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Interview with Brooks Pearce, November 14, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Brooks Pearce, November 14, 2007
November 14, 2007
Brooks Pearce is a locally-based artist and photographer with a realist aesthetic whose work often features the natural world. She and her husband owned and operated a surf shop in Carolina Beach in the early 70s where they produced their own surfboards, on which Pearce did custom artwork, under the imprint America Surfboards. Pearce also designed and silkscreened t-shirts and created postcards of her artwork. She has worked in animal rehabilitation and in raising wildlife, and her commissioned work includes the dioramas for the Cape Fear Children's Museum and educational posters for the North Carolina Resource Commission.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Pearce, Brooks Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll Date of Interview:  11/14/2007 Series:  Arts Length  120 minutes


Jones: --2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Ashley Shivar for the Randall Library Oral History Project. And we're visiting this morning with Brooks Pearce, a well known local artist specializing in seascapes, landscapes, animals, nature, and I understand she does commission work. Her gallery carries art originals, giclees, and she has prints for sale. Good morning Brooks, how are you doing?

Pearce: Hello.

Jones: Thanks for having us.

Pearce: Well, thank you for asking me.

Jones: We are in Brooks'-- I guess this is where you do most of your work.

Pearce: My studio.

Jones: Your studio. And it's absolutely fascinating. It's worth the trip just to look at it. Nice and light filled. Tell us a little bit about your background, where you're from and if you have any-- was there any of your family, anybody interested in art, or were you one of these "strangies" that went off in your tactic.

Pearce: (chuckles) I was probably-- well, my mother was artistic. She liked to fool around with painting. And just her house was constant change of displays of her little things, very artistic. And so she encouraged that kind of thing.

Jones: Yeah. Where are you from?

Pearce: I was born in California, in Alameda, which is right outside of San Francisco.

Jones: I know where that is, yeah.

Pearce: And my father was in the Navy, and so we moved about quite a bit, mostly up and down California's coast. And lived in San Diego, Carmel, Monterey.

Jones: All the pretty places.

Pearce: All the beautiful, beautiful places, which really, really influenced--

Jones: I can imagine.

Pearce: --how I look at the world and all, I think. Particularly when I was eight-- well, young, we grew up on the beach. And that was our entertainment. Mom took us all to the beach, and we had a good time and did our own thing. Five kids, oldest of five kids. So the beach was probably the safest place that we wouldn't kill each other.

Jones: Well, I don't know, you could drown each other.

Pearce: Yeah. And then later, when I lived in Carmel, we lived right on the edge of what was called the 17-mile drive.

Jones: Right, beautiful.

Pearce: It was all woods, canyons and woods. And I was, like I said, around eight or ten. And I spent a lot of time in the woods, by myself even, just exploring. So I really got into the nature thing early, and so I was very influenced by it. And drawing kind of followed along those lines when I was little and started to draw, it was generally something in nature. I liked to draw my cat. I started drawing horses because like lots of little girls, I wanted a horse, you know. So I would draw these fantasy pictures of girls on horses, or whatever. And seems like I started getting some attention for it. You know, "Oh, that's really good," and all that.

Jones: From family or your teachers?

Pearce: Both family and teachers. So I suppose that kind of helped keep it kind of going or encouraging or something.

Jones: What were you drawing in at that time?

Pearce: Like pencils and crayons. You know, nothing spectacular. I had probably got some paints or something when I was maybe 12. It was young. But as I got into high school and all, it was really drawing that I was attracted to, the details, the textures of different things. It fascinated me. And so as I-- I didn't really do that much painting, except for fooling around and playing, and maybe experimenting in school. Didn't have a lot of money either, so I just couldn't go out and buy a set of oil paints or something to play around with. For my junior and senior year, we moved to Hawaii. And although it was a devastating move to me personally, in the middle of high school. Because I was going to high school right in the San Francisco area in the '60s, and seeing the rock and roll bands. I was all in the middle of all of the Haight-Ashbury and the Berkeley stuff going on.

Jones: Bet you had the Beach Boys up there.

Pearce: Well, they were southern. The San Francisco bands were totally different. But without digressing into my San Francisco band era there. But it was hard on me. I had a lot of friends and all. So when I moved to Hawaii, as beautiful as it was, I really delved into-- got more into the art, more into just drawing and all, it was kind of an inward thing.

Jones: Did you live on, in housing, or did you live off base in a pretty area?

Pearce: We lived in a pretty spot. But it was base housing that was not on base. And so it was actually at the end of this little island. And it was kind of a neat little-- particularly for a military housing area. But like I said, it wasn't on base, it was a separate little area. But I ended up buying a horse there in Hawaii. Had it in the mountains of Hawaii, on Oahu. And that was some of the most spectacular times I had, riding and exploring the mountains around Hawaii. It was just beautiful. And at that the same time, it was the colors there that started to really inspire me as far as color work.

Jones: Did you get the changes, the daily changes, like the rain, over in the, on the other side.

Pearce: Yeah. There was also was something. You know, they had passing showers, rarely just a rain day. So it was always very clear. It wasn't humid. The soil is red, the leaves are incredible green. The sky-- you know, everything is like, wow, you know? Almost too much to take for the senses. I think that help me get-- I don't know, it inspired the color kind of to come out in some of my work. I started thinking more about that. Maybe growing up in the San Francisco area, where there's a lot of fog, there's a lot of-- you know, maybe that was something, with the texture and the drawing. Because I did a lot of pen and ink drawings, and I still do. And we can talk about some of that just shortly. But so Hawaii, as hard as it was on me in some ways, I think it also started building a real foundation in what I wanted to do. Although I was not thinking I was going to be an artist at that point.

Jones: Really?

Pearce: Yeah. This is kind of weird maybe, from you know this era, or this time, but I still didn't really feel like I could just grow up and graduate and become an artist. I just didn't think-- I mean, I didn't know how you went about doing that, for one thing. You know, it was like, you had to be a teacher, you had to be something else, you know? And it just never really-- it didn't occur to me yet that I was going to have, or that I could have that kind of talent maybe to--

Jones: You never thought of just going to art school?

Pearce: I did. Yeah, because it started things started kind of narrowing down to that. I thought I was going to be a veterinarian for a while.

Jones: See the horses.

Pearce: Because of my love of animals. I found that I had no brain for chemistry and I had no stomach for blood. (laughs) I passed out very easily. So although I was good at doing little tiny injuries with little things, I wasn't so hot at the big stuff. And it was heartbreaking. I think I have too much empathy for things. And it was too much of a soul hurt, you know, to see some of them. I wasn't made for it. But that love of animals has come through in my work, and nature has always been a major theme in my art. And I've studied animals and birds, drew them endlessly, to where I could just draw them by heart. I know where everything goes, you know.

Jones: During this period, did you get a lot of support or any support from your parents, or your mother at least? And any suggestions as to what you might do after graduation?

Pearce: You know, not really. I mean, they certainly weren't like holding me back or anything, you know, "Oh, well you can't do that." It was always kind of, I think, "You can do what you," like most mothers do, "you can do what you set out to do," you know. And I think I just didn't really have a personal direction at first. I won, I did win a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. And I won scholastics awards from the National Scholastics Achievement Awards. I won a gold medal for textile design.

Jones: This is all art related?

Pearce: All art related. And, do they still have that? (chuckles)

Jones: You know, I don't really know. It was scholastic?

Pearce: It was the National Scholastics Award.

Jones: I think they do. At least when I was in high school, they still did that.

Pearce: Right. So your high school, I won things in my high school. I won like three gold awards, they're called gold keys, for ceramics, photography, and two-dimensional art. And then I went on to the nationals and won the gold medal in textile design for a batik I did. Hawaii was very, of course, Polynesian oriented, you know. There was a fellow out there that was a batik artist, that used all natural silks and vegetable dies. He was a very dramatic man, that he would do his batiks and then wash them out in the rivers in Hawaii. And he'd, you know, get in the water naked and his long gray hair flowing around. And he'd, you know.

Jones: Must have been a sight.

Pearce: I was just, "Ooh, that's kind of interesting," you know. (laughs)

Jones: But I understand that good batik is expensive.

Pearce: Yeah. Not very many. You don't see it very often. And often not taken to the degree of fine art that it can be taken to. Which he did, he was quite a master. But I enjoyed it. It was very interesting. I have always enjoyed trying new stuff.

Jones: Good. You're adventurous.

Pearce: Sometimes maybe to my detriment as far as-- I think art, people's-- what I see in art is people focusing on a single-- take Chuck Close, who's a real obvious one, where he started out doing the human face, real huge. And that's all he's ever really done for his whole entire career, is a face. And although he's, you know, I'm not putting that down or something, because he has explored it in just amazing ways with different-- even making rugs, you know, with these. But I couldn't ever focus (laughing) enough on one thing to be able to do that kind of focused work for much of a period of time.

Jones: It seems to me that a curiosity existed with you that--

Pearce: And always has. And I've always--

Jones: --go a step further.

Pearce: Yeah. I'm always wanting to try something different.

Jones: I want to go back to your awards a minute, so I get this straight. You won a scholarship to University of Hawaii, and then you won the Scholastic Awards.

Pearce: The Scholastics Awards were from high school, and then from that, yeah, I won a-- so I went to Hawaii, the University of Hawaii, just for a year. And I was very bored and I had wanderlust, mostly. I had been on the island for about three years, four years.

