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Interview with Pamela Toll, February 1, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Pamela Toll, February 1, 2008
February 1, 2008
Interview with local artist Pam Toll, President of No Boundaries International Art Colony located on Bald Head Island, NC.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Toll, Pamela Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  2/1/2008 Series:  Arts Length  100 minutes


Hayes: Welcome today. Sherman Hayes, university librarian at Randall Library at UNCW, is interviewing artist Pam Toll. Did I pronounce that correctly?

Toll: Yes.

Hayes: Okay. Pam, I'm just going to put these head phones on for-- every once in a while, it gives me a sound check.

Toll: Okay.

Hayes: You're sounding great. You are well known for many areas, No Boundaries, Ashley Art, teach at the university, recent graduate of [inaudible] East Carolina, correct? But before we jump into your art, why don't we go back to where you grew up and how did you get started, for a little context?

Toll: Okay. I was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma. My dad was going to school there--he was the first person in our family to go to college--and I spent a couple of years there, and then he was such a brilliant student that he was off to the University of Chicago. Instead of just teaching school, he made a career in economics, which started with all these great teachers, Nobel Prize winners in Chicago. And so I was there until I was about kindergarten age. But even in that particular time period, I can remember some distinct things about art. One thing I remember, he painted, although he's forgotten that. He was painting pictures as a hobby, and he always played the guitar. And my mother was sewing, you know, from the time I was born. She was making clothes and everything else, so she was always-- there's a heritage of that in my family. And my mother's told me that I was also quite taken with the opera and would stand transfixed in front of the television on Saturday watching the opera. So I had this, you know, yearning at that page for beauty and for drama, I guess.

Hayes: So, where did you spend most of your growing up?

Toll: Most of my growing up time was spent in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I went to high school at Broughton. Because of the nature of my dad's job, he did some visiting lectureships in different places, so we were at SMU one year and we were in Seattle, Washington, for a summer; we were in Puerto Rico at some point. And that may have fostered my interest in traveling later, too.

Hayes: Did you have a formal program of art that you took in high school at all?

Toll: No, not really. No, as we all know in North Carolina, there's not much budget for it. It's not much different today than it was in 19, whatever, 70-something. It really wasn't much offered. Now, when I went to SMU-- well, my dad went to SMU and I was going to ninth grade in Dallas, I had art every single day. I took it as an elective, and it was a tremendous course. So that was really, really great. We went through all kinds of various things from, you know, making posters for football games, and one section was on sort of poster making. And then there was a section on clay where we had to make an armature and do a figure with clay. So we had quite serious, because you had to do homework. There was five drawings to do every Friday, you know, so that was a pretty serious little elective. But beyond that, there was not much in the public school systems. Now, my mother somehow-- I don't know where she got this from because she worked in the cotton fields in Oklahoma, you know, when she was a kid, and she never went to college-- I don't know where she got this feeling for the arts, but she made sure my sister and I took piano lessons, took dancing, ballet. She must have been the one that took me to the art museum first time in Raleigh, and that really had a big impact on me. I loved the medieval kind of iconography and also the Baroque paintings, the _____ collection with all the lace and velvets and everything like that, kind of over-the-top stuff. She also enrolled me in a drawing course over at NC State when I was in high school, too.

Hayes: So this was important to you. You were thinking in this direction.

Toll: No. As always, since I was about six, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Hayes: For those that are listening to the tape, we have some experience [inaudible] at New York studio, and it's an open studio complex with...

Toll: About 20 artists.

Hayes: Twenty artists.

Toll: There's only about five of us here today.

Hayes: And some of them are moving something, so that's not Pam yelling in the background, that's somebody else. All right. So, you went to college.

Toll: I went to school at Chapel Hill, got an art and English degree at Chapel Hill. And then right after that, I went to East Carolina to go to graduate school, but I was only there about a year and I got married and moved to Florida with my husband. And then, at some point, he came back to Wake Forest to go to law school, and we moved back to North Carolina.

Hayes: Did you come to Wilmington at that point?

Toll: We came after he finished with law school, he got a job down here, and so we came.

Hayes: So you've been here a long time.

Toll: A long time, uh-huh, 23 years, yeah, a long time.

Hayes: Did you start art immediately, then, here in Wilmington?

Toll: I was always doing art. And I guess when my first son was born in 1981, I had a show right after his-- I don't even think he was-- I guess it might have been a little bit after that, because he was about a year old-- at Duke University. I had a one-person show there. So I always was doing art. When my children were small, it was a very-- a collage fit very nicely with that, so I could leave things and come back and play around for an hour and leave it. Painting just didn't work in that timeframe because it takes an hour to set up, so painting was kind of out of the question. I didn't make art at the scale I would have liked to have made then, but I was raising children. And I was just talking to somebody yesterday about, we were talking about that particular time period and women were just told we could do everything, so we felt a lot of guilt. I felt a lot of guilt. When I was with them, then I wasn't doing art; felt a lot of guilt when I was doing art but I wasn't with them. So, now [inaudible] I wish I could have just let myself off the hook, because, of course, you never know how much time you're going to have. But now I have plenty of time to work on the art, and their time with me was-- it was limited, because, you know, 18 years and they're gone.

Hayes: Yeah. You have two children still?

Toll: Uh-huh, two.

Hayes: One is at Chapel Hill?

Toll: One's a music student at Chapel Hill, and then one is teaching Montessori school in Portland, Oregon, and he's a poet.

Hayes: Wow! Music and poet. I wonder where they got some of this. So as you talk about Wilmington, when you got here, was there acceptance? I mean, you had the art degree. Were you accepted in the art community? I mean, how did you proceed?

Toll: The art-- I met Traudi right away, Traudi Thornton, who's a clay artist. I had gone back to school. I came here and I was doing some tutoring and whatnot, and I thought, well, maybe I'll just go back and get my teaching degree. And the easiest way for me to do that was to get a high school English degree. So I ran into her then-husband, Mike Wentworth, at UNCW, and, you know, found out that his wife was an artist. And so I ended up meeting her. That was one of the first friendships that I had with an artist. Of course, she was kind of an outsider, too. She had just arrived here from Germany. So, you know, we met each other. And then, not too long after that, probably right around just after my other son was born, so that was about 1986, there was a really wonderful person here heading the art council, named Amy Brannick. She now works in Raleigh. And she started something called Art Dialogue, where she got artists to come together just for coffee and talking. And one of the most memorable meetings I remember of that was in, where the Café Phoenix is, it was a place called Front Street News, and it was the little Front Street. And there was this open area, I'm not even sure, it might have been the art council's place. I'm not sure, because I know it was the art council's place at some point. And we artists were spilled out into those spaces. It poured down rain outside, and you know, here are all these people, you know, who work in their little cubby holes separate from each other, all were there together. And probably around that time, too, I was meeting with a group over at Rick Mobe [ph?] Studio. And we were doing things like, we had figure drawing over there and we were doing group projects like painting suitcases and thinking that we'd take our painted suitcases on a ferry ride and things like that. We rented a van and went up to Richmond to see an African-American art show. So there was this little-- there was something going on, something bubbling, something _____.

