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Interview with Elizabeth Darrow, October 19, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Elizabeth Darrow, October 19, 2007
October 19, 2007
The topics covered in this interview with Elizabeth Darrow are the artist's work, personal history, and psychological stance on art. She also talks about the history of the art community in Wilmington, mentioning Claude Howell among other local artists. Elizabeth Darrow also shows some of her art pieces in front of the camera and explains her processes.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Darrow, Elizabeth Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman / Shivar, Ashley Date of Interview:  10/19/2007 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Hayes: Welcome, thank you so much for talking with us. My name is Sherman Hayes, I'm the university librarian at UNCW Wilmington. We're talking with Elizabeth Darrow. Did I get that right?

Darrow: You did.

Hayes: Is there a full name that we should put on the record?

Darrow: That's it. Elizabeth Darrow.

Hayes: No middle name. That's interesting.

Darrow: Darrow was my middle name now it's my last name.

Hayes: I don't know if there's a story you want to share with that or not. You're known as one of the leading, if not leading artists in town. And we're talking to you about your artistic career. But before we go into that, can I get some context of where you started, and where you grew up, and how you finally ended up in Wilmington. So let's go back a ways, as far as you'd like to go.

Darrow: I grew up in Connecticut, West Harford, Connecticut. And I was always interested in art as a kid. I did lessons at a little red schoolhouse on the weekends. And something I enjoyed. But when I went off to college, I didn't know if I was going to major in art or not until I got there. I went to Oberlin in Ohio and...

Hayes: Well, that's kind of an interesting jump. How did that happen all the way from-- ?

Darrow: From Connecticut to Ohio?

Hayes: Yeah.

Darrow: Oh, I don't know. I just wanted to leave the area I'd grown up in and Ohio didn't seem that far away. And my best friend's sister went there. And I knew you could wear jeans to classes and that was a big plus.


Hayes: That's great.

Darrow: Uh.. so and back in those days, that was, you know...

Hayes: And what were those days?

Darrow: That was the early '60s. So most colleges women still had to wear skirts.

Hayes: It was a co-ed school at the time?

Darrow: Oh, yes, it's the oldest co-educational school in the country.

Hayes: Excellent.

Darrow: They're known for their conservatory of music. Do you know that? they're also a liberal arts college. So...

Hayes: Were your parents supportive of the art interest and so forth? Not everybody, sometimes parents are practical.

Darrow: They wanted me to take education so I'd be able to teach, which I did for one year and hated. (laughs) So I make my living house painting so that frees me to do whatever I want with my art.

Hayes: We'll come back to that later.

Darrow: Okay. So after Oberlin I went and ended up majoring in studio art. And those were the early '60s when there was this sort of attitude of try anything you like, you know. So it was not a structured art program by any means. They taught us how to stretch a canvas and told what paints to buy, what brushes to buy. And then they just said, "Go at it." And for me, that was wonderful. But for some people, it was just they didn't even know how to begin.

Hayes: Did you have to take the standard art history and so forth?

Darrow: Well, yes, I did take art history courses as well. but there was a very free feeling in the art department and that appeals to me. If it had been very structured, and if we had done a lot of life drawing, I probably would not have chosen that for my major because I don't work from life as you can see. I never had worked with life. I like to create things that I haven't seen that are a surprise to me.

Hayes: So early on, you made that choice? Right from the beginning, you had a concept of what kind of artist you wanted to be as far as the subject material?

Darrow: I don't think I ever thought it through that way. I can say that. I just know that this way of working appealed to me and I just love sort of mixing up colors and going at it and see what happened. So I don't think I ever articulated that to myself, this is the kind of artist I want to be, or that even that I want to be an artist. It's just that I loved getting in the studio and paining and experimenting.

Hayes: And was that hours and hours a day? Is that what they said?

Darrow: Oh, yes. In fact I don't know how I ever passed my other courses. (laughter) I couldn't tear myself away. I just couldn't. I would, you know, whatever I would do on canvas, I'd step back and I'd look and I'd ponder and go at it again. I was completely engaged.

Hayes: And what was the professor adding to this mix? Were they commentary or...

Darrow: Yes. Sometimes they would come by and comment on what you'd done and...

Hayes: Was there any particular ones that you found most helpful or inspiring in that study or not? There's a chance to go back and...

Darrow: Yeah, actually, if I think of any teacher that I had and was the most inspiring, that would take me all the way back to junior high school.

Hayes: Well, that's fine. Say who that is.

Darrow: Judy Johnstone [ph?]. And he would take me into the little cloakroom and show me-- he knew that I had some sort of affinity for painting. And he just would take the pieces that I brought in and show me how I could enhance them. He'd actually paint on my own painting and then I'd think "Oh, that looks so much better than what I brought in." Uh.. he was a really big inspirational force.

Hayes: And this was middle school?

Darrow: This was 7th and 8th grade.

Hayes: That is great.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: We're going to be talking later in this particular historic project is some of the high school teachers because I don't think people realize that for a true artist, sometimes it is somebody just like this to get you going.

Darrow: Really make an impact.

Hayes: Or squashes it. So that was great.

Darrow: Yeah. So I just-- and then so always, I've just taken a very experimental approach to my work. And it's just like, well, I tried this, what will happen? I tried this. Let's see about this. And you get a little dialogue going and, you know, the work says, "Ooh, I need some yellow over here. Let's get some texture out here." I don't know. It just starts telling you what it wants.

Hayes: Tell me a little bit about that because I, as a professional artist, the question is always how much self-analysis are you doing there, how much of it is spontaneous? Are you trying to have a message? Or are you letting the process create the message?