Jones: That's enough. You kind of get locked in.

Pearce: You do. It's a long way to the mainland on an airplane. You can't just get in the VW (laughing) which is what I had, a little Bug. You can't get in your car and drive to somewhere, drive to the snow, or drive to the desert, or something, like I was used to in California. And it was driving me crazy.

Jones: Well see, that can spoil you right there. Because people who've never been to California don't realize, they live along the coast, you don't realize in an hour you can be in the desert, an hour you can be in the mountains.

Pearce: Mountains. Anywhere. You can be in a huge city, you can be in a ghost town in the--

Jones: I know, true.

Pearce: Yeah, just anywhere. And so I had had enough of that.

Jones: You were spoiled.

Pearce: Yeah. And so I met a real cool guy, and I picked him up hitchhiking and thought he was dreamy (laughing) and so I flew to the East Coast with him eventually.

Jones: You picked him up where? Were you back in California now?

Pearce: This was in Hawaii.

Jones: In Hawaii?

Pearce: When I was still in Hawaii.

Jones: And from the Hawaiian to the East-- he must have been special.

Pearce: He was from Virginia. So several months later, I ended up flying out to Virginia. And then we kind of cruised around the East Coast until we ended up-- and we ended up here.

Jones: Really. You ended up in North Carolina. Was he, either one of you-how did you end up in North Carolina?

Pearce: Well, we had to be on the coast. He was into surfing. And of course, I'd lived on water, one way or the other, all my life. I had to be on the water. So that was definitely a given. We were looking for a place that wasn't too crowded, because we both enjoyed peaceful environments and nice rural even-- not rural like country, but just laid back, I guess would be a better word. Although close to a city. Wilmington kind of fit that. We went down through South Carolina and all, but we wanted to also-- that kind of middle ground to where it's not too cold and it's not too hot. It was just like the perfect spot. Virginia Beach is said to have been the perfect spot by Edgar Cayce, you know, the prophet or whatever you might call him. But I felt like this area had some sense of geological perfection because of the way it combined different planting zones even, here.

Jones: About how long have you been here?

Pearce: Since 1972.

Jones: Well, you're practically a native.

Pearce: Yeah.

Jones: So in 1972, things were that way.

Pearce: Very, very laid back. Yeah. There was, you know, of course major changes that happened.

Jones: So he surfed, and you pursued art.

Pearce: We opened a shop, a surf shop. And I made the T-shirt designs.

Jones: In Carolina Beach?

Pearce: And printed the T-shirts. We made our own surfboard wax, made the labels and packaged it. We made surfboards under the name America Surfboards.

Jones: America?

Pearce: Uh-huh.

Jones: Okay.

Pearce: And I did artwork on the surfboards. And I would do--

Jones: Did you do custom--

Pearce: All custom. I would make little, it's called a pin line, that goes around the edge of the surfboard. But I would draw these-- normally it would be just like a pinstripe on a car, little stripes. Well, I would take my pen and do little tiny flower borders going all the way on the edge. But they'd have fruit and butterflies and little naked fairies, and all kinds of stuff going all the way, all around the surfboard. And then I would sometimes do acrylic paintings on the surfboards, sometimes quite elaborate. I did a couple of them where the whole bottom of the board was all painted. And generally it would be something maybe from a-- sometimes people would want an album cover, you know, that was a real spectacular album cover, reproduced. Or an island scene, which was the most popular, the naked lady laying on the beach with perfect waves rolling in behind. But it was fun. Different, because working on surfboards, I also had different layers of resin. You could do some interesting things by painting on one layer, and then the resin layers over the top of that, and then I could do pen and ink on that. And it was real-- I did some things that nobody else has ever really done.

Jones: I was just thinking. Doing acrylics on surfboards, which have to be waxed. And how are they preserved in the water?

Pearce: It was all done in the building of the board. It was all part of the process. And they make boards a little different now, even. They're making them a lot lighter than what we did back then. We made them so that you could buy one surfboard for a season, and it would last several years. And now they're made real, real light, and they rarely last a month if you surf on them a lot. But they were built in layers, and the first layer of a surfboard is fiberglass with resin, and it's kind of a sticky finish. And so I did the acrylic on that part, and there's another coat of resin that went over the top of that. So the acrylic is now part of the basic surfboard building, or construction. And then on that layer I would do the little pen and ink. Then there'd be another layer of resin, called the gloss coat.

Jones: Lot of time.

Pearce: Yeah. And you have to wait while these dry or get off, but, you know, they harden.

Jones: So what would you do? You'd work on one at a time, or would you work on one, let it dry, and go on to another one?

Pearce: Sometimes I would work on-- do like the pin lines on one, then go on and do the pin lines on the next, or something. But it was very time consuming.

Jones: It sounds like it. So you had patience or love, or both.

Pearce: Yeah. A little of both. Although I remember standing in there sometimes, because I had to stand and do it. And it'd be late, and I'd have already worked all day. And I'd be going, "I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home." (laughs) You know.

Jones: And you were doing artwork on the shirts too.

Pearce: Doing silk screening.

Jones: Silk screening.

Pearce: Because I learned how to do silk screening in high school. I got the stuff and make the silk screens, and made our own T-shirts. So our little store was literally full of-- I mean, can you imagine that nowadays? Opening a store with hand made T-shirts and wax with your own, you know. But it was our little surf shop.

Jones: Did you say this was at Carolina Beach?

Pearce: Yeah. And I also made things to sell in there. Postcards, I would do some drawings and have them made into postcards. And I tried to get my art infused into the place also. But the main business was building surfboards.

Jones: Did people come from outside this area?

Pearce: Yeah. Yep. Well, because Carolina Beach has always drawn people from all over. And a lot of, of course, guys, fellows, came to surf. That was the whole idea, all summer they'd surf. So the boards became quite popular. And that was in '72, '73, '74. There are still those surfboards all over the East Coast that those fellows kept and have hung up.

Jones: They're works of art.

Pearce: And have hung on their walls.

Jones: I can imagine. Did you sign them?

Pearce: Yes.

Jones: Or put your initials on?

Pearce: Yes. And I also--

Jones: Smart.

Pearce: I also usually made it out to whoever the board was being made to. You know, his name was on it and then my name and everything.

Jones: I wonder how many of them are, were probably corporate executives right now.

Pearce: Yeah, you know. (laughs) Yep, because they're really pretty fantastic looking. So the surfboard business kind of went out the window. We ran into some problems and all that changed, by that time I had my first child. Now all through that time also-- I digress a little bit here. But it was a seasonal business. So in the wintertime, when I was around 20, 21, I guess, I started driving a school bus. There was very little way of making any kind of living around here. I also worked at Beltberry's [ph?] when it was downtown at night. I was-

Jones: That must have been kind of boring.

Pearce: It was very, very quiet. (laughs) We made our own excitement down there. We were a wild bunch. (laughs)

Jones: So let me ask you something, digress a second. Tell me, since you were downtown, and I remember when Belks was down there, but I don't remember-- we're talking about mid-'70s. I don't remember that there was yet a thriving art community. It must have been underground.

Pearce: No. Very--

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: There was a little-- you know, we had the--

Jones: We had Chandler's Wharf, I remember.

Pearce: Wilmington Art Association was going. And I did join that at some point.

Jones: Was it the Art Association or the Art League?

Pearce: I'm not sure. I think it was still the Association then, or I think it was that.

Jones: Okay.

Pearce: And I should remember all those things. Because I became quite involved in it for a while. But not at first, I was still just kind of fooling around on my own down here. Although somewhere around in there, '73, '74, Carolina Beach asked me to help set up an art show with one of their festivals. And so I started doing that with them down there for a couple of years. I had an art show with awards, and we'd get judges. Part of probably Spring Festival, but maybe-- I don't think it was the Azalea Festival down there. But I was trying to get some art things going on down there, or awareness of it. And I was selling, had little things in my shop. But in the wintertime, I drove the school bus. And I was hired by a principal who said-- he came up to me after I passed my middle school bus driving test, and he says, "We'd like to hire you down at Carolina Beach to drive the school bus." He says, "But I'd like you to be full-time, so that, and not just the hours of driving the bus. Gosh, we'd love for you to teach art." They had no art teacher.

Jones: From school bus to art teacher.

Pearce: But I was being paid by school bus driving money. I mean, I wasn't getting a salary or something like a teacher, because I was hired as a bus driver. So I was making the same thing the dishwashers made. (laughs) But I was ecstatic. I thought it was a terrific idea.

Jones: Well sure.

Pearce: I can do that (laughs). So that was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that, and we did a lot of neat projects with kids. And I went from class to class. We would just set up times. The teachers would say, "Well, can you come in this day?" It was very loose. About then also they asked me to paint some murals in the school. So I painted murals in the cafeteria area and around and about, which was-- at some point later, they had a fire in the cafeteria and lost most of those. And a few years ago, gee, I'm sure it's been about 15, but I'm not sure, I went back in and did another large mural in the cafeteria.

Jones: Still there?

Pearce: I believe it's still there, because they just went through another renovation and they were planning on saving that mural and another mural that I had done in an entryway, did two of them there.

Jones: That's terrific.

Pearce: But when I did the murals, I did them to coincide with during school time, so that the kids could come in and watch and ask questions.

Jones: That would be fun for them.