Hayes: Now that you're teaching at the Aurista [ph?], they didn't teach drawing, painting, so forth. How do you advise students to get connected [inaudible]? Because it seems like it's an isolated existence. I mean, you need to paint by yourself, right? It's not a joint project?

Toll: No.

Hayes: But like, your children, or even if you didn't have children, you could see no one. Do you have to, as an artist, really work at that, go find folks, _____?

Toll: Yeah, I think you have to put some effort into that. You have, I think, I guess you have to put effort into relationships.

Hayes: But some of us, like I work at an institution with 50 workers. It's not difficult to find somebody to interact with.

Toll: Right. Well, I had a high school student here who I was helping with her senior project last semester, and she is a newcomer to this area. I don't know if it's two or three years. But her mother found me. She works over at the university, as a matter of fact. But anyway, they found me because her daughter's very interested in art, and when you're in that high school age, it's very hard to get acclimated to a new place. And so her mother was actively seeking that for her. And then, she came here, I think took some private lessons maybe. She took a lesson from me-- she took a summer school course over at the university, and she was very talented. And then I think she took some private lessons. And then off and on, I have had an e-mail sort of relationship with her. And many times, you know, she's asked me, you know, "What can I do? Where can I?" And so I've sent her to, you know, different things, you know, like-- I can't think of anything right off the top of my head. But I let her know, like, maybe Make Art needs her, and Turner Dreams needs somebody to help out. I am pretty well-- I know a lot of people in different organizations and at the various schools. And you have kind of almost a Rolodex in your head, you know. You hear, one person says, "There's a film maker I know downtown. She called me on the phone here. I have a place to rent and also have studio space." You know, and then someone later says, "Oh, I'm really looking for a place for studio space." And then I go, "Oh, I know somebody you should meet." So there is a lot of that goes on, networking.

Hayes: Well, it sounds like this lady at the, you said, the art museum or the arts council was serving that role for people?

Toll: Oh, she was really something. And she may have-- and then she also got a group together to, like, rent a van to go up to the dance festival that was in Durham. She was just a real bright, energetic, young person who did a lot here.

Hayes: Are you one of the original Acme group?

Toll: Yes.

Hayes: So, talk about, in some ways you're looking for space, but I also see it's about connections.

Toll: Right. Well, about the time that Amy Brannick was here and we were all getting together over at Rick's, there was a group of us that were consistently meeting at Rick Mobe's place, and we were looking for a studio space. And that was Rick Mobe, Marshall Milton, Dick Roberts, Wayne Upchurch, John Peckham, me, Kale Coyer [ph?]. Yeah, there were seven of us. And we were doing a lot of things. We had these Full Moon art shows that we had organized.

Hayes: Well, what were those?

Toll: They were these marvelous shows in the early '90s where the first was held in what is now the Café Phoenix. We had an exhibition upstairs in what used to be an empty space. I think it's an apartment up there now. We had a dancer perform down in the restaurant. We had some readings upstairs. And then we had three of those. And a second one we-- it was second or third-- we had a bigger venue. We had voters [ph?] all over downtown because we had something at this place, something at that place. There were like three different places. There was an old bar called the Ore House, I think there was something in there and something somewhere else. I don't even remember now. And then, when we moved into this building-- because that was sort of the beginning of Acme Art. And then, so we were out looking for a studio, and we looked at lots of different buildings, and then we found this building here.

Hayes: And this is at, what, Fifth Street?

Toll: Uh-huh. It's between Fifth and Fourth. And we asked...

Hayes: What was it before?

Toll: It was a rug and wicker furniture storage warehouse.

Hayes: All right. So it never was like a retail place. It was always storage.

Toll: Storage. We took a lot-- there was this kind of stuff all over, shelves and more shelves of metal and stuff that we worked really hard to take down. We've done a lot of work in here. And so the guy wanted $1200 a month, and there was no way we could pay 1200 a month, so we told him we could pay 800, and he said okay. So, we got this building for 800. There's about 15,000 square feet, and we got it for about $800 a month. And then there was various things that happened amongst us all. So it all fell out that the people who signed the dotted line when we decided to buy-- because we were renting with an option to buy-- the people who signed were, Rick dropped out, Al Fraga came on.

Hayes: He was a sculptor?

Toll: Uh-huh. And I guess Carol was waffling, but Carol came on. Wayne and John said no, they could rent, but they weren't going to-- so the original owners were Marshall, Dick, Carol, Al and me. And then Al left about nine years-- is it nine years? It has. It's been about eight years ago he left and went to Durham. And Marshall's wife bought that share.

Hayes: Is she an artist, too?

Toll: No. She's a doctor. So anyway, and Carol's in California, but she still owns part of the building.

Hayes: So, it made more economic sense, you felt, to buy the whole thing?

Toll: Oh, yeah. I'm so glad I did that now. At the time I was, like, what's the worst case scenario? Well, I might have to walk away from some sweat equity and a used car. That's about how much it cost maybe to get in. And so I thought, okay, I can do it. I was terrified because I had a small child. I had a four-year-old and one who'd just started school, you know. It wasn't really the timing. Probably it would have been better for me to wait maybe a few more years, but I just went ahead and did it, and I'm really glad I did because we created a community for ourselves here.

Hayes: That's right. So how many artists are here now?

Toll: About 20.

Hayes: Wow. So, an artist, let's say not one of the original owners, they then are a tenant? They rent from the corporation or the group or whatever it is?

Toll: Right. We have an S corporation.

Hayes: Of course, in thinking about the price of real estate and buildings and so forth, at least you got it at a time when it wasn't crazy. Today I don't know if there's anybody [inaudible].

Toll: No, we couldn't afford it today. No. We can hardly afford the taxes.

Hayes: It's not nearly as much as the county thinks it is, right?

Toll: Right.

Hayes: The only thing you can do is become a nonprofit.

Toll: Right. Well, we battered that around in the beginning. We did. Should we make it for-profit? Should we make it nonprofit? We actually had a meeting and we did a lot of discussing and thinking before we did this. There was a guy that worked over at Good Shepherd and was a blacksmith and also a preacher, and he sat with us a couple of times: One time in the beginning when we were trying to kind of see what everybody's vision was, that we were all on the same page, and then later we had some problems among the five of us, and so he got together with us again and kind of helped us mediate through that.

Hayes: Well, it's really hard to do a group thing of any kind. I mean, you know, different people have different needs.

Toll: Well, it turned out we were all pretty much on the same page, which has really been the great thing about this.

Hayes: Now, you have a large, large space here. Was this typical of how you started out? I mean, everybody got...

Toll: Well, everybody that signed on the dotted line has big spaces. We were the ones that put our necks out there, so we got big spaces, you know.

Hayes: There's got to be some perks.

Toll: And there were times we hardly had any renters in here. I mean, there were some tight times in here, different times. This is probably the most flourishing environment that we've had here for the last five years, probably.

Hayes: And what affects that? Just the economy or the people coming and going?

Toll: Well, we didn't charge enough rent, I think, in the beginning. And there were a lot of flakey people that were in here who didn't pay. We had to write off lots of money and that kind of thing. We had some crazy people here.

Hayes: Well, you were the only one that did this, right? There was not another one?

Toll: No. This is the only.