Darrow: I'm not even sure I have a message. I'm just-- I am very much process driven. So when I'm not in the studio. People sometimes say, "Well, when you're house painting, are thinking about what you're going to do in the studio? And no, I'm really not because it only happens here, you know, when I show up. Then stuff happens. So I'll mix the color and, I mean, most of these canvases you can see here are, are you know, kind of one color going on. And then, there's scraps and the drawing on top of that creates something. But when I begin, it really is just with layers of color, and so then I have to sort of establish the background and then, the way I'm working now is to add all the detail with scraps of paper. So I actually lay these canvases down on the floor. this one here with all the tiny little bits, you know, I wouldn't-- when they're on the floor, and then I drop scraps on. I can move them around so I- I'm constantly shifting things. How would this look here, you know. It's that way of working. So they only go up on easel for the painting or when I've glued down everything that I can. And then, I step back and look at it and see where it wants something else.

Hayes: So in the generic role of trying to force a categorization, you're mixed media? Is that what someone would say you are because you...

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: ...are using-- so you have paint?

Darrow: I have paint. I have oil test...

Hayes: Is that an oil paint base you use usually? Is that what your starting plan...

Darrow: The paint? Yeah.

Hayes: And then you have a-- you're known for the cut paper? Is that really collage? Is that the right term?

Darrow: Yes.

Hayes: is that the technical term...

Darrow: Yes.

Hayes: ...we would use? Okay.

Darrow: So anything you glue on is collage.

Hayes: Is collage. Okay, good. Well, that's good to know.

Darrow: And then I'm using pencil, and oil pastel, oil crayon.

Hayes: So you specifically say oil pastel. Is there a different-- would there be another pastel besides that that you could use?

Darrow: Yes. There would be a pastel is more chalky. It's not an oil. So here.

Hayes: That's great.

Darrow: Oops. These are oil pastels.

Hayes: Oh, interesting.

Darrow: They're like little oil crayons.

Hayes: Yeah. Wow. And this has an oil base in it? What does the oil do? For the adhere, adhesion? Why is there an oil part of it?

Darrow: Well, yes, I mean, it's soft enough that it works on top of oil. If you were to take just a regular pastel, which is sort of chalky, it wouldn't want to adhere to the oil paint.

Hayes: It's the oil paint connection.

Darrow: Right. Yeah.

Hayes: But it's the color that your after.

Darrow: Yeah. And and a certain texture, too. So sometimes I create a texture with the paint and when the paints dry. If I rub oil pastel over it, then it highlights all the top parts of the texture. in that-- there are pieces behind you, but it's harder-- I'll have to show you later.

Hayes: You can show it to me later.

Darrow: Yeah, but it does create a kind of texture when the crayon is rubbed over the rough surface. It's only going to stick to the high points. So you know, that's...

Hayes: The techniques that you're experimenting with now, were they there at college? Or is this a 25-year evolution? In other words tell--

Darrow: Twenty-five, that's very kind. I think we're talking 40 here? Okay. (laughs)

Hayes: I was only guessing.

Darrow: So...

Hayes: We're about the same age so I can go that way.

Darrow: Okay.

Hayes: I'm getting 60 or so.

Darrow: And I'm over. The collage started back in 1980, and I was in a Zen monastery in upstate New York. I'd gone there for a 100-day training period. And it was also a-- I kind of felt like I wanted to get away from my art and just get into a different setting and try this whole Zen thing. I wasn't there for more than two weeks when I knew I just really wanted to be doing some art, but I didn't have anything with me. So I talked to the gatekeeper into bringing some magazines up to me. And I guess I came up with some glue and paper and I just started fooling around with collage. And that's how that started in my life. And that was 1980 and so I've been doing it ever since. Yeah.

Hayes: Let's talk then about that '60s to '80s period so at least we get to see where your life is going at that point. So you finished school?

Darrow: I finished.

Hayes: With a degree in...

Darrow: In studio art.

Hayes: Studio art, wow. And then what? That's kind of an adventure?

Darrow: No. Then I got married.

Hayes: Oh, Okay.

Darrow: Then I got unmarried.

Hayes: Okay.

Darrow: And then I moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York City to Sag Harbor, Long Island.

Hayes: How long were you in New York?

Darrow: Six weeks.

Hayes: (laughter) Six weeks. That wasn't long.

Darrow: And went straight to Long Island for a year. From there to Santa Fe, New Mexico for three years. To Northern California for six months, and to Wilmington in 1977, I've been here ever since.

Hayes: Wow.

Darrow: I finally found where I wanted to live.

Hayes: Now, were you trying to practice art?

Darrow: Oh, I was always painting. I was always painting in all of those situations.

Hayes: But you were always having to find some other existence to put food on the table?

Darrow: Yes, right. So I never had-- the only real job I had was that one year when I was married that I worked in the public school system, traveling art teacher, which was, to me, just the worst job I ever, ever had.

Hayes: Your early decision to not be in education was validated.

Darrow: Right. Right. Yeah. (laughs)

Hayes: Okay. Well, that's great. So '77, so you, boy, let's come back. We've a lot to talk you about and some of the folks who come through here because that's a long time period.

Darrow: Thirty years now.

Hayes: We had part of our overall project we're going to do digitized in the book that was done in 1973 by a lady named, help me here.

Shivar: Oh gosh, I don't remember.

Hayes: Crocket Hewlett was her name. She was a well-known art historian and she did the only history of art in this area called, "Two Centuries of Art," or "Three Centuries of Art in New Hanover County."

Darrow: Huh.

Hayes: And you would like it because-- we have it at the library and we're going to digitize the whole thing. But you would like it because the first half was a traditional what she could learn about art and who was practicing, and Colonial period, and Claude Howell, and so forth. Then, the second half is a directory of the artists in 1972, many of whom you would know having come in 1970. Ann Conner was...

Darrow: Was she here then?

Hayes: Just got here. And Claude of course.

Darrow: And Claude. Hester Donnolly [ph?].

Hayes: But other folks, but so many, anyway. But here has been almost nothing that puts the context about art since. So if you don't mind later, when we get done with some of the art things, you want to talk a little history, I'd love to...