Pearce: It is, it really is. And it's so interesting to see something like that progress. And, you know, for them that daily progression of how things would evolve.

Jones: When you did your murals, did you have to do it on big paper first, or did you use pen and ink to outline it and then fill it in? Or did you kind of just let your imagination take you?

Pearce: No. When you're working on something large, your imagination can take you into bad places. (laughs) Because you can't really see the whole, you know, and you can get kind of carried away and go off into some-- but I would do the drawing, a fairly detailed drawing, of where everything was going to go on a piece of paper that was to scale to what I was doing on the wall. So it was pretty easy to transfer. I didn't really grid things, but just a basic transferring of it. Sometimes on really huge things, you actually grid the wall itself too, with chalk lines, and then transfer your drawing to that. Because you're working in a very small space and you have to get down off of whatever you're on. Because this mural was up in the air. So I had to be on a scaffolding to paint it, which is often the case in a public place. So I enjoyed my time down there. And then I started working more in the-- where our shop became a little more year round, so I got more involved in working in there. And then that all fizzled. We lost that and went bankrupt, actually. Right when I was in court for bankruptcy, with a brand new baby. (laughs)

Jones: So and you should have enlisted a couple of these tears, you know, and spark those feelings.

Pearce: It was a pretty terrible time.

Jones: I guess so.

Pearce: Neither one of us had a job at that point. And we had hou--our property, because we had just recently bought it, had no equity in it, so they didn't want to take it. So we kept our property. But lost a lot. And of course, no credit or anything. So I started doing some festivals. And I had a little bitty car, a little bitty Datsun, which is an old Nissan. And I would go to festivals with my baby and I had stuff tied all over that car. Displayed stuff.

Jones: Did you have someone take a picture of this?

Pearce: I don't think I ever did.

Jones: You should have.

Pearce: But I really wish I had. And then the car had no floorboards left in it. So it was all newspaper down there to keep the water from hitting me in the face when I drove. Couldn't open this window.

Jones: This is out of a movie, you know that?

Pearce: So I would crawl out the window, go around and get my baby. (laughs) Undo everything, I would put him in a walker and tie a rope to it (laughs) so that he could move around but not get away from me. And it was interesting. That was a pretty tough way to make some money.

Jones: Now what happened to Mr. Hawaii hitchhiker?

Pearce: (laughs) Well, he was a little less interested in work than I would have preferred a man to be. And it was a little tough. We had a lot of hard times over that particular point, and others, you know, that happened. But he would-- well, we're going to get too involved and intimate.

Jones: No, but you stayed together then.

Pearce: Oh, we did. It was a hard time. I could get into a whole other thing right here.

Jones: No, that's okay.

Pearce: We managed-- he actually hunted a lot. Instead of working, he felt like he could just supply us with food. (laughs) "Look honey, I brought home a deer. Now cut it up and put it away. It'll be fine." Oh God, I can do this, I can do this. I'm a strong woman. I'll do this. The things you do.

Jones: What did the rest of your family all this time think--

Pearce: And we heated our house with a wood heater. We had no regular heat. And then it was cold back then. We used to get hard winters back then. We had snow on the ground sometimes for quite a while.

Jones: Really?

Pearce: It would be, I remember weeks where it would be below freezing. Where the animals we had out-- I had some goats, and ponies. I had down, living in Carolina Beach, I had a pet mallard that I used to take swimming in the ocean. She would swim alongside with me in the ocean. I had goats that I milked. And later when I moved up here--

Jones: Was this all self-taught?

Pearce: Yes. And chickens, you know, for eggs and stuff.

Jones: What did your family think of this? Were you the renegade daughter?

Pearce: Yeah, definitely.

Jones: But they loved you?

Pearce: Yes. (laughs)

Jones: They had to have been fascinated.

Pearce: Yeah. They were always I think on the edge of worry about my-- where things were going. Like I was telling you about this house with wood heat. And something was always-- it was a very old house. And at one point, somebody fell through the floor (laughs) you know. Actually, it was my husband, and we all thought that was very funny. (laughs) You know, it was that kind of living, you know? And everything we ate, we grew or he killed or something, you know. Which really I had mixed feelings with my outlook on life, you know, with animals and stuff, the whole killing things and eating them. But deer meat actually was a very good thing to raise my kids on. It's very, very lean rich meat. And that's honest to God about all we ate for eight years. (laughs) And the goat's milk was just wonderful. I mean, I think it's a shame that more people can't have things that are really fresh. And fresh eggs, there's just, I mean, there's nothing like them. It's a different animal when you have things that are fresh out of your yard, you know, fresh vegetables.

Jones: Well, I've heard people talk about it. And of course, we've all read about pioneer people, and not so pioneer people.

Pearce: I think I had some kind of a pioneer, you know, like fantasy, you know?

Jones: But I can remember, I went to a girls' boarding school and there was girl there in the class behind me who had all kinds of allergies. So her family had to supply the school with goat's milk, fresh eggs, she was allergic to everything in the world. And she was healthier than the rest of us.

Pearce: Uh-huh. (laughs) Goat's milk is so-- it comes out-- and this is a-- people don't realize this, goat's milk comes out of the goat when you milk it, it's already homogenized, meaning that the cream and the milk is all mixed. So you can take it and get it cold and drink it, and it's just like drinking nice, sweet milk. And cow's milk comes out where the cream is separate from-- you can't just milk a cow and then drink the milk. You'd have to mix it up or something. Actually, I haven't experienced that like I have. When you buy milk, it says "homogenized," that's because it's all been mixed up so that it doesn't separate milk with--so with the goat's milk, you have to let it sit for several days to get the cream to rise, then you've got about that much off of a quart, you know, of just purely cream, which is yummy. That was fun.

Jones: Of course you're going to tell me that you became a weaver and did your own clothing too?

Pearce: I used to sew some. But no weaving. (laughs)

Jones: So were you happy? From time to time?

Pearce: Yeah. It was, you know, it was-- I had a lot of great moments, and a lot of, yeah, a lot of wonderful moments. And a lot of very rewarding-- I mean, when you grow something yourself, it's always rewarding at the end, or you make something, or whatever. And the things that we experienced, even through hunting, and I did with my kids, and the places that we saw and things I saw, are really, really special. And you learn a lot about basic life, I guess, too, about things going on around you in the world.

Jones: Were you painting any of these times, or these moments, nature?

Pearce: Yeah. Particularly sometimes I would go hunting and take my son, my first child. Well, for one thing, I'm not a morning person, so going out hunting, you get out there at like four in the morning.

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: So it was one of the few times that I saw sunrises. (laughs) They made me do it, you know. But you see spectacular things in a sunrise, and the animals, and things going on that you just, you can watch on Discovery Channel, but not-- experiencing things is different. Watching animal behavior made me realize, for instance, that I was never going to be drawing an animal that looked like it was a stuffed animal or a zoo animal. A fat lion or something like that, is not a wild animal. And that I wanted to-- what I wanted to portray in my paintings, I wanted that echo of truth, and not just the lighting and the scene, but in the animal behavior. I wanted it to reflect what I observed and what I see. And not be some stuffed animal looking--

Jones: Stylized.

Pearce: Yeah. There was a lot of wildlife paintings or things that were so unrealistic. Well, and the way people do stylized animals, there's no connection to nature. And to me, everything is connected. We're connected to our environment, to all the other animals and wildlife, and it's all connected. And I wanted and still, that is the goal, you know, to be able to show that kind of connection and to make you feel like you're a part of that.

Jones: Did you photograph any of these animals, or did you paint them?

Pearce: I photographed. I took pictures, and I ended up with some fairly nice camera equipment. And I used to think it was kind of fun to be out there with my camera or to be somewhere, and to come back at the end of the day. And I got on my camera a much bigger deer than anybody else got here. (laughs) You know, or something. I mean, I would see things that they all missed because of-- I used to think it was some--they would come to me, the deer would come to me, or something, you know. Go walking by and-- (laughs)

Jones: Well deer are kind of skittish, aren't they?

Pearce: Yeah, very. Unless they get used to people.

Jones: So this explains why you live in this setting. You're kind of off the beaten track and surrounded by--

Pearce: Wild.

Jones: Do you see wildlife around here?

Pearce: Not like I used to.

Jones: Because too many--

Pearce: There's too much development and habitat loss. There used to be two, three kinds of hawks that nested just in this area, just right here. Red tail and broad shoulder, owls, you know. Quail, there were quail all over here. And I haven't seen quail in years, years. And I have a pond back here. I had beavers, otters, alligators.

Jones: Do you have any egrets?

Pearce: But they, the development down here kills the beavers. Nobody likes, everybody, this is what I have a big problem with how people want to move into the wilderness because they love the trees and they love the animals. And then they move into it, and they cut all the trees down and they suddenly don't want the animals around anymore. Now they don't want the beaver there, they don't want the deer in their backyard, or whatever. And it's a little touchy to me. I think there's ways of working, living amongst animals and living amongst wildlife without destroying it. Even the bird population, songbirds, has declined somewhat. But I have a spectacular amount of wildlife back here.

Jones: I would think you might. I would think you really might.

Pearce: Because this whole area back here is all behind my house is, to the south of my property line, is wetlands. So I know that that-- I'm hoping that that can't be developed.

Jones: Probably not.