Hayes: And the thing is that it seems to me that it also sent a signal that the Acme Artists are professional and permanent, right? I mean, as much as anybody can be permanent. But I mean, when I moved to town ten years ago and went around to talk to people about who are artists, they talked about Acme. I mean, there was a certain identity-- I don't know if that was your purpose.

Toll: I think that happened. I think, like, _____ film industry identified the artists down here. They could come down here and look around and find people to do things without the middle man and without the gallery in the middle of it. Yeah, I find now it serves a lot of educational purposes. I just gave a tour to the North Carolina Art Educators who came here for a convention in November. I have a friend who's really involved in that from Winston-Salem. So I took a bunch of teachers on a tour here. So it's beginning-- and a really funny story I have to tell you is when I was at East Carolina, Jeff Pedis came from the arts council, and I didn't go to the meeting. I was probably _____ better because at that time I was teaching here, or maybe teaching there depending on what year it was. I was going to school and I had a teenage son at home, so I was, like, scrambling, and I didn't go to this. He came to talk at East Carolina, and I probably was busy in my studio, and then somebody came up and said, "Oh, you were in his talk. They talked about Acme Art as this model community, you know, in the state." I thought that was really funny. It was funny.

Hayes: You ought to be a model.

Toll: I don't know. I don't know. It was kind of funny. That's not something we aimed for, though.

Hayes: Then you have also people who've come and gone who stayed loyal as part of the group.

Toll: Right. We do have some real core people, like Sandy Ihly, you know. Deborah, who comes and goes but always comes back. Yeah.

Hayes: So was it Gayle Tustin?

Toll: She never was involved.

Hayes: Is that right? [inaudible].

Toll: She talked about it. You know, there was a time when Al was leaving that she came close to being in here. And she was part of the original group that I talked about, with Rick Mobe. She was in that. That's where I met her was in those drawing groups.

Hayes: And Rick is still in the _____?

Toll: If you've been talking to the clay people, you'll notice most of the clay people like to stay close to home because they have to monitor kilns all the time, and they have to be there. So if you talk, almost every potter, except for maybe Hiroshi, works at home because they can't.

Hayes: And he has some capacity at home, but I think was [inaudible].

Toll: Right. But now he has that good place over at the museum.

Hayes: But you were exactly right [inaudible] to travel for Traudi, and she talked about, you know, how she might get up in the middle of the night to just, you know, dry something.

Toll: Right. Exactly. It's like kind of a baby, yeah. It's a different thing. I really saw this place for myself, I knew I could never get any-- it had to be like work, like going to work. I had a little studio behind my house, but it was very hard for me to get out there. It was constant interruption between children, phone, domestic duties. It was very hard for me to get out and work. So when I came here, it was like going to work. You know, it felt official.

Hayes: And your kids were starting into school at that point, so you could go to work, right?

Toll: Right. Yeah, it became an easier thing for me to do.

Hayes: Now, it always intrigues me how an artist is really an independent business person, and any independent business person has a lot of freedom but really go to work.

Toll: They have to go to work.

Hayes: Well, I know. What I'm saying, you know, it's pretty obvious if I don't show up.

Toll: You have to have a lot of self discipline. And that's something that I've always said that for me, it's very odd that I picked a vocation that would, I guess, teach me some things. Because I was not a patient young person, and I was not a very self disciplined young person, but I had to cultivate both of those things in order to do what I'm doing. Is.

Hayes: So do you try to every day paint? Every day here?

Toll: I try to. And I can't right now because I have two nine-hour teaching days on Tuesday and Thursdays. There's no way.

Hayes: University, you're teaching?

Toll: Uh-huh. But I try to get in here, you know, for a few hours on Monday, a few hours on Wednesday, and then the weekend, I pack it in over here. I'm in here.

Hayes: And then, different seasons, too. If you're not teaching in the summer.

Toll: Right. Then I have more time to work.

Hayes: The other thing is, as I'm panning behind you, you've alluded to the fact that you wanted to do extremely large work. Well, where are you going to get that, where can you do that unless you've got some pretty good size space? Have you always been interested in that? As soon as you got here?

Toll: As soon as I got here, my work expanded.

Hayes: Got bigger, and somehow that resonates with you?

Toll: Right. When I had children at home and I was working with collages, they were this 18 by 24 inch was the max. When I got over here, everything got bigger.

Hayes: Not everybody needs that, but obviously your style, this has really been helpful. Even to have them on the wall. You want to see what they're going to look like.

Toll: Right.

Hayes: For many people, the studio is such they couldn't paint.

Toll: Right. Yeah, that's right.

Hayes: Do you have shows here, too?

Toll: I've never had my own show here. Now, Acme's had plenty of group shows, and we've had _____ shows.

Hayes: And was that kind of something that you thought would be a great [inaudible].

Toll: We always had a designated gallery area. Now, we've tossed around, we've thought about doing classes at one time. And then the liability thing becomes an issue. So then we thought, we even talked to Cape Fear about them using the studio, but it's just tricky. And then we had some figure drawing-- we have had some workshops, figure drawing, and then we've had some art shows.

Hayes: Well, I mean, it's both a private space but a semi-public space if you invite people in. That's always the problem. You know, you keep your security good, but you don't want to have to lock every studio to control the _____.

Toll: Yeah. It's kind of amazing how there's been really no theft in this place. It's amazing.

Hayes: Well, you know, you have the buzzer system you have to get in and so forth. And what about the people who come through here? Do they become part of the society of Acme? I mean, not every one of them is a personal best friend, but just by definition, do they become?

Toll: Yeah. It's a community. And it's a really good one right now. We've had some great things. Chappy did his-- he's been kind of a long-term tenant here. He came and went and came and went just like Debra. He started...

Hayes: [inaudible]?

Toll: He started the North Carolina Visual School, something like that, art school. And last year we had Raul Middleman here to do a workshop to kind of kick that off. And at that time, there were some new tenants here at Acme, and they participated in that. And then this fall, we had the local version of the No Boundaries colony, in which I invited several people here at Acme. There were probably nine people that went out from Acme Art Studios. And so that, again, brought a lot of people very close together.

Hayes: And I met the other day, just happened to be coming through, talking to someone else, a couple of international people, and I thought that was really [inaudible].

Toll: Oh, the girls from Australia. We have three Australians in here right now.

Hayes: Oh, isn't that nice? [inaudible] they're here-- their husbands are here with...

Toll: GE, I think.

Hayes: Company, and they're artists. What would you do? I mean, that would be a challenge. And they both just couldn't stop talking about the freedom to become like you and go to work.

Toll: Right. And one of them has really small children, too. So, it's real important for her.

Hayes: So, that's kind of nice. You're helping out an international group.

Toll: I know. Well, we have the Errol [ph?] [inaudible]. Errol arrived here in his camper van and lived in our yard for a couple of months.

Hayes: Errol Ross. He's the photographer?

Toll: Right.

Hayes: And he's been here for quite a while?

Toll: Yeah, and he's from Denmark originally. And then we have another Australian in the tin building who's a cabinetry and such, yeah, and he does metal work. He's new, Andrew.

Hayes: Good. So all in all, as you look back nearly, what, 20 years that you've been here?