Darrow: Whatever I can remember. (laughs)

Hayes: So you ended up here and what was your work then? What would you? If you'd going through different phases what was the work in 1977?

Darrow: I went through a stage of photo realism, believe it or not. I have one in the house I'll show you. Oh, actually, there's a self-portrait back there. I'll think I'll just stay in my chair.

Hayes: That's all right.

Darrow: That was a complete departure for me to work that way. But I would take a photograph of something and mostly, I was working with light. So I had this whole light series of light coming through a window on a plant, on a table cloth. or the one I have in my house is my cat on the stairs at Wrightsville Beach, along with light coming...

Hayes: You were using actual photography?

Darrow: Yeah, I was just taking a snapshot, you know, with a regular little camera.

Hayes: Go through an artist's eye.

Darrow: I guess it was through my eye. (laughs)

Hayes: That's right.

Darrow: So I think I just came to a place where the way I had been working, which was so experimental, never knowing what I was going to get, it soon brought me to a place where I was afraid to try anything, thinking I wasn't going to get anything. I can't explain it, but I got to a place where I was just I didn't trust my intuition for some reason. So I just went this other route. And then I did a whole series of fabrics that I would take different blouses and arrange them on the ground and with the light coming down on them, and then, photograph them. And then, so I'd be working from a photo that was just this size, graphing it out, square by square, and then doing the same proportion on the canvas, three canvases. And I would paint them square by square by square. That's the most tedious process you ever did encounter. And after awhile, I just thought, "I hate this." I can't-- mean, even though the outcome was lovely, but I already knew I was going to get it, I just had to execute it. So that was very boring, very tedious, but people liked it and I could sell them. But after a while, I just said, "I cannot work this way." I mean, I'm painting because I love painting. And I don't really love this. This is just a task that I have to see to the end, so it was much more product oriented than processed.

Hayes: But isn't that always-- this attention, I've heard that so much for the artists. If you find something that's successful, it can become just a production, right? And you strive to always do what matters to you, right?

Darrow: Well, it's fun for me, what engages me. What engages me. So I mean, for awhile, I was pretty amazed that I could pull that off, because I never painted anything to look like itself. So I saw that I could do that and I was impressed for a while. (laughter) And then, I just realized that isn't-- that doesn't bring me any joy in the process, so I left that behind and went back to all my crazy layerings. And then, in those layerings, sometimes just leaving it as the abstract piece. And sometimes kind of ferreting out images. So I don't know if you've seen my whole series of figurative work?

Hayes: That's what I was going to ask you. I've seen a few of those, the figurative work, which you said you didn't, you'd gone to art class and did still lives and so forth and so on. So it's a figurative word how would you describe that?

Darrow: Well, I'll show you.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Darrow: Do you want me to get one right now? That's okay. So this was done just by...

Hayes: Oh, I love that.

Darrow: you know, just starting out making sort of chaotic, gestural thing. And then, see this is the oil pastel. That's all oil pastel on top of the oil. So, there was a whole series that I just did last year, all the statements [ph?].

Hayes: So this is recent.

Darrow: Well, it's recent, but it also dates back to I've had three years of having three periods of dipping into the figurative. So...

Hayes: So when you're using the term figurative, a person who isn't a professional artist, how broad is that? What does figurative mean?

Darrow: Well, for me, it just means there's figures and animals, rather than abstract, so here, we're just looking at abstract where it's just kind of designed and play.

Hayes: But some could say figurative was the new or figurative would be an exact representation. So it's used broadly.

Darrow: Yes. Yeah, I mean, because it is an image that you recognize as a figure of-- Q; But you're not attempting to capture a real person in that?

Darrow: No. In fact--

Hayes: You don't have a model in mind?

Darrow: No. I don't want that. In fact, I think the most successful ones are-- if I remember, I'll show you something in the house-- are the ones that are sort of archetypally human but not specifically.

Hayes: Interesting.

Darrow: So...

Hayes: So you're letting the viewer fill in the details of what they think this person is right there?

Darrow: Yeah. Or just sort of the whole feel of the piece. there's another one back there. But I mean they all have their own little-- and to me, they're surprised because I'm not working from life, obviously, and this is not a real person, but it's sort of the feeling of the piece. It can be humorous or sometimes there's pathos. It's sort of an emotional piece rather than a literal piece.

Hayes: With the technique you were talking about before where you're letting the kind of the painting itself pull out what you want and working on the floor and so forth, with these, are you in a much more deliberative, where do I want to go with this? Or is...

Darrow: No, I would really start those the very same way, by doing layer colors and then, in many of them, going over the whole, all those various colors with a sort of open brush stroke. So little fragments of things would-- is there anything? Okay, we could sort of use that as an example. This is not a finished piece, but that's showing how little fragments of what's underneath comes through and then, with this, I'll be adding-- and I may go over it again with even another color before I start adding the scraps. But this is how the figurative pieces begin as well. And then, from those little bits that are left underneath, I start to look into them, and sort of see where might the figure be? And sometimes, it's just a matter of putting the eyes on first, and then, the rest sort of follows. And then once you get a head, well, you know, you start of move down to what are the arms going to do and how-- I'm always thinking about how it's going to fill the space. So...

Hayes: Wow. That's fascinating. That's so contrary to the, I want to, you know, I want to do a picture of a person with fishes that is somehow interesting. It doesn't start that way. You don't even know it's going to become fishes.

Darrow: No. Not at all.

Hayes: Interesting.

Darrow: I don't know if there'll be one figure or two, whether there'll be a cat or a dog, or a horse, or none of the above. Honestly, I don't. It's just the one thing kind of leads to another. It's a very fun process.

Hayes: And what's the timeframe? What's the variable timeframe for a large canvas like that? I mean, how many days and weeks and years are you working on them?