Pearce: And be able to preserve some, you know. But all those things com up in my artwork, you know, every time I see something. And also, I'll see something, and it's hard to recreate that accurately if you're painting realistically, just from a snap, you know, that one time seeing it. But it'll stick in my head and I'll work towards recreating that. Someday, I'll be ready, you know, for that-- I'll get the animal in the right shot or whatever so that I can put that scene back together.

Jones: So you carry this in your mind?

Pearce: I carry it in my head. I see something, I go "Oh my God, that would make such a neat--"

Jones: When did you get to a point where you had-- was this your only studio you've had strictly for you? Or did you have a studio at Carolina Beach or somewhere else? Or did you start--

Pearce: I did for a while in--

Jones: --your exhibits with juried shows, places or, you know, start making a little bit of money and a little bit more recognition?

Pearce: All the time I was mostly drawings. When I first started out, I was doing little drawings and selling them. And then I would have some reproduced into cards and stuff, selling some of that. I started putting color in my drawings as things progressed. And they did well. Had a number of shows that were just all drawings. As far as juried shows, I had large drawings that were accepted in the traveling juried shows that went to different museums throughout the Southeast. So yeah, I was doing that also along the way.

Jones: So you were always, always involved.

Pearce: Trying to be. But I didn't feel like it particularly backed in. I kind of remember almost the time when I really started thinking of myself as being an artist. It wasn't right away. It ticks me off sometimes when people, "I'm an artist." And it's like, "Okay," you know. But I mean, I was hard on myself even, where I didn't feel like I could call myself an artist until I had reached a certain point.

Jones: Did you reach a certain point, or people began referring to you as--

Pearce: No, I think it was more where I felt myself that--

Jones: So you were harder on yourself.

Pearce: Yeah, yeah. That I had to be at a certain level in selling things and being juried and stuff, before I felt like I could call myself an artist. I had a drawing displayed in the Salmagundi Art Club in New York City in a national juried show.

Jones: Win any awards along the way?

Pearce: Yes.

Jones: I hate to say "win an award." You are awarded.

Pearce: Yeah, given an award.

Jones: Yes.

Pearce: A number of-- probably nothing that you would recognize. Merit awards, purchase awards--

Jones: But you were being recognized.

Pearce: Yeah, throughout there. Oh, and I also, the pens that I use in my ink drawings, they use my ink drawings to run two-page ads in the art magazines.

Jones: Oh, really?

Pearce: So it's all my drawings. And then it's, "This is what you can do with our pens." Brooks Pearce can do this, you know.

Jones: Did you get paid for this? Yeah, I hope.

Pearce: Yeah. And a bunch of copies of the ad and stuff. But yeah, that was neat. And also, I'm in a technical art book, pen and ink drawings. My work is in there, and some discussion about how I incorporate color seamlessly with the-- because the mixed mediums. I started moving more into the mixed medias with my drawings. They went from just pen and ink, just black and white. And then they started showing up on a color board with maybe a little highlight. And then it was a little more color, and I would sometimes use acrylics or watercolor and pastel.

Jones: What do you prefer?

Pearce: And often in a combination.

Jones: Oh.

Pearce: Now, this one up here of the hawk, that's a red tail hawk. And this is from my hunting days. Because he is mantled, that's what it's called, mantling, when their wings are out and they're-- he's on the ground and he's got a dove. Now during dove hunting, okay, sometimes, oftentimes, we were hunting over a cornfield, you can see some of the cornstalks in there. Hunting over a cornfield and somebody had shot a dove and the dove went down in the dirt. But before the fellow could get to it, the hawk got to it.

Jones: Something like this.

Pearce: Yeah, that's an eagle, that's a bald eagle in that picture.

Jones: Bald eagle, mm-hm.

Pearce: But this one is a red-- so he's claimed his prize, this hawk, of somebody's dove. The picture is called "The Hunters," because also in these fields out in the country, I would find stuff. I explored all the time when I was-- when we would do these, I would explore all around because I didn't hunt. But I liked being out in different places, you know, and exploring. But we often found pottery shards and Indian pieces.

Jones: Did you really?

Pearce: Sometimes arrowheads and stuff, yeah. So that's what I would look for, china, old china.

Jones: Where would you find these, just along--

Pearce: Out in the farm fields.

Jones: Really.

Pearce: If you happened upon an area that maybe had been an old hump site, or maybe a dump site even. But oftentimes just scattered around in the field itself. And if the field had been cut like that so that you could see the dirt, you know, then you could explore there. I found a lot of old china.

Jones: So what have you done with it?

Pearce: I make things with it.

Jones: Do you really?

Pearce: Yes. I make birdhouses covered with china and toys and stuff.

Jones: Do you sell these?

Pearce: No.

Jones: No?

Pearce: Most of them have been given away. (chuckles) And table-- made a tabletop. But mostly the vessels. I like to make vessels of sorts. I've done some with things inside of them also. Not to go outside, but something that you look into. That's part of another project, my memory vessels. (laughs)

Jones: That's fantastic, that's fascinating. But I think old discarded things like that, they're part of some story line somewhere. And I like to-- I'm very interested in that in another respect. I like to do these mixed media things, where there's like a storyline of objects that create kind of a window into somebody's life. Getting back to this one. So in the picture, there's an arrowhead in there and also a spent shotgun shell, and pieces of pottery, all just kind of jumbled in there that you can't see very well from here. But it was called the hunters, and it was meant to-- what do I want to say-- illustrate, I guess, the fact that these fields have been hunted by decades of people and animals. And it's like this circle, connected circle. And a lot of my work has that kind of meaning, I think, in it, a connection. But I think I started talking about that because we were talking about pen and inks and mixed medias.

Jones: Right.

Pearce: And this one is primarily pen and ink on museum board, so it gives it that colored background. And then it's got some-- I used some acrylic for some color, and then pastel, a little bit of pastel on there too. Because the pastel, it's again, this goes back to layers. And I love layers of meaning and I love layers of paint and stuff. But you have that pen and ink and then you have the acrylic, and then the pastel just sits on top. I love the way it sits on top of the paper and gives it dimension.

Jones: How are your pieces reproduced for prints with all of this type of thing? Do you do it here yourself, or do you have somebody do it for you?

Pearce: Well, the most important thing about having anything printed is the image.

Jones: Right.

Pearce: And so I--

Jones: But to capture these colors and so forth.

Pearce: Yeah, I have to take it to a professional. I can get pretty good with my camera shooting some pictures, but it's tricky. Particularly, it seems like the pen and inks are very hard to capture. I don't know why, but they've always been difficult. It's not a simple line. The pen and inks are all made up of little tiny lines like this. Ann Connor one time made a comment about how I do-- I work in a linear fashion, meaning that I make little lines, but the drawing is not a linear drawing, because I don't draw it like this. I fill in the forms with little lines. So there's no outline of it. And by doing it like that, you can lose your edges, because you don't have that hard line. There's no hard lines, even though I'm working with ink. And because I'm also working on a board that's got a little texture in it, each line is not a solid black line. It's broken up slightly by the paper, which all gives it this wonderful textured look and softness, it gives it a softness. But it's hard to pick up on a camera, I guess, when they photograph it. But I have professionals do it, and generally professionals print it. I never really got into the big reproductions. I never wanted to see a thousand of anything of mine. (laughs) You know? I just think-- that didn't make sense to me.

Jones: Right.

Pearce: But I have done some work in the giclees, I've done giclees. And I've done etching also.

Jones: I guess so.

Pearce: I took an etching class with Don Furst at UNCW. Because it went along so well with drawing, I just thought it seemed like a natural way to go. I really thoroughly enjoyed that, and would like to do more of that.

Jones: Have you always, or did you reach a point where you stopped taking classes? Or are you still learning? You feel pretty confident using your own techniques you've developed? Obviously, you've just talked about one. But it seems like with your sort of a curious mind, you would continue to investigate different things.

Pearce: I have not taken many classes.

Jones: You sort of just do it on your own, you've reached that point.

Pearce: Yeah, after the university, that was it. Because I've had to work and make a living, and never had the extra money to take a class, up until the time my second child was born. And I decided that'd be a good time to go back to school, while I was pregnant. I was doing lithos with a stomach out to-- or doing a run on a press. But I thought that'd be a good time to get back into it.

Jones: Did you build this house, or just build--

Pearce: Yes, I built this house--

Jones: You did.

Pearce: --in '95. This was my first real house, where I had a dishwasher and heat and air conditioning. The other place where I told you, when I was-- my son was little, when I had a car, which wasn't always, but during the middle-- in the summertime, I would take him to the mall. And we'd walk around the mall in the middle of the day because the house was so hot that we couldn't stand it. And I'd have to be holding him and we'd both be hot, so we'd go. And working on paintings, I'd sit-- or drawings, I'd sit there in my bathing suit with a towel to keep the sweat from dropping onto my-while I'm drawing.

Jones: You really went through the starving artist period, did you not?

Pearce: Yes I did. (laughs)

Jones: And you kept at it.

Pearce: And I kept at it. Because my husband at that point, now, we did end up splitting up and divorcing. But he used to say that-- because sometimes he'd get very frustrated with my whole creative outlook, and that I needed to be doing something that made money, regular money, everyday money. You know, like work at Hardee's, I don't care, but just you've got to make money. Which is a reality. He wasn't making much and then he-- if I was married to somebody with a lot of money, it wouldn't have been such a factor. But he used to say, "I could cut both your hands off and you'd still draw with your feet." (laughs) You know? Because you can't stop doing it. It can be like an obsession, too. I get obsessive about things, and I'll work on them until two in the morning and stuff.