Toll: Seventeen, I think, which is unbelievable.

Hayes: That it's a good ______.

Toll: It was a great idea.

Hayes: And interestingly enough, I see another one starting up that almost is like the same, copied as a compliment, the Independent Art Company.

Toll: Well, Dan was here.

Hayes: Oh, really? Dan Brawly [ph?]?

Toll: Yeah. Dan Brawly was in Acme Art for a year or two and lived, I think he even lived in a house in this street. Yeah, he was here for a while.

Hayes: So, fine sort of a compliment was to emulate with a different set of artists or maybe a different location.

Toll: Well, you know, we [inaudible]. There was a joke in here one time while he was here. I said, "I guess we could turn this into an old folks home later." And Dan looks around and he goes, "Isn't that what it is already?"

Hayes: Oh, ouch.

Toll: But, to segue off of that, we got some pretty-- people here are middle age, you know. That's pretty much-- there's I think maybe one young-- couple of young people, the young Australian woman and then there's a young man out in the [inaudible]. Right. And the rest of us are, you know, we're middle-aged. And at Dan's place, there's the younger group of artists. There really is an age difference, I think.

Hayes: Some of them are not.

Toll: Some of them aren't, and some of them aren't here, but on the whole, that's where the whipper-snappers are. (laughing)

Hayes: But part of it is because you started it and stayed, right?

Toll: Right. That's true.

Hayes: It worked for you.

Toll: That's true. It worked for us.

Hayes: You weren't middle-aged when you started, were you?

Toll: No. We were whipper-snappers, too. Right.

Hayes: Well, having had students, every so often I've seen you with _____ students.

Toll: There's been students who rent. Yeah. In fact, there's a pretty stable group here, but there are a couple of students that kind of had turnover, and they are young people. We had a student who just went to graduate school at Western Carolina who was out in the tin building. We've had students, yeah.

Hayes: And then you have had even some retirees who've come in.

Toll: Like Leon Shenker [ph?] came.

Hayes: Yeah, that's what I was thinking. You might tell us who Leon is.

Toll: Leon is an artist from New York who has some great stories, I mean, was even in Jackson Pollock's studio. He has some great stories about teaching and being an art student and an artist in that area. And he came here. He retired from teaching and came to Wilmington. And we met him pretty close, you know, to when he got here. But I don't even remember how, but he was working in his own house out an Eckerd Farm. He had a garage he was working in. And then he just had so many paintings, he asked if he could store paintings over here, so we gave him a storage space. We built a storage space for him. And then it got to the point where he really wanted to be in here, and we decided we'd give him an honorary studio. So he didn't pay full freight. We subsidized his studio because we really wanted him in here. And so he was here for several years. And now he's in Raleigh closer to his daughters. But we talked to him at Christmas. We had an open house here and we got on the phone and called him. He's 81 or 82.

Hayes: Well, so, he was bringing kind of an interesting perspective of a long career to you.

Toll: Right. And he's a very talented painter.

Hayes: So you, in a sense, had a resource.

Toll: Right.

Hayes: And I don't mean just retirees and _____ but they need people who are professional artists who end up here. I'm thinking of M. J. Cunningham, who a very accomplished artist, and said in a separate interview that this was a lifesaver to have a place.

Toll: That's great to hear that.

Hayes: To go, you know, that he can go to. Well, I think some of it is the issue that you alluded to, it's hard to separate a home studio, right, from home.

Toll: Right. It is. Especially if you're a woman and you've taken care of family and home, it's really hard. Men are used to closing the door and going off to work somewhere. Women are different. They're not used to that-- of a certain generation. They're not used to doing that.

Hayes: Let's go on to No Boundaries. We've got plenty of time. What is that about and how did it get started?

Toll: Well, it also kind of started here at Acme. That is that we had a show called The Hunter Moon Festival one time here. And it was a four-day extravaganza of art. We had the play Agamemnon was done here by Ad Hoc Theater. We had the Composer Network of composers here in town did a concert. We got a piano in here. I don't even we are where we got a piano. I have a friend who's a soprano and a piano player who teaches at Chapel Hill, and I asked her if she wouldn't come down and do a little operatic concert. So she came down to do that. And there was a poetry reading and there was visual art, and it was four days of this. And she came, and she just was fresh from a Fulbright in Macedonia. She told me she practiced piano in the national gallery there when she was, you know, working on music, and that there were thirteen art colonies in that little tiny country and that some of us ought to try to go there. So I wrote the curator of the National Gallery in Scopia [ph?], sent my slides, and she recommended me for this art colony and flew to _____ Macedonia.

Hayes: Where is Macedonia?

Toll: It's above Greece. It has Albania on one side and Bulgaria on the other side and then Serbia up above.

Hayes: Has it always been a separate country at the time you've been there?

Toll: Yeah. It was very newly born, about four years. I don't even know if it was four years old when I went there.

Hayes: Because it was part of Yugoslavia?

Toll: Yes. And when I went there, there was a war going on. And there's been so many wars in that area, I can't remember exactly which one, but it seems like the Sarajevo, the war. So, you couldn't go across the border. They were really hurting with trade because there were trucks lined up at borders, not able to get across the borders. And I didn't really think about it, but right before I flew out of Germany-- I had met Traudi and spent a week in Germany before I flew over there, and then I realized maybe I was going to go there and not come back, you know.

Hayes: What were you doing?

Toll: Yeah, right. What was I doing?

Hayes: But you were too far by that point, right?

Toll: Yeah. There's no gain without some risk. But so I went to this place. It was a monastery called Saint Joakim Osogovski. And when I was there, it was the most unbelievable awakening. It was a profound experience for me in so many different ways.

Hayes: What year was that?

Toll: 1994. And to do something like that just for me, to have that time to work without getting groceries, without picking up children from school, without this, without that, to be immersed in it with all these very professional artists, you know, from all over the world.

Hayes: And you called it an art colony?

Toll: It was an art colony.

Hayes: There's a long tradition of that in Europe?

Toll: In that country, I believe. They just go and immerse, yeah.

Hayes: But you do artwork, right?

Toll: Right.

Hayes: You don't teach?

Toll: You don't do anything but work on your work.

Hayes: And do people come from everywhere like you?

Toll: I know I was the first American there. And that year, there was a Swiss artist, a French artist, a Turkish artist, Bulgarian, Macedonian.

Hayes: What do you do for language? Just the best you can?

Toll: Yeah, you do the best you can. You use a lot of your art as a language, your hands, your facial expressions, and yeah, dictionaries.

Hayes: [inaudible]?

Toll: Right. And there were some people who had common French. There were some people who had Italian, you know. You always could find somebody you could talk to. But I remember when I first went there, I got there a little early and I had to stay in a hotel, and I hadn't spoken English to anyone. And I had never been in that position before. When I finally met somebody who could speak English, it was just like, oh, I couldn't believe. I just couldn't believe. I'm so anxious to talk, because I was seeing all these new things, and I had nobody to talk to. I couldn't talk.

Hayes: You couldn't even share with it.

Toll: Right. So I went there, and it was, you know, the people were so nice to me. And, you know, I paid to get there, but then they gave me paint, they gave me canvases. They gave me a place to sleep. They had a beautiful cook who cooked for us every night.