Darrow: Well, actually, there are some that do span years, but it's not because I'm working on them all the time. They may sort of live in one incarnation for several years and then, if it hasn't sold, then I'm still looking at it, I think, "I could make that better than that." And so, either I'll use what's already there to enhance or I'll completely obliterate and start all over, just because, first of all, I'm sick of it, the canvas is there. The frame is there, both of which costs a lot, so it's, rather than go out and buy a new canvas, net frame, you use what you got. And I just did that last year for a show. Well, it was this year. It was in June and I had a show at Landfall. It was a benefit for the humane society. And I took about 30 pieces of abstract work, all canvases that I was just tired of looking at, and did figures, and in fact, that one is one of them. Did figures on top of the abstract and the combination of the two, the figure against that background made it so much more interesting than if I had just set out to do that figure. So all of these canvases then, had new life. People responded to them. They got sold and it's like, oh, great. Got done with all that inventory. Now, I have to start over with new canvases.

Hayes: Well, those of you who might be listening to this, we're hearing some extraneous noise which is just a reflection of where you live.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: You might do a side...

Darrow: It's the bridge.

Hayes: It's the bridge going over the river. You get boats and cars and trucks and...

Darrow: Motorcycles.

Hayes: And you have trained yourself to block it out, is that...

Darrow: Yeah, I don't even notice it now. In fact, if I go someplace where it isn't, it seems so quiet, it's like, what's-- where are all the background sounds? And then, at night, it gets very loud with crickets and tree frogs and all that insect sound. There's some of that...

Hayes: And you work all the time? I mean, that's the other question.

Darrow: I work at night.

Hayes: You work because you paint.

Darrow: Houses. And now I only really feel like being creative at night. So I like to just do my little work [inaudible].

Hayes: Have you always been that way? Or is that just a factor of the work life? How about when you first came? Were you the same patterns?

Darrow: It's evolved more into that, but pretty much. Since I've had to do some job or other to support myself in the day, then I work at night. I just like-- I like it better that way. No, I'm going out, making a living, doing what I know how to do certainly well by now because I've been doing it for 30 years.

Hayes: So did you start the house painting first when you got here? Was that a-- ?

Darrow: I started it just because I was staying with a friend and I didn't know what to do. I didn't have a job yet, and when she went off to work, I thought, well, I could make myself useful. And she had a house that really wanted some painting. All of her walls were chartreuse and her woodwork was dark blue. And it was such a "eh" kind of look to me, so that was back when I actually painted things quite more than I do now. But I painted her whole house. And just because in my married years, we'd move so often, we were always fixing up another house, so I kind of learned how to do that. And then, her father, who lived out at Figure 8, hired me to do some work for him. And then, one of his neighbors hired me. And then, pretty soon, it was just word of mouth and I didn't even know I was setting out that this would be.

Hayes: And that's been the pattern the whole time?

Darrow: Yes, it's only word of mouth. So 30 years later, I'm still doing it.

Hayes: Wow. What reaction do you get in kind of a male-dominated world of construction and painting and so forth? Any problem?

Darrow: No, no problem and there are many more women house painters these days than there were then. But since I was just working-- I mean, it's not like I was doing big construction jobs. I was going into people's houses and nowadays, I help them with color, too. I didn't do that initially. But I like doing that. You know, we look in their room and figure out what would be a good color for them to use. So there's a little bit of the decorator happening as well.

Hayes: And they trust you because you are an artist? Is there a double amount of that, too, I would guess.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: It would make sense.

Darrow: Right, yeah. And then they see what I've done in their friend's house, so you know, all of that. But some people really have no idea when it comes to choosing a color for their rooms, you know.

Hayes: Well, I think in recent times, that's the educational level of the general public about that has gone up. But you're right, white was white was white. And then a cream when you were bold. (laughter) So you're using-- and we're still on your house painting-- color more and more? You're saying that people are accepting of that?

Darrow: Oh, yeah. I mean, everybody seems to want color more now than they used to. And since I know, you get those big color wheels from the paint store and so I used them so much that I know when we're looking at something that's really going to be too bright, it's going to be screaming at your wall. And something that might be too dark, just something that's subtle and lovely and would work with your rug and your chairs and all that.

Hayes: You never went to the outside to take care of outside buildings? Always been an inside painter?

Darrow: No, when I began, I was doing both. And when I began, I had a partner as well. but then, he decided that he wanted outside and I decided I prefer inside, so we parted ways and I've been doing inside every since. And now, the outside work is so much harder and it's just nasty. You know, and it's weather-related and moving the ladders around. It's just harder work.

Hayes: I think so too.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: I don't know if the technology has really changed in some of that, too. Have you seen that in your own inside. Are you still using the same techniques or have you had to go to spray and...

Darrow: No, I think people who use spray are doing-- oh, hear my cat at the door-- doing big projects. You know, they're doing one color throughout a whole house. Or you know it's new construction, but I'm just a room here and a room there. And sometimes, it's the whole house over a period of a couple of weeks. But it's not new construction where I'm with a whole gang of guys who are...

Hayes: You came at a time when Wilmington was starting to recapture this whole downtown area. Has that been a big part of your market or not? The historic movement, the houses and so forth?

Darrow: I would say it's just a portion, you know. It's just friends telling friends wherever those people might live. But the lucky thing was that I moved here when I did, so that I could live in the downtown, which was then the cheapest place to buy. Nobody wanted to live downtown.

Hayes: There was not a nice plaque on your house, I bet, when you bought it.

Darrow: No.

Hayes: You might tell us about your house. That's an interesting-- it's a public record so I don't think we're-- what does that say on the front there? The house.

Darrow: Oh, it's the Cook-Carter house built in 1898, and when I moved in, it was-- it had been divided into a duplex. So that it used to be there was a hallway right through the center of the house and rooms on either side coming off it. That hallway now is filled in and that's a closet. So that's my big walk-in closet. That's my garage. That's my attic. That's my (laughs) 'cause we don't have those things here. Uh.. I've done a lot of cosmetic work. I moved in as a renter. And for three years, I was a renter until I decided it would be prudent to buy. So I bought. And then, that's when I started making changes. This studio that we're in belonged next door. This was built in 1902. And it belonged to a furniture maker who lived next door when I...