Jones: I think anybody with an artistic bent-- and when I use that word, it's not just in art as you know it, but--

Pearce: Music and writing, yeah.

Jones: Yeah, anything that's creative.

Pearce: Yeah. I think everybody, when they get really into something that they're into, I think you lose your sense of time, your mind is totally focused, free. Your mind is free.

Jones: We're going to stop in a minute, and put in another tape. But I was told once, when I was about 16, 17 years old by a very well known author-- I thought that I wanted to be an author. I still did, up until a few years ago, or a lawyer, completely opposite. But he said, "Why do you want to write?" And I said, "Because I feel good." He said, "When do you write?" I said, "Well, I have school, and I have to do my laundry, and I have to do this." He said, "You'll never be one." He said, "You should do it when the mood moves you, even if it's in the middle of the night. Get up and put your thoughts down." And that's the mark of a true artist.

Pearce: That was my-- my mother used to say-- I used to say, "Why don't you paint, mom, why don't you go back?" She'd take little classes and stuff like that. I said, "Why don't you paint?" And she says, "Well, I have to clean the house, and I have to do the laundry and I have to do this." And I said, "Well mom," I said, "that's the difference between you and me." I said, "Because I have to paint, and the house just does what it does."

Jones: Right. We're going to stop this, take a break, and maybe you can bring in your things from in here and I'll help you. And Ashley's going to have to put in a new tape.

(tape change)

Jones: We're on tape two, and again, talking with Brooks Pearce, she has a lot to say, a very interesting lady. Talking again about her different styles of painting, and let's take up with becoming a little more confident in your work and getting to be known and doing really, feeling confident I guess. When did this happen and tell us about becoming, you know, successful and known and that sort of thing.

Pearce: I guess it was the early '80s I suppose when I started really trying to push it and trying to also concentrate more on publicity maybe. Because the jury shows and all are good but it's not, they're not even in your own homeland usually, you know, and they're good for your resume but not necessarily all that helpful. I realized I needed to learn some marketing and all, which is difficult for a true artist to train their mind into that, but you have to, you are your own promoter.

Jones: You have to get a little more commercial, huh?

Pearce: Yeah, well, you have to be able to sell your work. You've got to make it pay for itself. Somebody once said that artists are their own foundation, you know, that you have to support your habit, you know, any way that you can. I was always very put off, I guess, by the commercial end of art where people did do repetitive things, you know? I do a lot of, I always have done a lot of beach/water things, but never wanted to get in kind of a repetitive kind of a thing to where, you know, I've got ten pictures of an egret with slightly different backgrounds or something like that. And in some ways, that way is a good way of making a living. You know, people learn how to whip out, as they say, you know, they whip out a bunch of originals and sell them for basic price and people come and just pick out which size they want or something, you know? I really never fit into that, which in some ways kind of hurt me, I think. Everything I do is really different from the last one, or maybe not real different because it might still be the beach or whatever, but it's always a challenge in other words.

Jones: There's a little difference.

Pearce: Yeah, each one is a challenge. I'm just not doing, seeing things over and over with the same sky and background or something. Each one has its own inherent challenges that, you know, with something, I see this, and I haven't done that, oh, my gosh, look at that sky and the reflections on the water and everything, I have to do that, you know? But it's something I haven't done in all different colors or whatever. And so each one is a challenge in its own right, which means that I put a lot of time into every painting, much the same way that I did with the drawings, which are very very time consuming. But it's how I get to where I want to get, and I want, I want everything, I think I've always wanted everything I do to be the best that I can do. And I never just got into doing something quick to get it out.

Jones: Have you ever been so dissatisfied with a piece of work that you didn't show it? Or were you able to fix it so that you liked it? Or did you feel that--

Pearce: On occasion I have painted over.

Jones: Really?

Pearce: Yes. Yeah. Rarely. And I remember, I can remember the first time I did it because I always thought that that was good for me, you know, when I painted over, I thought, well, this is good because I'll just put that behind me and I'm moving on, and I've come to a place where I can feel like I'm not destroying something but I'm building on it because of what I learned from it. But that I was able to let it go. Because sometimes I can't do that. I work on it and work on it and work on it over and over again. And maybe there's just something inherently wrong with it, you know, and I need to quit or start over. Generally speaking, if I run into a spot where I'm having a problem getting it to go where I want it to, I'll put it away and come back to it.

Jones: Until another time?

Pearce: Yeah.

Jones: With fresh--

Pearce: And sometimes I can put something away for a year or so. I mean, I just don't even want to see it, you know. But I'll bring it back out and I'll see the merit in it, or not, and then things will kind of come to me as how I might be able to make it do what I want it to do. I don't know why, but sometimes you're just not always in total control over it. I think it's timing because sometimes I have more than one painting in my head when I'm doing a painting, and I have to realize that I'm not-- this painting can't have two or three painting elements in it if you understand what I'm saying.

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: And so I have to eliminate these other ideas out of my head and focus on one. I have a lot of ideas going through my head all the time.

Jones: I'm sure. But you're probably your worst judge. I mean, really.

Pearce: I guess. Yeah, because I'll be working on something that's just giving me a fit, you know, I'm still no place and people will come in, "Oh, my God, that is so beautiful." You know, and to them it's done, it's great. And to me I'm looking at this one spot that's driving me crazy. But, you know, most people never see it.

Jones: Do you have exhibits, or who were first exhibits so that you, when you had just strictly your stuff or where, or was there a time, or did you do it yourself?

Pearce: No, I had-- I'm trying to think.

Jones: Like a one woman show?

Pearce: Yeah, that would have started in the late '70s, but I can't even, I'm not sure if, I can't even remember my first actually. You know, I think one of my first ones may have been at my house, and I sent out invitations. And it was when I was totally broke and living in the-- (laughter)

Jones: That's a good time to do it.

Pearce: And it was around Christmas time, and I sent out a bunch of invitations, maybe run a little ad or something. And I had a great turn out. A little bitty house I was living in, a little bitty house, and all these people in it, you know? And I think I made like $600 and--

Jones: That was a fortune.

Pearce: I was just ecstatic, you know?

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: Boy, it was great. So then I had some shows downtown and around at some galleries, and drawings, you know, my first shows were of drawings, which were in some ways were kind of, you know, drawings are not in the same category as oil paintings as far as price points and what people view as being art. You know, the average person thinks of art as an oil painting, you know? And a drawing, they don't really know how to look at it, you know? It takes a more discerning eye, you know, or maybe somebody that's a little more open to different kinds of things. But I remember selling a $600 drawing in the late '70s.

Jones: That's pretty good.

Pearce: I thought it was real good. And the gallery who had sold it for me, they said, "I can't believe we got this for a drawing." I mean, they were even surprised because they just didn't deal that much, you know, it's kind of conservative around here. There weren't a lot of different medians and all here.

Jones: When did you start to notice a growth in the art community here? It seems that more and more every year it gets larger, or at least temporarily. Some come and--

Pearce: I think I've seen the biggest certain, recently, you know, the biggest influx.

Jones: Why?

Pearce: I have no idea honestly. Because it's not a great place to sell art.

Jones: It isn't?

Pearce: No, not for me. And I think a lot of people have, there are a lot of people scrambling around here, too.

Jones: So you're not really relying upon the tourist, the summer trade or people who-- I know there's a large group--

Pearce: The tourism can be good.

Jones: It can be? This is not a cheap place to come.

Pearce: Surprisingly, the clients that have, the people that have bought, I'm not sure what the percentage would be, but a large percent of my large oils in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, they may live here, live at Figure 8, in Wilmington somewhere but they bought my painting in Raleigh. You know, the same painting that may have been exhibited in shows down here or galleries here, and then it would run its course here and I would send it to my gallery in Raleigh, and they sell it coincidentally to somebody that lives here. Why these people, you know, why they buy--

Jones: They probably don't know where to go here.

Pearce: I just, I don't know. I don't know what it is. But that has been the case for a very long, for me.

Jones: Do you have appropriations or banks?

Pearce: Not that I haven't sold, you know, work around here, of course.

Jones: Sure. Buy your work for their--

Pearce: There's a lot of-- well, Wachovia was one of my biggest--

Jones: I was going to say banks are pretty good at that.

Pearce: Although recently, for some reason, they have de-assessed a lot of their, or gotten rid of a lot of their paintings. Their banks no longer have any paintings in them. So I don't know what they've done with their collection. But I did paintings for Wachovias all over the state. And I would go to the area where the bank was and do paintings from their parks. Whatever was their--

Jones: Something local?

Pearce: Yeah, their neat attraction, you know, or something. And their corporate office is in Winston-Salem, I was commissioned to do some work for those offices. So I do a lot.

Jones: Do you like doing commissioned work?

Pearce: And the fun thing about it was that so many people enjoyed those paintings that every time I went to the bank that they would go, "Oh, Brooks, you wouldn't believe how many people love this painting." And they'd talk about it and they'd talk about it, you know, and stuff. Or I'd run into people and they'd say, "Oh, I saw your paintings in the bank." People really really liked that and noticed them. I mean, go figure, you're at the bank to make an exchange of money or whatever, but they are noticing the art enough to--

Jones: Oh, well, you can't help it.