Hayes: Is that the model? [inaudible] get you there but they [inaudible]?

Toll: That's our model for No Boundaries.

Hayes: And that's where you modeled it after?

Toll: Right. And the next year, they asked me to bring one good artist with me, and so I took Gayle with me. And then the next year, Dick applied. So Dick and I went.

Hayes: You went three years in a row?

Toll: Uh-huh. I went three years in a row. And that first year, this artist named Gligo Chimerski [ph?] and the guy who ran it, Yorben [ph?], and I can't pronounce his last name, and this woman, Menka [ph?], who also has a long Russian-sounding name, met with me, she's the one that recommended sending me there. And they said, "You must be an ambassador when you go back." They were on very bad relationship with Greece. Greece didn't want them to have the name Macedonia. There was no embassy in Macedonia from America. So there's a war going on north of Macedonia, and they said, "You have to go home, you have to write your president, you have to do an art colony there." You know, and I'm not really a political animal, but I came back and I sat down and I wrote President Clinton a letter. And I got a very thoughtful reply from the State Department. You know, it was passed from the White House on to the State Department. And the really funny thing is that guy that wrote me the letter was one of the first-- I think he might have been the first ambassador in Macedonia.

Hayes: You're kidding.

Toll: Uh-uh.

Hayes: You were just at an interesting time.

Toll: It was an interesting time. So when Gayle and I went over there, we were treated like dignitaries. The minister of culture came to see us at this colony. It was like unbelievable. The banquet, I mean, it was unbelievable.

Hayes: So they were using you for diplomatic purposes?

Toll: Well, I think they thought-- if you think in terms of how small their country was and you wanted to go and talk to the president, it doesn't seem as outrageous as it does for a country this big. I don't know that people really have a concept of that until they get here, how big this country is.

Hayes: Oh, no, let me tell you a side bar story that has nothing to do with this, so sorry for those people [inaudible]. We had some friends from the Netherlands come and visit when we lived in Boston. And President Clinton was coming to Boston and was going to be walking in a parade. And they said, "We want to go down and visit with him." And it was, you know, the same reaction. We just said, you know-- they went down and he broke away from his cordage [ph?] and was shaking hands. They both shook hands with the president.

Toll: Oh, that's fantastic.

Hayes: So, I'm just saying sometimes-- and I think now with people who are doing these caucuses in Iowa, that you can meet. But in general, you're right, you don't get to meet the president.

Toll: Right. I did what they asked me to do, though. So, then, the really funny thing is I sent a lot of correspondence back to Gligor, you know, was _____ with the president-- well, not the president, the State Department-- and he had all of it published in the newspaper there. And I got it back, but I didn't know how to read Cyrillic, so it was like all these headlines, these articles and stuff, and I just put them in a book, and it wasn't until some time later that I went, "That's my name in the headline." And then I realized he had had all these letters. So that's why when we went back we were famous, Gayle and I, because all that correspondence had been in the newspaper before I even got back over there.

Hayes: You were working for their country.

Toll: I know, and so it was really, you know, and it was kind of why I was laughing, you know, because it's almost like they thought that I had something to do with them getting an embassy and stuff. But it was so, I don't know, it was just amazing.

Hayes: Well, that was wonderful. What were the other things. You said it was such a life changing, was it the fact that you got to do work so concentrated that you never had done?

Toll: I didn't ever have time like that. And I didn't have-- I wasn't rubbing elbows with people who were doing it like this.

Hayes: How long did these usually go on?

Toll: That one was about two weeks.

Hayes: And every day you're...

Toll: That's all you do. You get up, you go. There's no TV. There's no bar-- yeah, there's a bar, but you've got to climb down a mountain to go to it and you aren't going to do that. No, we just, you know, we'd hike in the morning, work, have lunch, work, have dinner, dance, go to bed, get up. And it was just, we worked really hard and long.

Hayes: Was there _____? Did they have a show generally?

Toll: They had a show. They've had several shows with that work. I hear they now have a show right there at the monastery. At the time, they did a show in some other places. But the thing was, you gave two paintings. I usually left all my paintings because to roll them up and bring them home wet was ridiculous. So, you know, most of the times I just left what I made there. Sometimes I'd do some things on paper.

Hayes: But you would leave paintings.

Toll: And then they used those to get sponsors, right. Like, I know that the guy at the television station got one of mine. You know, there was people who would buy things or get paint for us or whatever, and they would give paintings to them.

Hayes: That's nice. That's a good model.

Toll: And that's what we do, too. We try to, you know, use the paintings to keep the project going. And then, so, then I had said, sure, I would really-- and even when I wrote the State Department, I said, "I want to have a colony here in North Carolina." And that guy, Christopher Hill, wrote and said, "You know, that's the very best kind of diplomatic thing to do." And so, I was like, "But how?" So then I was like kind of looking into Black Mountain, because that art school, you know, that all those famous modernists went to there in Black Mountain, I thought, well, that'd be kind of cool if we revived that. Yeah, so that was in the back of my mind. And I was actually looking at different campgrounds up in the mountains. And then, oh, I know. After that first year in Macedonia, right when I got back, I had a residency on Bald Head Island for a week in October.

Hayes: What's a residency?

Toll: They had a program where you could go over and paint for a week on Bald Head Island, and you would leave a painting for their collection.

Hayes: Oh, they have a collection?

Toll: Uh-huh. So I went over there.

Hayes: Who is "they" who have a program?

Toll: It's called Bald Head Island, Incorporated.

Hayes: Incorporated, okay. So the actual...

Toll: Corporation.

Hayes: You'll probably might explain to people who would not know where this is, Bald Head Island.

Toll: It's right off to North Carolina, south port.

Hayes: It's a separate island.

Toll: Right, about a 30-minute ferry ride.

Hayes: You can only get there by boat. Well, I guess you could fly in. I don't know if you could fly in.

Toll: No, you can't. You'd have to fly into Brunswick and then go over on a boat.

Hayes: And it's a private residence.

Toll: Right. Probably 200 people live there year-round, or maybe more than that now, but hardly anybody lives there year-round.

Hayes: And it's developed.

Toll: And it's a very environment...

Hayes: Resort.

Toll: Yeah, but a very environmentally conscious sort of resort. It's always been very well planned. I think over half of it's a reserve.

Hayes: And who are the people that developed it?

Toll: The Mitchells.

Hayes: Mitchells, yeah.

Toll: So Kent has been our patron saint. He's been very good to us. So his wife was taking lessons from me, and she told me about the residency program. And I went over there for a week, and then I thought, Man, this would be perfect. This has got the same sort of idyllic feel, the same, natural, because we were in a mountain and this nature.

Hayes: How about the ocean? [inaudible]?

Toll: Yeah, no, we were right there. It was beautiful, the scenery. And he has these three little cottages, of the light housekeepers' cottages, which were, you know, what beach cottages used to be like, sort of rustic and right there on the beach, isolated from everything else so you wouldn't be bothering other people. And I had the guts to ask him if we couldn't do this, if we couldn't trade, if we couldn't somehow work this thing out where we had these artists come for two weeks and use all three of those houses. Now, I knew that was a jump because I had, you know, one for one week, but I was going to ask for three for two weeks. And I had written a letter but I didn't send it, and then I just ran into him and I threw it out there verbally, and he said, "Let's do it." And that was that. And by that time, Dick and Gayle were on board-- there's no way that is a project one person can do. So at that point, we had a team. We had four people. And I don't know, Errol may have come later in the mix, but he's very much part of it now, too. So we have a good team, and we have a board. And it takes a lot of work.