Hayes: And he used it for...

Darrow: He used it to make...

Hayes: ...for storage?

Darrow: He used it to make furniture, but there was no sheetrock. Uh.. it was pretty much just a barn, really. Some of these windows, I guess, are original to it, whereas-- and this too, even how that one concept.

Hayes: I see that.

Darrow: I love that. But I added sheetrock and there is heating and air in that little unit back there so I can work summer or winter. So when he died, the people who bought the house thought it was an eyesore and didn't want it. They were going to tear it down. So they just let me have it, and I hired house movers to come move it over here. And then, someone to kind of redo it.

Hayes: Well, that is great.

Darrow: I know. It's lucky because otherwise, I'd have all this mess in my house, and I did have that at one time.

Hayes: Oh, is that right?

Darrow: Yes.

Hayes: You were working actually in the house?

Darrow: I was working in what's now my bedroom, so my bedroom was in the dining room so you had to walk through the dining-- and through my bedroom to get to the kitchen. It wasn't like a very grownup house.

Hayes: I'm trying to visualize for our listeners and readers would not see the size of the house, but I have a hard time visualizing this as a duplex. I mean, it's a nice house...

Darrow: I know.

Hayes: for one person, but I don't...

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: Is there a second story? There's not a second story?

Darrow: No, there's not. So it was just me-- it was just like one person would have two rooms and a kitchen, I guess, and shared the screened porch. That was it. And Hiroshi lived here before I did.

Hayes: No.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: Hiroshi Sueyoshi?

Darrow: Yeah. So he had-- he lived on one side and had all his pottery on the other side. And when he moved out, I moved in.

Hayes: Oh, that is great. That is great. About the same time?

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: That is wonderful.

Darrow: So it was '82 when I moved in, '86 when I bought it.

Hayes: And the houses around here seemed to have been brought up to the same, really wonderful walk and historic conversion. Has that happened over the last 25 years?

Darrow: Oh, this was really a slum when I moved in.

Hayes: I didn't mean you to say that.

Darrow: It was. It was. I was the only person who lived on this street, I mean, this street overnight. Friends of mine opened did restore a house across the street and make it into Deacon Gallery. I don't know if you've ever-- that was like just forefront in the little art scene here back in the late '70s or early '80s.

Hayes: Deacon?

Darrow: Deacon. D-E-A-C-O-N.

Hayes: Wow. It's great.

Darrow: Yeah. So that was made, that was for Dea and Connie, D-E-A-C-O-N. They named her Deacon Gallery. And they were friends of mine and I encouraged them to do this so they opened the gallery. I showed my work there. And that's how I learned about this little block, really, was through them and their opening of that gallery.

Hayes: Wow. And we're on what street? This is Castle?

Darrow: This is Castle.

Hayes: Which goes way back, right. This has got to be a very early street.

Darrow: Oh, once upon a time-- this is quite a bustling place. And when I came in the early '80s, most of the houses were empty, barely standing even. There were no trees on this whole block. I planted all the trees on this block. I had a house painting client who'd give me these little volunteers that would come up in here yard, and I'd bring them home and stick in the ground. I didn't have to ask anybody. You know, because nobody was here to ask and no one cared.

Hayes: The house next to you seems larger, more substantial. Is that at one point, way back when, must have been a meeting house on this street?

Darrow: No, actually, that came maybe a year after this was built. This house was built and the one next door. The corner house was the parent house. So that guy had this house built for one daughter, this house built for another daughter, and then around the corner on Front Street, another house for his third daughter. So this was all in his family living here. He was in the big house on the corner. And then, this one was built by the same person, but not for the family. So obviously for someone who was wealthier and could afford a grander house.

Hayes: That's great. Well, I'm glad that you brought it back up. And then you have the plaque, but you also come under then all this in the historic district or is it in the fringe of the historic district?

Darrow: It's not really considered historic district, which, when you go to make repairs, you're glad for because you don't have to get everybody's okay. So whenever anything's done here, I don't have to ask permission.

Hayes: Good.

Darrow: Yeah, I like that. (laughs)

Hayes: That's good. But you have kept it in the spirit of the house.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: And you've turned it into a 1950's modern?

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: Back to your artistic life. You said the figures have come and gone over the years?

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: But way back, you mentioned you did some of those. What would you say are other thrusts that in your own mind, you kind of look back later and go, I was in a certain type of...

Darrow: Sometimes I had periods where I've done just small collages.

Hayes: We have one of those.

Darrow: I mean, there's sort of the beginning of one there, but it's not a completed one by any means. I've had times when I just worked very small. and then, when that starts to feel too tight, then I've gone back to the larger canvas. It used to be that the collages were only paper. And the canvases were only paint. And then, little by little, it seemed like the scraps started slipping into the paint. Now, it's definitely a combination, so that's been interesting. And even with the figurative work, I find that for initially, there's a real freshness to what comes out. And then, the more I do it, the more I seem to be doing kind of weaker copies of what came before. And so then I just have to stop altogether because-- and go back to abstract work because the figures seems too contrived, and not fresh like they are initially. So there's always a kind of back and forthness when something starts to feel like it's not fresh any more, it's too contrived, it's too tight, then I'll switch either to a different medium or to a different kind of imagery.

Hayes: You feel that difference. Do you colleagues and friends ever feel that? Is that just always coming from you inside? Because as an untrained person, I don't know that I could ever see there was a difference, but do other people you respect ever start to have a sense of that same thing?