Pearce: That's why I think it's so awful that they don't have it up anymore. Is it was because it was peaceful--

Jones: I had a man who was the President of a bank here and he's got, there's several branches and he has artwork, no one particular artist, and we were talking about it one day and he said, "I didn't do this with this in mind, but this is what's come back to me, people have to walk into my bank and see artwork and feel that they're dealing with a successful bank." I thought, I never thought of that. I thought, well, what are you doing with my money? But he said, "No, absolutely not."

Pearce: I think so, and I also think that that gave the bank a connection with the community. The downtown Wachovia, the big one that they just built a new one, but the old one had three six foot paintings in there of Airlie, Bellamy Mansion. But it gave you a sense of community, you know, that those paintings weren't from China or something, too. You know, that they were from here and that people would recognize the places and enjoyed seeing that. And the one that got so much feedback from one of the Wachovias was of kids walking through the water and marsh. And everybody just related to having been there and seen that, you know, with their kids or whatever and the peacefulness of it and how it related so much to right here. And not just beach but the marshes too.

Jones: Do you like doing commissioned work?

Pearce: I do particularly if I have a little leeway, you know? And I've done a lot of portraits over the years which has been some good money sometimes.

Jones: Tell me about that. I've heard two different thoughts on that. I've heard people say we all have, none of us see ourselves like the next person sees us. So to have an artist come in with the artist's eye to do a portrait, somebody said to me, well, they're expecting to see a photograph of themselves but with paint on it, or they're expecting to see--

Pearce: Even better.

Jones: Yes, exactly.

Pearce: Yeah. Because I always said that about my art in particular, you know, because people said, well, do you use photographs? And, well, of course, I use photographs, you know? You can't just make up somebody sitting in the water, you know? Or kids walking on the beach, you know, and they're walking so you can't, you know, draw it, you know? So, yeah, of course I do. But I don't copy photos, they're a reference point, and then I make it my own thing, you know? You put in what you want, you highlight what you want, you do the colors the way you remember them. I try to do what I remember about it more than what the photograph shows. The photograph is kind of-- they never have it all. They don't ever have the depth and the atmosphere and stuff that you remember.

Jones: That's true.

Pearce: And sometimes I also think that you remember things more vividly than like-- you know, when you get a photograph back of something you go, oh, you know, it didn't quite capture that, you know, something about it. And I think in your memory of it it's more spectacular and a little more colorful, or something in it that caught you eye. You know, that little bit of purple is just, you know, you remember it as being more brilliant. So I don't-- copying photos would be a mistake for me, but they certainly are a reference. In reference to portraiture, people do want to look like somewhat, like you're saying, like a photograph. You've got to have the details there. You've got to have a likeness there first of all regardless of how detailed it may or may not be, you have to have that likeness, and that's certainly the biggest challenge of doing a portrait. When I do portraits I would go and take pictures of people.

Jones: You'd talk to the person to get a sense of the person or whatever?

Pearce: Yeah, a lot of times I was doing several in a group. I'd do two or three kids. I did three boys and their father one time, you know, so you can't really have them sitting for it. And it's just, and I'm not a fast painter. And so, you know, they would like die before I had- (laughs). They'd become mummified sitting here. But also I try to catch, when I'm photographing them, I try to catch them slightly relaxed. I take a lot of pictures. I'm waiting for the moment when they go from the plastic Wal-Mart photograph grin to being a little more relaxed.

Jones: More natural. Yeah.

Pearce: You know, the head tilted a little bit maybe or whatever. And that all helps to capture the likeness, the body attitude and all, children with their little hands, you know, they're little toes curled or something like that. It all adds to the whole likeness and aliveness of the picture. I enjoy doing portraits. They're a tremendous amount of work because of what I was talking about, but the reward of it is priceless.

Jones: When you see somebody who really loves it.

Pearce: And I'm getting goose bumps, because I've had people come in and look at their portraits and cry.

Jones: Really?

Pearce: Oh, absolutely.

Jones: Oh, from happiness?

Pearce: Yes.

Jones: All right.

Pearce: That's what I was thinking, you are happy, this is good, right? Because I was standing there, there was one time this woman walked in, and actually this was of her dog who had passed away, she brought a picture of her dog, this woman, she comes in, she goes, there's a tear coming down--

Jones: Oh, I can understand.

Pearce: And I went, "Is everything okay?" And she started, you know, she said, "Oh, my God, it is so--it is so her." You know, the whole-- everything about it was just perfect. And that is just amazing to me. You know, I mean, I think I'm amazed myself and I'm so happy that I was able to bring that out in the painting, to provide for her what she-- you know, because you want more than a photo, you have photos of your kids and your dog or something but you want more. And that's why people ask for a painting because they're looking for that aliveness, that feeling that you just can't get in a picture.

Jones: I know a woman.

Pearce: And it's the same with kids. I did one of like three kids and when she came in she started, you know, she said, "Oh, my gosh, this is so them." It's so amazing.

Jones: Yeah. And I think there's just something a little more permanent for some reason about a piece of artwork. On this dog thing there was a, used to be a very well known very wealthy woman in New York who had a German Shepherd that she had with her all the time and who passed away, and she commissioned eventually-- it was during the process of an artist doing a portrait of the dog, in the portrait she wanted some of his favorite things around him and the dog in the meantime passed away, so it took a while. All right, this is huge and when she saw it she, too, became extremely extremely emotional.

Pearce: Yeah.

Jones: And it hung over the sofa in her very fancy New York apartment living room. And she kept looking at it and looking at it and she called the artist back and said, "Is there anyway you can paint me into that picture?" And he did. And I saw it and I thought that it was changed now because I saw it before. It looked better with just the dog but she wanted herself there forever.

Pearce: With the dog.

Jones: Yeah, yeah.

Pearce: Yeah.

Jones: And I often wondered how he could do that.

Pearce: That would be, you know, well, you could but that would be tough.

Jones: Um-hmm. What's the strangest, what's the strangest, I guess, commission or painting your ever did or unusual that somebody might have asked you to do?

Pearce: One of the more unusual things that just popped in my head when you asked me that was I did a portrait of a child that had passed away.

Jones: That must have been hard.

Pearce: And it did not live long so they really didn't have any pictures aside from the child in the hospital, you know, which is not attractive, of course. But they wanted something to remember her body other than the way she was in the hospital with tubes and stuff, which was their only photos. She told me that she resembled her other babies and so she also had pictures of them. But I could see in the picture of the little girl that, you know, of course she was different, she was a little girl and the other children were boys. So, you know, the features were a little different. That was tough for me and extremely emotional and important for her. But it was a little challenging. One of the other strange ones I suppose was I did this guy's hunting lodge. He has beautiful land, a retired judge from Wilmington, beautiful land where he's got a little hunting lodge and cypress trees, water, you know. And so he wanted mostly the land with the wood duck boxes and all these things that, you know, he has out there. But he specifically wanted his yellow caterpillar--

Jones: I know what you're going to say, I know who he is. He's a dear friend. (laughter)

Pearce: And I thought that was so cute.

Jones: And that got stolen from him.

Pearce: Oh, you're kidding.

Jones: No, the tractor did.

Pearce: Yeah, it did, out there?

Jones: Yes.

Pearce: Because it was hard to protect that area I suppose.

Jones: Uh-huh.

Pearce: But that was his toy. This is a big boy's toy.

Jones: That's true. He went out and bought another one and he had it tied down when he wasn't there.

Pearce: Good for him. (laughter)

Jones: That is so funny.

Pearce: It's such a beautiful, it's a beautiful painting and, you know, a little bit of the lodge back there and here's this yellow, you know, caterpillar. I thought (laughter).

Jones: That is cute. That's amazing. I didn't know about that.

Pearce: And most guys that would look at the painting, too-- well, you most women, you know, I suppose they'd go, "Oh, that's his favorite toy," you know, or something.

Jones: Oh, you should hear his wife on the subject, oh, gosh. Anyway, that is amazing. Is there anything you haven't done that you want to do?

Pearce: Let me think. I'll tell you some of the things that I have wanted to do that I have done.

Jones: Okay. That would help.

Pearce: I always-- well, I would like to illustrate a book, a whole book.

Jones: You would?

Pearce: Yeah. And particularly I had thought about doing something with the animals that I've raised. I was did animal rehabilitation for a long time. I got into it slowly because being out here I would find baby things or something and raise them up. And then when my kids came along I would take a baby squirrel or something to school and share it with the kids and talk to them about the animal environment and try to tie things together, and then often we would do a picture, so I'd tie it in with art also. At some point somebody said, "Do you have a permit to have that squirrel?" Or whatever it was I had.

Jones: Oh, my gosh.

Pearce: And I went, "Why would I need a permit?"

Jones: Right.

Pearce: Well, there are laws against having wildlife, you can't just have wildlife to raise or anything, which are laws that have come about, you know, in my lifetime, certainly, because I didn't know about it obviously. So I applied and got a permit because I had been working with wildlife people on projects and through hunting, I knew all of them and I could get a permit. But getting a permit meant that I got on a phone list and people started calling me with everything under the sun, you know, all kinds of creatures. And it got to be a little bit too much because it takes all of your time to raise them. Where was I going with this? (laughs).

Jones: Well, you were telling me about the things that you've done that you really wanted to do.