Hayes: Because you have to raise the money to bring them. Well, they have to come, but then you have to feed them.

Toll: Well, we had to raise the money. And that first year, we sent invitations out in May, and I was like, Oh, my God. All we had was the houses on the island. We didn't have squat for money. But it's like, you know, sometimes you leap out there and the powers rise up under you. It was an amazing.

Hayes: Well, I think the community has really embraced it. It has tremendous publicity about it.

Toll: If we didn't have the community, we couldn't do it.

Hayes: And the shows that you have. You have a show here. I know you have a show out at the university with the Randall Library.

Toll: And we have a traveling show right now that's gone to five locations of the state of the very best of the work.

Hayes: So, how many of you have been with the international?

Toll: We had ten years-- well, five, we've had five international, five local.

Hayes: Now, what do you do with the locals?

Toll: This last time I was kind of on my own because Dick had been a month in Macedonia and Gayle was going through her own crisis. So, I asked for a lot of help. I got somebody to be in charge of day-to-day. I got somebody to be in charge of clean-up. I got somebody to be in charge of hanging the show.

Hayes: Probably the participants.

Toll: Uh-huh. So I asked for help and we had 17 artists, two weeks.

Hayes: Wow. What time of year is this?

Toll: The first two weeks of November.

Hayes: And how's your weather been in that, generally?

Toll: Well, we had a splendid two weeks this time. We have had some horrendously rainy, cold, horrible weather, but we always have a good time, you know. But it is hard because we don't have a studio over there. So people are working outside a lot. And he has very generously given us at different times the Ebb and Flow Restaurant, which we've covered up with plastic and used as a studio. And this last time, we had the tent that is used for weddings and such, and that, actually, was the best. Because that other place is cold. That wind whips through there; it is cold.

Hayes: Your exchange, though, final product to them so they have a collection that's _____.

Toll: Right. They have a good collection.

Hayes: Right. And then your artists are coming from the international from where? Everywhere?

Toll: The last time we had the international colleague, Gayle, did a lot of work with the Sister City organization. And I believe Dick got involved with that, too. There were artists here from all of our sister cities, except for Italy. We had a guy from Barbados. We had a woman from England and a man from China. So we had our sister cities involved. We had an artist from Cyprus that Dick it met in Macedonia.

Hayes: Now, do you try to keep somebody always from Macedonia?

Toll: Macedonians, we always have. That's our strong-- we always have usually two or three artists from Macedonia. Last time we finally invited a woman, which was really great. And this year, you know, we're just talking at this point, but we're talking about a man and a woman.

Hayes: So, you're talking over the years, ten, fifteen different artists from Macedonia, probably counting.

Toll: Robert, Gligor [ph?], Serge, Nicola, Dimitri, Mariana, maybe seven.

Hayes: That's good, though, right? That's a great experience for them.

Toll: Right. And then we had a Bulgarian artist, a guy from Cyprus, a Turkish artist. We had an artist from Iraq who hadn't been home for 20 years after the war between Iraq and Iran. Interestingly, there was an artist from Iraq at this thing I was at this summer, the symposium in France, who also left 20 years ago, but he lives in Slovenia now. And he asked me about North Carolina. He says, "Is it peaceful there?" I said, "Yes." He said, "That's the most important thing." We take it for granted.

Hayes: Is Macedonia now, in your sense, doing better? When was the last time you were there?

Toll: I think they're, well, they've had their, you know, the Kosovo thing was quite a little stir. That was scary, and there's still, you know, some talk of that breaking off out of Macedonia. So I don't really know, but I think things are pretty stable.

Hayes: When was the last time you were back there?

Toll: I was there year before last. I went in 2006. I went to paint in a little village, Stolsticha [ph?], for Serge and Reeces' project, called Arpointgumnov [ph?], which Dick's been very involved in. It's a low residency thing where a couple of artists go for two weeks and work in this little village. It's like walking back 90 years in time. And it's a very impoverished little village that needs some new economic vitality. And I know that he and his wife have really helped that village by buying, you know, even for us staying there, they're buying the local milk, the local cheese. We spend money in the store. I commissioned a woman there to make me a sweater this year. And it's a beautiful place. And Dick and Tina have-- Serge refurbished a house they bought there, so they have a house there now, too. So it's becoming like a-- it's going to be really nice. There's three or four buildings involved. I think they've got big dreams for that place, and I'd love to take the students there at some point.

Hayes: That's a great idea, yeah. How do you get to Macedonia, through Greece?

Toll: I flew in, this time, I flew into France because I wanted to see some people in France, and then to Scopia [ph?]. I've flown into Bulgaria, Sophia, Bulgaria. Gayle's done the Greece thing and gone up by train.

Hayes: But it seems to me like one of the things that triggered your travel with your dad a lot is you moved around, but you've become an international traveler once Macedonia started, right?

Toll: Yeah, I have a real passion for that. I really do.

Hayes: That's interesting, because you mentioned France already.

Toll: Right. Well, I had never been to Europe, and I went to Germany to see Traudi, so home digs for a week. We drove around for a week before I went to Macedonia in 1994. But actually, a year before that, my dad was in China. He was teaching the John Hopkins program, free market economics in China. So I had taken my oldest son, who was about, he was somewhere between nine and eleven, and we went to China, to Shanghai, Beijing, Ninjing [ph?], that year. I just decided my parents were there, this was the perfect way to see this place, and a great thing for this boy to do. And so off we went, a good bonding experience for me and him. So that was the beginning. And then the next, about a year or two later, I was in Macedonia. The next year I was in Macedonia, in France, [inaudible] Germany. The next year I went to Macedonia, I went over to Turkey to see some friends. I went a couple of times to Turkey. Then I had a show in Turkey. In 1997, I just flew straight to Turkey because I had a show there. And then, you know, it sort of just spiraled out. And now I'm involved in a new project now called Paint a Future. Last year I got a phone call one morning, and this woman said, "Hello, I'm Hetty Vanderlinden from Holland and I have a project for Paint a Future, and I saw your paintings on the Internet and I want to know if you want to participate." And I looked it up and it's this marvelous program she has to help kids all over the world. So she's building schools, she's buying medicine, she's building houses. She's just doing all these marvelous things for children in Africa, in Croatia, in Brazil.

Hayes: It's around the _____?

Toll: Uh-huh. So, I didn't know exactly what to expect, but I said, "Sure, I'm in." And so I flew to Brazil in May and got there.

Hayes: On your own nickel?

Toll: Yeah. Actually, I got a couple of sponsors this time.

Hayes: Okay. Well, but I'm just saying she's not paying.