Darrow: I don't think they get to see it, 'cause I've stopped when I feel that that's happening. And I also lose energy for it. I just-- I stop. I just-- I don't have energy for it and it feels-- it's not motivating me. It doesn't feel like there's any energy behind it. So I'm just-- then I'll go through a period where I just come out here and I'm staring around, feeling not motivated to do anything. I walk out and just say, "Hmm, I don't know." And then, time will pass and I'll realize I need to take a different turn here. And then things will start percolating again.

Hayes: Are there? Have any sense of what's driving imagery, what's creating the imagery, what's the source power of even-- is it a station? Is it being out? Is it the houses? In other words, it's coming from somewhere. I'm just curious if you don't have any sense of what your kind of inventory of images is coming through.

Darrow: I honestly, can't say. I don't think I really can say. I think it's just in playing with things, and playing with the scraps, and see, that's one advantage to having the scraps to play with. That when the canvas is on the floor, and you're placing things around, it's like you can move them. It's not like you painted it there and it's stuck there. You can move it and you can just sort of play with things. And it's that whole play that brings something to fruition. And it seems to call out for, well, or sometimes, it's just the happy coincidence of this thing that's on my floor that just is the right thing to go there. So it just kind of does its thing.

Hayes: Do you consciously seek out looking at other work to try to influence yourself? Or are you a searcher of other-- I see your house. I'm seeing that from some realization that you have a wonderful art collection of purchase and trade so you obviously like art. But is that a conscious part of you?

Darrow: I have to say that I don't see very much art that I get excited about looking at. But I do have some books that I look through that have sparked me. Like Ortia Gorkey's [ph?] work and Cy Twombly and Ina Tomio [ph?]. So sometimes, just sitting down with a book.

Hayes: And these are famous artists?

Darrow: These are famous artists.

Hayes: Or accomplished artists. Maybe not famous.

Darrow: Well, they're famous, yeah. And they're just out there in some other dimension. But when I look at-- and Cy Twombly, I mean, his work is so much about scribbling, just about scribbling. And his, looking at his work, maybe a month ago, what got me started again. I don't know. I just felt excited about just the idea of scribbling, just making that mark, just making that mark. And so I thought, "Ooh, I'm going to do like he does," only it's not at all like he does 'cause it's still me, but...

Hayes: You're not copying him. You using him as a jumping...

Darrow: I knew that if I could start scribbling, I could get into it again. And so that's how I-- so I scribbled on top of the canvas and then I drop scraps on top of the scribbles on top of the canvas. And that kind of thing.

Hayes: That is great. That is great. That's really helpful for me as an outsider to hear about the artistic process because we don't really understand what it is. And sometimes we over-analyze it. But it sounds to me that you follow your own mantra. You don't chase after something else. You do have kind of an inner drive that's creating the product. Do you think that the people then-- let's talk about the patron or the customer, or the person who buys your work. What do they say about it? I mean, what do you think is grabbing them? Do you have any sense of why people?

Darrow: I think they just connect with it. And maybe they connect with it because I've connected with it. So it doesn't feel false. I think, I don't know, it clicks with them somehow. They want to have it. Maybe it's the color 'cause I don't work in with color. Maybe it's just that it's something new that...

Hayes: Do you really have-- you're using a very modern palette, if we talk of the context so far, a very modern palette. And there's only a certain number of people that are attracted to that. Have you found enough in Wilmington? In other words, or if you had to go branch out looking-- I'm trying to get a sense of where your work is.

Darrow: My work is mostly sold here. And I've discovered that doing a home show is the most successful, more than a gallery.

Hayes: Well, tell us about that, because I was telling like a patriot here. Did we ever mention your name? Joining us is Ashley Shiver who's a graduate student at UNCW doing camera work, and questions I have. I was telling here about the eight artists in six houses and that was what, a couple years ago?

Darrow: That was last October.

Hayes: Okay. And that was a first attempt at this...

Darrow: No. I did a home show for the first time in October of 2000, where I had just in my house, small collages. And that went really well.

Hayes: You use the term "home show," but tell us how you define that.

Darrow: Well, so I took down all the work that is presently or usually hanging in my house, and just hung all of my work that was for sale. And then, just like it would be in a gallery where there's a little tag that gives the title and the price and the medium. I sent out invitations and people came, and bought, and it was great.

Hayes: But you left your furniture and you left your own ambience. You left the comfort level of, this was a real place.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: I came to that one that was more recent. And I think part of the power and draw is to see the art in the context of somebody really living.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: I mean, that they're living...

Darrow: In their home.

Hayes: Or in a home.

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: Because where the gallery is particularly the museum gallery...

Darrow: Uh-huh, the piece is just all by itself and you don't see it in the context of furniture and rugs and knick-knacks and everything else.

Hayes: And you think people connect them because they can go...

Darrow: "Oh, I can see this in my house." But then they also like-- it's friendlier, more intimate setting, and it's an event.

Hayes: You have food.

Darrow: Right. Food and wine. And it's a fun event. And they know that they're coming to look at art and possibly buy art.

Hayes: But they don't feel compelled.

Darrow: No.

Hayes: It's not an obligation.

Darrow: No, they just want to look. So I did that then in the year 2000. And then, Simmons Wright Gallery came along and so I was with them as long as they were here.

Hayes: Which was about three or four years.

Darrow: Yeah. And then, they...

Hayes: Early 2000 period.

Darrow: Right. I think it was-- what has it been? Two or three?

Hayes: They were on the Market, yeah. Market Street just past the high school.

Darrow: Right. Yeah, and it was a great gallery with wonderful space for hanging large pieces.

Hayes: But they were also kind of emulating your house in a sense, though. They were selling wine and had events with food.

Darrow: Right. Yeah. They were-- I mean, I just loved that gallery until everything kind of unraveled and I was scheduled to have a show with them two Octobers ago. But that's when they closed and since I had all my work together, I decided well, I'm going to go ahead and have a show anyway and I'll have it in my house like I had done the years previous. And friend, Denise next door, said, well, you can hang the work in my house, too, because I had enough to fill both houses upstairs and down in hers. So we had this event for one weekend and people came through and loved it, bought, and I thought, wow, this is a great thing. But it seemed to do it again, all by myself seemed a little too, I don't know...