Pearce: So I always wanted to do illustrations of some of these baby things that I've raised and a little bit of a story about it because, boy, every one of them was an adventure. You know, I had a baby raccoon, and when I raised these things they were just kind of loose around, so, you know, the raccoon played with the cats and climbed up the walls and, you know, I mean, people would come over and he would like jump off the roof onto their back (laughs) and steal their cigarettes out of their pocket and go off and chew them up.

Jones: That would be kind of waker upper, you know, in mid-conversation. (laughter)

Pearce: And when I had birds, you know, people would come up to the house and a bird would land on their head because he'd think that they were going to feed them or something.

Jones: This was a fun house, huh?

Pearce: We had some very wild times. I had gray horned owls that grew up to be this big. When I got them, of course, they were little fuzz balls. I raised them on the back porch so I'd walk out the back porch and whistle and you'd have two gray horned owls flying into my porch with a wingspan of about five feet. They'd come in looking for a nibble. That was a trip. So I just think it would be neat to do some illustration and draw, I'd like to draw little detailed illustrations the way they had toys and played with toys. I had a little flying squirrel that lived with me in my studio for a long time.

Jones: Aren't they rabid?

Pearce: No. You might be thinking of bats that sometimes are rabid.

Jones: No, I guess I was thinking of squirrels. I'd always been told that they were rabid because we had a squirrel that we named Geranium Jones because he would eat all the geraniums, but he'd come up to the sliding glass door when it was too hot and he'd literally knock on the door.

Pearce: They do. It's amazing.

Jones: And we just could not figure this out. I couldn't let him in, I had dogs. But we were told that-- he got in one time and I had to take a broom and go look for him, and I scared him more than he scared me.

Pearce: Well, I've been bit by squirrels and I haven't died yet. (laughter)

Jones: Well, that's good to know.

Pearce: I was also bit by an alligator one time and that didn't kill me either.

Jones: You were bitten by an alligator?

Pearce: I've had problems with alligators back here and I try to have them removed so that, well, one time I had a huge one that ate my cat, and I was not very happy about that.

Jones: Well, now, that's amazing. How far are you from the marshes?

Pearce: They came from the cape because there are alligators south of here.

Jones: Okay. So what were they looking for, food?

Pearce: A male alligator, once he gets over like four years, will get chased away from an area by a larger male and he'll go out looking for his own zone. Sometimes when it just gets, when it rains a lot they'll travel a lot. They can travel for miles on land looking for just another, you know, place to hang out.

Jones: So you actually had an animal that you really didn't want on your property?

Pearce: Yeah, that was one that I really didn't want.

Jones: He was big?

Pearce: The one that bit me was small, and I was trying to get him to-- I was feeding him, which you're not supposed to do. I was trying to feed him so that we could catch him and get him out and remove him. And I was showing my son (laughs), you know, I was going, "Now, you don't want to do this because, you know, they're unpredictable animals, and you're not supposed to be doing this. You know, you never know what they're going to do." Telling him all this stuff, you know, and then I went to toss something out of there out to him and he kind of lunged at me a little more than I was expecting and just raked the top of my hand.

Jones: Then what happened?

Pearce: And he's only four feet long, he's just little, you know? And I was like, and his head is like this big. And I'm, "Oh, look, at that cute little alligator head and little face." Because they don't look like the big ugly things that I've had in here before, and, I'm, "Isn't he cute. Look at that little face. Oh, look at his little teeth," you know? (laughter)

Pearce: And he rakes the top of my hand, and they have teeth like sharks. I mean, they're like glass.

Jones: Sure, like needles.

Pearce: So the whole top of my hand is just instantly blood red, you know, and I go, "Oh, that was a mistake." (laughs).

Jones: And what did your son do, "Oh, mom, look at that?"

Pearce: "Oh, God, my momma, my momma."

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: They were used to having to peel stuff off me. I've had snakes bite me and I haven't been able to get them off, and I had an owl put his, a little owl fortunately, but he got a hold of my hand when I was trying to move him with his talons, and they were all stuck in my flesh. And every time you tried to touch him, he would dig in harder. And so I'm trying not to pass out and my son's going, "I'll thunk him on the head for you. I'll thunk him on the head." (laughs). I'm going, "No, no, don't do that.

Jones: "Don't hurt him."

Pearce: "Don't thunk him." "You want me to thunk him, mom?" And he's like this, and I'm like, "No, no, no, just relax and be quiet and clam, give me a little towel and I'll cover up his head (laughter) and he'll let go, he'll release." So he did, you know, but it took a few minutes and little bit of fright. With the snake, I don't know how I got it off of me.

Jones: What kind of snake was it? Not poisonous?

Pearce: This is another I'm like, "Look at this cute little green tree snake." And my husband, "They don't even have teeth." And I was showing it to my son, you know, "They don't bite or anything because they don't even have teeth." Kunck. (laughs). Ouch, this snake with no teeth is biting me and it hurts, I see blood. If I don't get this snake off of me in a second, I'm going to really freak out. (laughter) So I stuck my fingernail in there and (laughter).

Jones: No, how long is a green tree snake?

Pearce: He was small, you know, he was this long, maybe about two feet barely, you know? And I'm showing my kids how to catch a snake, a big snake, a rat snake, that was getting into my chickens, you know, I didn't-- so you've got to grab them behind the neck, you know?

Jones: Yeah. Well, you grew up in California.

Pearce: Like this, and then I grabbed him, and I grabbed him about that far behind the neck and he turned around and bit me.

Jones: Yeah, he turned around and did it.

Pearce: So I grabbed him with this hand and he turns around and bites that hand. So that did not go well. (laughs).

Jones: No. Of course you grew up in the cities along the coast in California, I guess, but one of the first things you learn as a kid out there, two things, you learn about-- well, actually in Arizona tarantulas and spiders, you know? But you learn about snakes, you learn about snakes, you know, to learn what they are and how they're going to act. But you also learn if you're out by yourself walking in the mountains or the hills, take a stick with a prong on it so you can get them behind the--that didn't appeal to me.

Jones: No, because basically you don't really want to catch them when you're out walking in the wild. But we have, another one of my husband's tricks one time, we were somewhere out, I was pregnant, real pregnant, and there were all these snakes where we were, we were oyster hunting, you know, getting oysters, it was something else, up around Tameka. And for some reason the water was full of snakes, water snakes. I mean like freaky.

Jones: Well, they have a lot of very poisonous water snakes.

Pearce: Yeah, these were not poisonous water snakes but we really didn't know what kind they were. So they grabbed a couple of them, or caught a couple of them and put them in a bag. You know, we were going to bring them back here and show them to George Trigembo [ph?] at the Zoo and find out what kind of snakes they were, or maybe they'd be worth something because there were tons of them there. And back then you could sell snakes, you know, to like the zoos and stuff like that, or we did occasionally. So they put them in a bag and then they went out to oyster and they told me to carry the bag down this, you know, walk area or something like that. So I'm walking along, waddling, you know, with this bag, and I felt something against my leg. And I looked down and there is a whole in the bag. And they were like this, you know, towards me, and I look down and I see them trying to get on me and I stopped and I went, "Ahh--" (laughs) (laughter) the bag. (laughter). (laughs).

Jones: Oh, you're a brave lady. You've had some adventures.

Pearce: I'm like, "Why am I holding this bag?" Getting back to the illustrations, I wanted to do illustrations of these little guys that I raised and all the adventures I had with teaching them to fend for themselves because I had to teach everything to do whatever-- I had to teach the flying squirrel how to fly. He didn't want to just jump off and glide. I had to put him on something and then call to him, and then he would jump to me. But at first he would just jump, you know? He had to learn how to really open up and glide, and that's how, that's how I did it. Like his mother would, I guess, you know, move to another tree and keep calling to him. And the gray horned owls, I had to teach them how to hunt. And I used little toys with fur balls on them and we would play with that and they would chase it and grab it, and eventually we had to move up to real things, you know, that they would eat. But I played with them in manners that would help teach them how to jump on something and grab it. And there's a lot of adventure in that and a lot of neat little illustrations.

Jones: Well, I was just thinking, I should think there would be quite a market for that for children.

Pearce: I would think so.

Jones: Virginia Wright-Frierson did some illustrations for two books for children, one The Forest and I've forgotten off hand what the other one was. And I saw how it, from beginning to end, the process and read some of her communications with her editor, which the editor she claimed at one point knew nothing about all this she said. But it was vastly interesting and they were beautiful books. You ought to do that.

Pearce: I would like to. I have done some illustration work; I did borders, illustrated borders for a children's book and I've done a couple of covers for books. So I feel like I've got the tip of the iceberg, but I would some day like to do that.

Jones: Any place that you haven't been that you would like to go to paint? Or have you traveled much at all?

Pearce: Mostly around the United States but I haven't been--

Jones: Outside the--

Pearce: Yeah, not really, Mexico. One of the other things I always thought I wanted to do, though, was paint dioramas in museum. I have done that, and I thought that was neat. And big murals, I wanted to do some big murals.

Jones: Were these commissioned jobs, or were they just--

Pearce: Yeah, I've done the dioramas for the Cape Fear National History Museum, which were real, real intense, a lot of elements but a lot of fun to do. Just doing big things is fun to do. And I did all these huge panels that traveled to children's museums.

Jones: Oh, okay.