Toll: Yeah, she's not paying for that. So when we got there, and there were twelve artists from Spain, Denmark, Holland, Chile, Argentina, all over the place. And then she went out in communities where there were very poor children, slums and Indian villages, and she took paintbrushes and painted. And she said to the children, "Paint your dreams of what you want your life to turn out like. You know, you have power to imagine your futures." And they, oh, this wonderful film. I'm going to show it at _____ on February 26th. They close their eyes and they're waving their brushes around like magic wands, then they paint these paintings. And she brought, like, a stack of these paintings to us. And she was going out painting with kids while we're painting on the island. She has this resort. This guy said, "I can't paint, but I can give you a resort." So we're like on this fabulous resort off the coast of Brazil. She brings stacks of paintings. We go through there, and there's these paintings with the little kid's photograph attached. And you pick one up, you can hardly put it down again because they're, like, asking for a house. It's not like they're asking for MTV or, you know, GameBoy or anything like that. They want, like, a bicycle or house or something like that. So, you picked out some paintings, and then you take this painting that the child does and we're given a one-meter by one-meter larger and smaller format, all squares, and we're asked to make a painting with this child's painting as the inspiration. So, the first painting I had was by this little girl named Gabrielle, and I just glued it right on my canvas, and I didn't want to touch her painting. I painted all around it, everything, butterflies, you know, just sort of took that as an inspiration.

Hayes: And did you leave hers in the painting?

Toll: Yeah, it's in the painting. And that painting sold and she got a new house.

Hayes: Sold in the country or out of the country?

Toll: Somebody from Holland bought it.

Hayes: Wow.

Toll: I know. So it was the coolest, most powerful, most wonderful art experience yet. So we made about is hundred paintings. She had all these Brazilian artists working in their own studios, and then the twelve of us working on this island. And we had this big show. The show went to Florianopolis Modern Art Museum. It went up to San Paolo. It went to Holland.

Hayes: Wow!

Toll: So then she called me and asked me if I wanted to do it again, if I wanted to come to France this fall in September. And I left classes for a week and went to France. I painted, just painted my heart out. I was on my game. I painted seven paintings in a week, and I found out-- oh, and then, in Brazil, she asked me to bring paintings back here to hang in the Atlanta airport. She had arranged for a show at the international airport. So I got six paintings. It was crazy, because I flew here and I had to send them back and they flew back here, and it was crazy. But they got them there; they sold every painting, and she had never hit America for money. She'd never come to America for money. Well, every painting sold. And, you know, for $3,000 she can build a house for somebody in Brazil. So I just found out another painting I did with a kid named Nadir just sold, and she got a new house. Her house is finished; it was being built in December. So, it's so cool. And then, you know, and then we had this great group of people, over 25 artists.

Hayes: So it was a combination art colony and charity.

Toll: Right, exactly.

Hayes: What is her [inaudible]?

Toll: Well, I think she's a very established artist. She shows in Madrid and Paris. She had a show somewhere in Brazil. She goes out after having champagne and hors d'oeuvres and her paintings selling for a lot of money, and she goes out in the street and there's kids living on the street, and she was like, "I can't believe this. How can we have this next to this?" So for four years she's been working on this, and I don't know how she's keeping herself afloat, you know, but she has got a gallery now. They just opened a gallery called "Paint a Future" in Amsterdam. And I think she might have some kind of rental thing going with the art to kind of keep things afloat. But she gets, lots of people are giving things. People are making films, people are making music, people are making art. Talon Paint Company, she can go in and pick any paint, any canvases, they're giving all the supplies. So it's a fabulous project. Well, this is also exciting, we're going to invite her to No Boundaries, and we're going to bring that project to No Boundaries, and we're going to...

Hayes: Donate some of those?

Toll: We're going to actually have every painter that participates paint a painting for her. And then we're going to have our alumni do it voluntarily. We're going to tap in every local artist who's been involved with No Boundaries, tell them what the project is, see if they want to paint. She's working on a show in Chicago for it. So, anyway.

Hayes: We're not done, but I think we need to change the tape because it's going to run out. We can take a break here.

Toll: Okay.

(tape change)

Hayes: Okay. We're on tape 2 with artist Pam Toll with Sherman Hayes from UNCW Randall Library, and it's still February 1st, right, 2008. We've been going a while, haven't we? And we're sitting in a very spacious studio here at Acme Art. We've done an awful lot about No Boundaries, which was kind of something you've done for the greater art community and yourself and your travels, and you've done something about Acme, but I didn't want to leave the interview without talking about your own work. In other words, if I said to you today, "What do you do? What is your specialty?" That isn't the right term, but, you know, how do you describe your own work? What are you working in now?

Toll: Well, I'm a painter, I'd say, but I am a painter who, you know, as I said earlier, I have a lot of history of working with collage, gluing and pasting and I have a love of, you know, almost recycling. I love, as you can see, fabrics and lace and threads.

Hayes: [inaudible]

Toll: Yeah. It's sort of-- you know.

Hayes: This isn't a mess; this is raw material.

Toll: Right. So, I think the two have merged more and more and more. And I think, actually, I approach painting like I do collage making. I think my work is--how would I describe it--mythological in some way. It has layers of time. At one point, I was making a world above and a world below, and now sometimes I compact two things one on top of the other, like maybe a dream image with something more real.

Hayes: Now, talk me through the creative process. So, if you're doing this kind of a thoughtful process, you really are thinking ahead of what you want to accomplish? Or is this spontaneous more than?

Toll: It's both. So, gosh. I don't know; I don't do a lot of talking about it. Like, let's say I am going to do a collage. Okay. Maybe I'll have, like, for the last couple of years, I've been really -- I think I've always been very interested in water. I swim, and we live in this environment that's really wet down here with the marsh and the ocean and the river, and so I'm very drawn to water. So that's always percolating in my head somehow, even physically immersing myself in it. So, you know, I've done a lot of collages that move around water. You know, and then there was an interesting sort of historical time period there where we had the tsunami and what happened in New Orleans that sort of fell in the middle of that working with the water thing, too. So, in a collage, sometimes just cleaning my studio brings me to things because I might go through a box of things, images or stamps or cloth or something, and I go, oh, this little treasure that I've forgotten about. You know, or maybe I'll start something, and I'm sort of hunting for something, and I don't what it is, but I'll just start rummaging around, looking for things. And so that's kind of the way-- that's even kind of the way the paintings work because they'll be-- I keep journals. I haven't been writing so much, but I keep journals and I do a lot of drawing.

Hayes: What's a journal? What do you mean by a journal?

Toll: Let's see if I have-- something like this. Like, see? Here's a painting in here. I haven't looked at that drawing for a while, but I'll write.

Hayes: Are you writing about what's happening to you or about the art?

Toll: No. This is I'm just writing about walking somewhere getting soaked to the bone, the wind, the boats flying around in front of me, the white flapping wings look like angels.

Hayes: Have you always been a journal writer?

Toll: I know I do. There was a point in my life I probably was trying to decide if I was going to write or if I was going to do art.

Hayes: You were an English major, too [inaudible]?