Hayes: Repetitious.

Darrow: Well, it was also more than that. It was like I was promoting myself too much. So I thought, well, I could bring in other artists who lost their gallery when Simmons Wright closed and who'd like this event. So for eight artists, six houses, that's what I did. I just brought in friends that had been artist friends for years and years. And so there were four houses on this street.

Hayes: And why don't we put for the record who that group of people were because I think it's a significant kind of an interesting movement to use this technique.

Darrow: Okay. Ginny Wright-Frierson, Margie Worthington, Gayle Tustin, Traudi Thornton, Dina Wilde-Ramsing, Hiroshi Sueyoshi, Fritzi Huber, and one more. Hiroshi, Dina, Margie, Ginny... oh, me!


Darrow: I'm the eighth one.

Hayes: You were the lead one. And it was a lot of work, though.

Darrow: It was a lot of work, but it was very well received, and the public loved it, especially with four houses right here on this block. That Friday night was like this huge block party and people just went from house to house. And then, Margie and Ginny were-- had their little place over there. It would have been great if all of the houses could have been...

Hayes: But both of theirs were fairly large venues.

Darrow: Yes.

Hayes: And they're in a kind of a fun neighborhood to get to.

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: So I think that was fine.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: And Ginny Wright-Frierson has the models and so forth for the community people are familiar with. So that worked fine. Perhaps Margie Cunningham was the one that was...

Darrow: Worthington.

Hayes: Worthington. I'm sorry. Not Cunningham. That's a different...

Darrow: That's Anne.

Hayes: Anne. Hers was a little further away, but I think she did well as far...

Darrow: Yes, she did.

Hayes: people coming. And your work then, in your house was yours and you and Hiroshi were in...

Darrow: In Denise's house.

Hayes: And then, Gayle...

Darrow: Gayle Tustin was at Caroline's house.

Hayes: Right. Across the street was...

Darrow: Fritzi. And Traudi and Dina Wilde-Ramsing.

Hayes: Right. That was great. That was a great idea. Do you hope to do it again? Or, of course, it was a lot of work and can also overdo something. Are you going to give it a break?

Darrow: Well, we are giving it a break this year. But then what I did this year at Landfall was to have that fundraiser for the humane society and that was-- well just my work on the walls, but then there was a potter, Sam Rankin [ph?]and then, Andy Cobb had his, you know, big frogs, frogs?

Hayes: Oh, yeah, I think I have some of those. The metal. Aren't they metal?

Darrow: Yes. They're metal. Frogs with a lawnmower, at the bus station, those sort of things. So that was Hannah Holt's idea to invite us to do that because she wanted to do an event for the humane society. And that's when I thought, wow, this is the way to go, just have, as soon as I accumulate a large enough body of work, then do a home show, not necessarily my home, but maybe a bigger one, and have it be a benefit for some cause. I mean, make it 20 percent. I get 80 percent. My prices are lower. More people can afford because it's not, you don't have to double your price because it's a gallery thing. That's part of the deal.

Hayes: Now, tell us about that. I mean, we-- supposedly, the world would understand that, but I know that they always do, what is a gallery relationship?

[crew talk]

Hayes: How does a gallery work? I mean, what's the relationship with an artist and the gallery?

Darrow: Well, they take 50 percent of the selling price. So you either take a cut from what you really you should get in order to sell your work. Or you double the price and it seems to sit there for a long time because it's too expensive.

Hayes: It drives it beyond what people can afford.

Darrow: A lot of people. I mean, I just notice such a difference with keeping my prices lower, so an 80/20 split is a whole lot different from a 50/50 split. And I know what I need to get out of them having paid for the frames and the, you know, the time, and supplies, the everything.

Hayes: Have you, yourself, considered going to any reproductive method to try to change your pattern? It seems like yours would lend itself to the giclee on canvas or, you know, limited edition of 15, or I don't know if you ever thought of that as a technique?

Darrow: I haven't. I mean, I have considered it but not-- it always just makes me feel sort of uncomfortable, like I'd be compromising the work. And I know that's a fine way to generate a lot of income. I just don't-- I like mine just being original, one of a kind.

Hayes: That's fine. I think prior to the giclee that there was a radical quality difference that could happen. In other words, if you have your, you know, your physical canvas deal that was an important part of it and the richness of color in some of the reproductive methods, it really then became a flat print.

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: I'm just saying that technology is making it so that you could change that. Or the other one that we talked to one artist is they took what was a small piece and then...

Darrow: Blew it up.

Hayes: Blew it up and that really became a much different piece. And if you were comfortable with that, you know, that would be different. So I think that that...

Darrow: See, then it becomes about marketing and then it's all about the product. And then it really becomes really all about money.

Hayes: Yes.

Darrow: Yeah. And I kind of like it not have it be so much going in that direction.

Hayes: Okay. In painting houses?

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: And then you're independent. That's great. What do we have?

Shivar: Eight minutes.

Hayes: Let's go back to history, if that's okay. A few people that you've worked with and supported you and you've supported over the years, that would help us in the sense of the neat story of the community. Claude Howell. Tell us about Claude. You arrived in the late '70s.

Darrow: Everyone knows Claude. He's just a really character. And he was always very encouraging to me and to other artists coming up. Anne Brennan and Margie Worthington both lived in the Carolina Apartments at the same time that Claude did.

Hayes: Which is over on Fifth and Market?

Darrow: Yeah. Fifth and Market.

Hayes: Right across Kenan Fountain from the Bellamy mansion?

Darrow: Yeah. The big fountain.

Hayes: Everybody went to Claude, right?

Darrow: Right.

Hayes: Was he kind of holding court? Or what was...

