Hayes: Do you find what are people resonating with? I mean just something that they like, or your technique?

Cunningham: I think people like that my stuff is kind of different, the ones that buy it. A lot of people that buy are not from here. They're from the East, people that come here. I know when I was doing, I did at Art Fest, I did that for the three years that it was in existence, and most of my sales were from people that were in town. Yeah, and I think, you know, I try not to be-- my natural lust for curiosity leads me to all these different mediums, but I don't want to do it just to be different. You know, it's something that just is like I said is my personality to try all this different stuff, and I don't do it because I, the bottom line is I don't do it to be different.

Hayes: You like it?

Cunningham: I like it.

Hayes: But I also am impressed that you go up and try to get the background and the help with it. You're not just making it up as you go along.

Cunningham: Like I said, there's so many.

Hayes: How about the other side of your career? It sounds like you, yourself have been a teacher many time. What has that been like?

Cunningham: I enjoy that and I like that. You know, I've taught workshops here.

Hayes: What kind of workshops?

Cunningham: Well, like in collage. I've done a lot of collage workshops and have my following in that area, and I sat for Pam over at the university in the art department. But I really don't want to do that now. I'm old. You know, I have to be selective and I did. I taught at the Art Institute, and I worked at UNC Charlotte, and their university has, like, four galleries, their university. So, and that's what I did. I worked. I was the helper for the guy that ran the galleries, and they had some really major shows and things. So I was kind of disappointed when I came down here, at the old art department that I cam here, because I was coming from Charlotte.

Hayes: Well, it's better now, though. The new building is.

Cunningham: Yeah, a lot better, and I think with what you're doing, I mean you've really major contribute to helping the arts become something.

Hayes: We're trying to capture the story, anyway.

Cunningham: Do you know it's interesting that Wilmington is known as an art place. I mean, arts get no support from the city, or state, or anything. You know, but we still have this thing that we're known as an art community.

Hayes: You're a classic example, though. I mean you're really in retirement mode, I guess, decided Wilmington was where you wanted to be. So we benefited from you coming here. And we have quite a bit. I mean, I think that the senior artists are not just all amateurs who are dabbling. I mean, these are accomplished artists who happen to end up here. There's lots of them. In fact, let me ask you about Acme. I mean, how did this happen? I don't mean the whole thing, but--

Cunningham: How am I here? It's interesting because I got in touch with a person that I knew by name that was an artist here. I didn't really know her, but I knew she lived here from one of my workshops and I asked her about what the art opportunities were down here. This was when we were in Charlotte. She said, you know, The Art League, blah, blah, and all this stuff, she said, "And then there's this group of crazies over on Fifth Street." And a place called Acme Art, and of course, that (realization), just the lights went on. But then we moved down here and we came over to try to see it, and it was hard to get in here. You know, so I really didn't get in or anything, but then I came to, at that time they were still kind of renting it out for social functions once in a while. So I think I came to some kind of New Years Party, I don't know, something I came to down here, and was looking around and someone said, "Yeah, this studio is empty," that one over there. And so I just bit the bullet, and we really couldn't afford it at that point, but if I'm going to do it, I've got to do it now. So I got the studio and moved in.

Hayes: Is there a lot that you had?

Cunningham: It's just wonderful. It's a whole new life. You know, it really propelled me into, I've always been very funny about calling myself an artist. I had to prove that I was an artist. So many people say, "I'm an artist," you know, and they were Sunday afternoon artists. And I think you should, I needed to earn that right to say that. Even after I got my Masters degree, I really didn't say I was an artist. But now I can say that. I feel.

Hayes: And you said that your house at some point wasn't effective?

Cunningham: Oh, no.

Hayes: And also the other one is that, do you really see people here occasionally? And that's the other, the camaraderie.

Cunningham: There is. You've been down here and interviewed enough to know that there's not a lot going on all the time, which is great. But I have managed to talk the powers that be into letting us have two shows a year. So I basically organize two shows, we just took one down, a year. So that's what we're doing now.

Hayes: So everybody here tries to have two shows a year?

Cunningham: No, no, as a gallery. You have to get on our list, because we just took down a wonderful show. We have some great, there's like 18 artists here, 15, 16, 18, I don't know, artists here. So when you get it all together you have a great--

Hayes: Well, I think one of the things is, what is the one compliment, the courtesy of copying because there's others starting up around, I think independent art definitely is very nice doing things, and there's one in the pottery area that offers this. And you need, it seems to me like being an artist can be a lonely existence.

Cunningham: It really can and you really, that was the difference of coming here. It's been so wonderful. Everybody comes out and they want to have shows. You know, they're new here and they can't understand that this is a working space. New people come in. They want more. They want to have it open certain days for people to come, and it's never been that way, and the people don't want it to be that way. They want it to be a working space. They want to come down here, and there is some camaraderie. Sammy and I are very close friends. All, everybody here.

Hayes: Sandry Iley [ph?].

Cunningham: Iley, yeah, and we've become really good friends, and well, everybody here feels like a good friend. But I see them all the time, every day, but it's the bonding.

Hayes: Yeah, it's kind of an interesting blend. What's interesting to me is that you took up art so that you could have some privacy, but you don't want to get so far in it.