Pearce: You know, they put up an exhibit in children's museums. And those kind of things are, I think, well, they've got a lot of permanence; a lot of people get to see them. You know, when you do a painting, you know, it might get seen a few times and then it gets bought by somebody and is in somebody's house, you know? So nobody else gets to see it, you know, or whatever. But when you do something in a public building, it's a neat feeling to know how many, you know, people will see it and enjoy it. And, in fact, the one picture, diorama in the beginning in the Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery at the Cape Fear Museum, there's a big blackberry, like life size, a lot of people stand in front of that and have their picture taken.

Jones: Oh, gosh. I'll have to look for that next time I'm over there.

Pearce: And I always try to, you know, when I'm doing things like that I certainly want to do something that's nice, a good painting, you know, as well as interesting. But I throw a lot of elements in there, little things so that when they're standing there looking at it they find surprises, if they want to, you know? And also, because of the teaching aspect, I've been very interested in, I guess, sharing what my feelings towards the environment around us and living things, and so I inject things into, particularly with my educational things like these dioramas, elements in there that might help tell a story where it might not be in the picture, but it's a reminder of it or something. A bone even, a feather that would indicate something. I do a lot of work for the North Carolina Resource Commission, educational posters and habitats, which were great learning experiences for me because I went out with biologists, several of them, to these habitats and learned about what was going on in this kind of habitat, you know, and how things interact.

Jones: You painted these things?

Pearce: And then I would paint them.

Jones: Like dioramas or murals?

Pearce: These were small, these paintings, 16 x 20 or something like that.

Jones: Okay.

Pearce: And then they were produced into posters and sent out to schools and libraries.

Jones: Okay. Oh, gosh.

Pearce: They had keys on them with information about everything. But that was like very educational for me.

Jones: I guess so.

Pearce: And it was such a neat opportunity to be able to a lot of things in a painting that could also be teaching elements, you know, and where you can get information out of and inspiration.

Jones: So have you ever thought of trying to-- do you ever paint with a group, or anything like that?

Pearce: I don't really like painting outside. I'm not a fast painter.

Jones: That's what you said.

Pearce: Yeah, I don't enjoy the bugs or the heat or whatever the elements when I'm painting. I certainly am used to being out in any kind of element, but just really not painting in it. I do like to sketch and have often done, like magic marker and colored pencils, with magic marker I would do a quick outline of maybe people or wherever I'm at. I like to do people like that because it's practicing but fun. Just real drawings of everybody, like if you guys were sitting there and drawing, do a little outline with a magic marker and then put a little color in and stuff like that.

Jones: Brooks, do you think that, just your own personal opinion, I mean, you don't have to share this if you don't want to, but do you think that art is changing a bit with the younger people coming along? That they see things in a different light only because of their background, they've grown up in a different world where things are, perhaps, a little more fast paced and maybe they're not as in tune with nature, for example. Maybe they're too studied in some cases. In art schools studying certain techniques of whether they're impressionists or cubists or the old English school or whatever instead of developing something of their own? I was getting a sense from you that everything you've done has been something you've experienced just about, or that you truly like and you've investigated. It's not talk in a class.

Jones: That's true. Right, it's all been from my own experience and how they effect me how those experiences affect me, and then trying to share that, my attempt to share that, and wanting to relate to other people who have experienced that, too. Because that's what it's all about is not necessarily just my experience but somebody else is looking at that painting, and it brings out those memories in them also. That's why they love it and they buy it, that kind of shared connection to the natural world. Paint-art goes through lots of variations and tides and trends. When I was in school, for instance, there was a lot of emphasis on abstracts, but I was not--

Jones: Of doing a soup can?

Pearce: I was not interested in abstracts, and it was very difficult for me. I wanted to draw and paint things like I saw them. Not that I didn't do design work, you know, that was-- well, what you might call arts and crafts or decorative art, you know, I enjoy that too. But I didn't really fit in in some ways. And that was the problem for a lot of artists of my generation. There was such an emphasis on abstraction that the realists kind of had to go find their own way.

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: And I think it's only beginning to get back to where they're emphasizing skills and drawing, you know? It used to really irritate me and it still does to some degree when an abstraction gets this, you know, the countless jury shows I have gone to and listened to the judge discuss, you know, the winners or something and be talking about an abstractive or impressionist painting, you know, "Oh, you can tell that they have moved beyond realist," and they've, you know, this and that, and I'm looking at it and I'm going that person doesn't know how to draw or paint, that's why it looks like that, because I know that person. (laughs). There's nothing deeper in that picture. That is as good as it gets, you know? And it really bothered me that they would put something in their heads that, you know, rationalize somehow--

Jones: The judge?

Pearce: -- something that was not there.

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: And never was.

Jones: Right.

Pearce: And there were people getting, you know, "beyond realism," that person could not draw to start with. That's why they paint like that, they don't have the skill and they went that way, you know? And there are a lot of people that were very unskilled that got away with being abstracted, you know, horrible pieces. I mean, with things, you know, just--

Jones: Do you go to museums, particularly in-- well, you've talked about, whatever large city has an art museum, some of the better ones?

Pearce: I try to, yes. When we go to Raleigh I, you know, go there. And I love going to visit my family in San Diego because of the museum there. I've seen some great stuff in that museum. And, of course, Washington, D.C.

Jones: I was going to ask you, particularly, because they've got not only, they've got several museums that are radically different, you know? There's the Hirshorn, which is so different from the National Museum of Art and from the Corcoran from whatever.

Pearce: They're all very different.

Jones: All very different, yeah.

Pearce: Well, I enjoy variety, and I personally there's, for instance, there's abstract work and impressionist work that I really enjoy. You know, it's like you were talking about earlier about something hits you and it connects with you.

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: And when that happens, it doesn't matter if--

Jones: What it is.

Pearce: Yeah. And it can be very simple or very elaborate.

Jones: Right.

Pearce: You know, I can be attracted to virtually anything for some reason or another, you know? My problem that I was talking about earlier was people putting-- I can't think of the mental word that I'm trying to say here, but just imposing things that are not there. It's in their head maybe but there's no rationale to assume that that's, you know, came about in that particular kind of work.

Jones: Okay. So you--

Pearce: I think that now there's so much that people are going, because certainly the new technologies are playing a major role.

Jones: Evidently.

Pearce: And it will be interesting to see how that plays out because a lot of people have embraced it on different levels. I mean, even I've used it to scan something and make something larger or whatever to be able to, you know, you use things, you use the tools, and that's been a big effect. There's always been realism and this has always played a good-- being in the art world for a while, it was really really put on the back burner, and I think that we're seeing a return in some ways to skilled work.

Jones: That would be good.

Pearce: I think so. And--

(telephone rings, tape break)

Jones: We're going to end right now because I know we've been here long enough for you.

Pearce: I can just keep on talking.

Jones: But it's been fascinating so far. It really and truly has. And I don't think I've met anybody that's been so-- you've come from one point to the other but still maintained sort of a simplistic style within yourself and yet always testing. And obviously you enjoy what you're doing. I do too. As I told you, I saw some of these things that I pulled off the computer, and a couple of them I looked at them and I was like, I've been there, I know what that is, I can feel it, you know?

Pearce: Yeah, you can feel it.

Jones: Right, absolutely.

Pearce: And I'm very, of course, you can tell there's a lot of water in my themes, I'm very--

Jones: Which is serene.

Pearce: Yeah.

Jones: Forever changing, it really is.

Pearce: And I'm very attracted to it, it's just, you know, has always drawn me. I've always lived on the beach or near it. But, yeah, the water is always--

Jones: Changes always.

Pearce: And it's just so beautiful. And it's almost like the water is everything. You know, that every emotion, everything can be--

Jones: You can let your mind run freely.

Pearce: It can be (laughter). Yeah, and as a symbol, there's so much there. There's, you know, the nourishing qualities, there's the sensual, there's the reflective, and there's just so much that can be said or felt when you're looking at the water.

Jones: I used to, when I was little and I learned about horizons, I used to wonder what was over that horizon? And then when you get on a ship there's always another horizon and another horizon.

Pearce: Yeah. How does that work? (laughter)

Jones: Yeah.

Pearce: There's a light on the water and it's just always been very fascinating to me. And I enjoy painting it too. I really like to paint water. And when I paint it, I even paint it in layers, you know? Almost like the way it is.

Jones: Well that's the way. Recently I was down in Isle of Palms and woke up one morning in a house that the bedroom window was just all one, I raised these blinds and people were walking on the beach, but the beach and the water's edge all looked about the same color, and as you went up there was like cirrus clouds of different colors and the sun was just coming up, and it was just, I mean, it looked like somebody had painted it. It was wonderful.

Pearce: Yeah. I guess sometimes we see stuff and, "Look, it looks like your painting." (laughs).

Jones: God is painting.

Pearce: Yeah. God is the master.

Jones: I thank you for letting us come in and take up so much time. But it's been worth it. And you may not know it but I'm sure that whoever watches this, you've been very, you've shown your emotion, which is good, people can understand your passion, and reads this is going to learn a great deal. So we'll let you go right now. And come back again sometime if you'd like.

Pearce: Well, I'd like to. I think that would be neat.

Jones: And I wish you luck on your coming week and so forth, which is not going to be too much fun, I guess.

Pearce: Yeah, I've got another. Yeah, to get through.

Jones: You'll make it.

Pearce: That's what life is all about I guess.

Jones: Okay. Thank you, Brooks.

Pearce: Thank you very much, too.

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