Darrow: Yeah, because he did his work in the day, so he liked to party at night. And so, he would always be there with his scotch and welcoming anybody. He loved to just converse and, of course, did you know Claude?

Hayes: No, I didn't. I've been here only 10 years. And he had just passed away a few years before. Of course, I've heard him on the radio. And we have much of his work at the university library and...

Darrow: And all those diaries he kept from the time he was a little boy.

Hayes: The diaries are at the public library and we-- evidently a collector-- someone used the term packrat, or I would use the word collector.

Darrow: (laughs) Yeah.

Hayes: Because he has every show he's visited, every scrap piece taken and those are at the Cape Fear museum.

Darrow: Oh, really.

Hayes: Yes, so he went to Europe and went to this show, that show, did this, and was at a hotel and here was the menu.

Darrow: He kept it all.

Hayes: All of it is at the Cape Fear Museum.

Darrow: Wow. Wow.

Hayes: This is a fascinating set. We have at the university, a product that he did out of love, which was an index to North Carolina artists, where he hired a clipping service to keep track of. And people would send him things, and he would use students. And they did index cards. In fact, you might come in some time and you would be surprised of what we have of your career that Claude documented in folders...

Darrow: Really.

Hayes: that would-- so for example, Hiroshi, your good friend, we have many of his papers, right? Well, what Claude had documented, Hiroshi was surprised to see because he didn't always have-- oh, I remember. Hiroshi said, "Oh, I do remember that show."

Darrow: Right. (laughs)

Hayes: So it stopped in, you know, the late '80s, but he has about 30 years from all over the state.

Darrow: Wow.

Hayes: And we have done an index of the names so you can contact us and we can go to the folder and say the kinds of things that are in there. But it's again, kind of-- and that was Claude.

Darrow: Wow.

Hayes: Because he believed in artists. I guess that's...

Darrow: Yeah. He was very organized. Yeah.

Hayes: Which seems kind of retentive for a collector and an artist...

Darrow: Right. That he would keep track of so many things.

Hayes: And when you said he was encouraging, it was the keep going, or did he offer practical advice, or what it just more a friendship? How did Claude and you...

Darrow: I would say more friendship and sometimes compliments and just...

Hayes: And he purchased because I guess he had some of your work, right? I thought that was interesting. He didn't just talk about it. He bought artwork.

Darrow: Right. He did. He had one of my small collages. And I think it all got sold in his estate sale at St. John's, was in charge of but-- for a while, I was part of his permanent collection, but I guess, it wasn't so permanent.

Hayes: Well, they kept quite a bit of it. So is you work out at Cameron now?

Darrow: I have a few pieces out there.

Hayes: Good. Are there museums that you're proud of that or do you care about whether they ended up in museums?

Darrow: I don't really care that much. I guess it's nice when that happens, but what I really care about is doing it. And where it goes-- of course, I like it to sell. But where it ends up or who owns it doesn't matter to me so much as to whoever really loves it, has it. So that's a nice thing. But the thing I'm mostly focused on is generating the energy to keep it going. It's not so much-- like when I'm finished, it's like, okay, go out, I don't care where you go really. It's the doing of it that I just want that magical thing to keep on happening. And that's how it feels when I'm working on a piece. And then I like to get a whole body of work together, so it's like, I've got this huge litter, you know, that...

Hayes: (laughs)

Darrow: And then they go out into the world, then, away they go.

Hayes: It's not about where you're at in history, or what you've done...

Darrow: No.

Hayes:'s the creative process.

Darrow: Yes, it really is. Yeah. I mean, I realize after this last show, when I sold well, that that didn't bring me at all-- I mean, I would have been really bummed out if I hadn't sold.

Hayes: Right.

Darrow: But, the fact that I did, didn't really bring me joy the way creating it brings me joy.

Hayes: So we have talked in some of the other interviews, talked about the society attempts to force the validation then on this sale.

Darrow: Yeah.

Hayes: And you don't hold to that. It isn't a validation of your work, the sale, it's the...

Darrow: Oh, it is sort of. But it isn't that-- I mean, I do want it to sell. And I'm glad when it sells. But it's not that same excitement of when it's hatching right in front of your eyes. It's hatching.

Hayes: You yourself know you're a great artist.

Darrow: No, I can't say that I know that. All I know is that I love doing it and when it's happening, then that's great. You know, it's just this wonderful engagement. But I can't say, no, I don't know, I'm a great artist. I don't even think I'm a great artist.

Hayes: But it isn't highly important that other people judge your work. It's you own contentment.

Darrow: Yeah. It's really-- but, it also pleases me when they connect to it, when they like it, and when they like it enough to buy it. But I'm not doing it for that reason. How could I? How would I even know what would please anybody else? All I know is what pleases me and what displeases me. And then, when it stops bothering me, I know it's finished. At least for a few years until it bothers me again. So it's just the doing of it. That's what keeps me doing it is that I love doing it when I'm (laughs) when it's clicking.

Hayes: That's plenty. This is just what we wanted. I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for talking with us.

Darrow: Thank you. A pleasure. You're a very good interviewer.

Hayes: Well, I, we, both of us, like the fact that we're learning. And I do find that artists-- I don't know if driven is the right word-- but there's something about and you talked about you want to do this. And in the world, so many people who work, enjoy their work, but they not necessarily want to do this. And I congratulate you that you've been able to maintain that.

Darrow: Thank you.

Hayes: And you'll be doing it forever as far as you're concerned, right, as long as you can. So it isn't an age type thing, right?

Darrow: No.

Hayes: You're a veteran. Can I say a veteran artist, if that's okay. I tried to say a great artist, but a veteran artist? Is that good or it that maturity coming to fruition. I mean, your different stages of where you were adding your art, is that fund to have that experience?

Shivar: We're out of tape.

Darrow: Okay. That's all right.

Hayes: All right.

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