Cunningham: Good point.

Hayes: You know, what is the balance?

Cunningham: Did you see all the stuff in my attic? I got to where I couldn't create any more because I couldn't move.

Hayes: I wonder how many artists do get constrained by their physical setting because, you know, maybe they do painting partly because you can do it. Because think of the poor sculptors, they're welding, and this, and that.

Cunningham: We have a new one moving in back here, a new meta sculptor and he has been bringing flat beds of stuff in, in a space probably that's not as big as this. I don't know how he's going to work in there but he's over there. But you know, we have, what, four, five sculptors going to be in this area. But I just, I really love it. I love coming down here and I just love the whole thing, and you know what it is besides that, it would be like with you, with what you're doing. You can do this in your old age forever. You know, so many people, once the kids are gone, the husband's retired, what do they do? It just is, but I can do this forever.

Hayes: And you will be.

Cunningham: Oh, but it's--

Hayes: Now, I see books and other materials here. Are you talking about workshops? Are you reading all the time?

Cunningham: I love, I do. I get lots of art magazines and books. I love my art books.

Hayes: How about your family? Have you had any kids or grandkids who've been inspired to try this?

Cunningham: I have. My daughter just moved here from San Francisco and she's a RISD Grad, Rhode Island School of Design, and she just moved here from San Francisco. She's in graphic design but she could do any kind of art she wanted to. She basically did graphic design so she could support her other art habits.

Hayes: What's her name?

Cunningham: Kelly Marquis [ph?] and she and I are doing this installation over at the museum right now, which is really fun, you know, working with my daughter. They just moved here a year ago. So it's just wonderful having her here, and she's really arty. Other kids really aren't into art. There's a variety. I have a banker, an engineer, a nurse, Kelly's the artist, and then I have an adopted son. We lived in Korea and we adopted a Korean son, and he's basically, he's in a textile plant. He's a hunter and fisher. He's the only redneck Korean in America. He stayed up in Virginia when we left and he lived up in the hills of Virginia, and he works in a textile plant, and he hunts, and fishes, and he just loves it. So I have a variety with my kids, but only one other artist. My other daughter could be, but she's more into homemaking and children.

Hayes: You said your husband's trying to get seriously into photography. So maybe you've worn off on him or influenced him.

Cunningham: Actually, it was intentional. Actually, I did photographing and developing. That's where it all started because I did a course in graduate school, and loved it, and really got into it, but then I thought, "This'll be great for him for retirement because he's a workaholic." You know, in the army you work 24-7, and then jobs that he's had since he retired basically that. So he works for the Chamber of Commerce here now. But anyway, so I thought, if he retires I've got to get him into, corn hole him into something. So I got him some courses at the community college in Charlotte. He started taking photography classes there. And so one thing led to another and he's really getting into it. So I'm excited. So left it, I let that be his thing. He could have that.

Hayes: Back to kind of your eclectic nature with art. Any sense of how long you usually stay with something? I mean, it may vary.

Cunningham: They overlap. You know, they really do, just like the collaging. There's pieces up there which are Robert Richenburg inspired. You know, I got his book and I just loved it, so I thought I'd try some of his techniques. But, you know, they have all the collage stuff on him and they're acrylics. You know, so everything has-- it all overlaps.

Hayes: I see now that you've taken collage, and the wax, and then you go back to basic, doing some still lifes.

Cunningham: To see if I can still do it. Yeah, I'm inspired by other artists. You know, I'll see something that somebody's done and I'll try that technique, or, you know, I'll go to workshops. You don't want to call them workshops when you get a grant. That's kind of amateurish, workshops. So you want to make it, well, what do I call it, advanced learning, or--

Hayes: Well, no, I think a real important part of the subculture of art is joining together with other artists. And you're taking from people who can be at the same level, right. It isn't that you're always studying with a master, and I think some people think that you go to a workshop only if you study with a master. You may be studying with somebody who's actually a less experienced artist. They just know something that you want.

Cunningham: Right, exactly.

Hayes: In their own field, they're good, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily old or distinguished in one other field. They're just good in that field, right.

Cunningham: But kind of in the same thing, I was telling my husband when I came back from my first class at figure drawing, I thought, oh this is embarrassing. I had a couple of those kids when I substituted for Pam Toll and they're better than I am at figure drawing. This is not good.

Hayes: That's why you went to the class. So I guess in the end, you're an interesting phenomena in that you're succeeding by trying so many different mediums, all at a high level, and your inspiration is really, like you said, the process of making this.

Cunningham: Right, it is. It's what I like the best. It really is and most people, you know, people are, to one point they would say, you know, they could see, the fact that we lived in Asia. They could see my Asian influence in a lot of things, but I think I've gotten past that. I think I'm becoming much more eclectic in my subject matter, and styles, and things. But people, you know, friends will say, "Well, I can still tell that it's your work regardless of what it is." So there is a common, I guess that's true. I mean, I look at it differently than the person outside would say. But most people say, "you know, you do a lot of stuff, but I can still tell it's yours."

Hayes: Thank you very much for talking to us.

Cunningham: Thank you. It was fun. I haven't done so much introspection, is that the word, for a long time.

Hayes: That was great. Thank you very much.

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