Toll: Uh-huh. I love to read. I love to-- writing-- I know this is probably wrong, but it feels like writing is-- it requires-- I don't know. Maybe it doesn't require anything more than painting. I'm sure if somebody presented-- David Gessner told me he always battled about the art and the writing, and he's a writer. So it'd be interesting to know what he thinks if it would be a bigger struggle for him to work in art, because I think it'd be harder to work in language, and I think part of the reason verbal language is just so to the bone, the written language. So you can't hide in that anywhere, I don't think. Now, I may be fooling myself thinking I can hide in the visual stuff, because probably I'm not doing a very good job of it. And I don't know that that really should be an aim anyway. I don't know. I can't really explain, but I ended up going this way instead of the other way. Everybody thinks there's a book in them. But anyway, you know, just when I go to museums, I draw. When I'm sitting in a place waiting. There was somebody reading my fortune in a coffee cup; there's the fortune drawn, the figures in the fortune.

Hayes: Now, do you go back to these?

Toll: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: And you've got an inspiration.

Toll: Oh, yeah. I use a lot of the stuff in paintings. Just the bat, okay? There it is. I didn't even know I had that there, all right? I'm going to show you a painting.

Hayes: All right. Good. We're still here; she's going to the back looking for a painting. [inaudible] So you have actually a note from your note thing?

Toll: Yeah. I have a little drawing here, and now I can't put my eyes on that painting. And I just showed it to somebody.

Hayes: Is that right?

Toll: Oh, well, anyway.

Hayes: In other words, something you did some time ago?

Toll: Yeah. And I didn't even know I had this little drawing, but I did a painting from this, somewhere in here.

Hayes: So even if you don't go back and refer to it, in a sense, it's in your head?

Toll: Right. And you know, like that, I was actually going through some drawings because there was a figure drawing show down at Ortega, and I found all these little drawings I'd made for paintings. And I was like, oh, wow. Hey, there's something about that little drawing that's even better than the painting I did.

Hayes: You mentioned Ortega. What is Ortega?

Toll: It's a little bar and gallery downtown Front Street.

Hayes: And you're part of that?

Toll: I am. It's a very loose-- she doesn't have exactly-- she doesn't have room to stow things, so she does shows.

Hayes: She being?

Toll: Bonnie England, who went to school at UNCW. And she has, you know, she'll just have them. She'll call or she'll have invitationals. She has theme shows. She just brings people together and does some shows down there. And then they have poetry readings and various things. So, her mate is a writer.

Hayes: She's a writer?

Toll: He is a writer and she's a painter, and they have this little gallery downtown.

Hayes: So she's kind of trying to work into an arts [inaudible]?

Toll: It's a little gathering place. It's little tiny slip.

Hayes: But not limited to just visual?

Toll: No. And she has music down there quite a bit, too. And they do a lot of benefit work for different people around here, too. Phil [ph?] Bailey did something there. But anyway, yeah. So I have all these drawings. I do love drawing.

Hayes: So you're working all the time. Your mind's working all the time.

Toll: Yeah. Pretty much. There's chaos in there.

Hayes: Some people use photography. You don't use photography?

Toll: Yeah, I use some.

Hayes: Do you do some?

Toll: I take-- that'd be another collage piece. I take lots of pictures myself. Yeah. I do that, too.

Hayes: Okay. Whatever it takes.

Toll: Whatever I need, yeah. Whatever's not nailed down.

Hayes: And when you say a painter, what particular materials is your most common?

Toll: I use oils. I describe myself as a painter who uses oil paint. Now, I have done layers of things, like maybe start a painting very quickly with acrylic wash because it moves so fast so I can quickly get an under painting down, and then paint the next layer in oil.

Hayes: Is this one over here? That doesn't look like...

Toll: This is my student's work over here.

Hayes: Oh, okay. Student work.

Toll: I have a student. Sometimes I have independent study at the university, and the way I can keep up with that best is to have them in here working where I can watch what they're doing because I can't run after them.

Hayes: Well, the independent study is where they study with the professor but just one-on-one?

Toll: Right.

Hayes: And they get credit, but it's a controlled result, right?

Toll: Right.

Hayes: They usually have to produce a certain number of works for you?

Toll: Right. Yeah, I can't remember how many I told her to make, about eight paintings maybe. And then she is staying in here because she's out of school. And now she's going to be my assistant, my studio assistant for a while. So she's going to be doing some research for my teaching and she's going to do some other things for me.

Hayes: Which courses are you teaching now, again?

Toll: I'm teaching figure drawing, two sections of drawing and painting.

Hayes: Now, can you tell me what is figure drawing?

Toll: We have live models and draw from a figure.

Hayes: And that's just a basic?

Toll: Basic.

Hayes: Arts. But you'd only take it if you were an art major, right?

Toll: Probably. I can't imagine why you'd take it otherwise.

Hayes: But it's limited in number, right?

Toll: Yeah. But I always let some extra people in there. I have 17 in there right now.

Hayes: And you have a live model? Nude or clothed?

Toll: Nude.

Hayes: Male or female or both?

Toll: Both. All different body types. And yesterday we didn't have a model, so we looked at a film on the skeleton and on the muscular system so we can sort of see what's going on even under the skin.

Hayes: So, this is a class that you have taken in art school, and in your graduate program you still to take it?

Toll: Yeah. I did one over there, too.

Hayes: And the goal is to be able to understand and be able to reproduce figures, not necessarily an exact rendition?

Toll: I'm pretty rigorous about proportion and so forth. I am. I guess I'm old school about that. I like for people to learn some foundation things, and then they can move on their merry way. But I feel strongly about that because I-- and I puzzle over why artists are pushed so much to try and do something-- well, avant-garde I guess is sort of the definition of modernism. But I don't think that's really appropriate now if we're talking post modernism. But the music-- musicians don't throw music notes in the air and let them drop on the page. Maybe there are a few who do that, but okay, the same with writers. There's structure to writing. In order to communicate, for me to communicate with you, I have to use verbs. I use what people know so that I can communicate my ideas to them. I can't just throw words up in the air and let them drop on the page. I don't think-- I don't know. Maybe you can at some point, but I think you need to understand how language has worked in the past. We don't live in a vacuum. So it's the same with art. I just feel like students ought to know how to translate an idea into a drawing.

Hayes: But later they don't necessarily have to do that?

Toll: No. I don't care what they do when they go on their way as an artist, but I guess I'm reacting to the way I was taught. And when I went to school in the 1970s, it was like, okay, here's a paper towel. Crumble it up and glue it to your canvas and just throw paint on there. That's basically how I was taught to paint. So you're going to see, even if you go talk to Peter Butler, you're going to see there's people-- we've reacted the other way to it.

Hayes: That's interesting. So you've gone back to a more traditional.

Toll: Yeah.

Hayes: But your work isn't traditional.

Toll: My work's not really traditional, but I had a great yearning at some point in my life to be able to draw an apple that looked like an apple.

Hayes: Did you see the show that one of the students, I think it was a couple of summers ago, where after UNCW, he went over to Italy?

Toll: Yeah, I do know him. I have drawn-- I loved drawing for him.

Hayes: Isn't he a [inaudible]?

Toll: Travis Seymour.

Hayes: Is that his name?

Toll: Uh-huh.

Hayes: But that was eight hours a day in the museums copying the masters. And then eventually you want to do your own style.

Toll: I think he wants to be a portrait painter, and he's training himself exactly right to do that.

Hayes: So you still believe-- so in your figure class, you don't ask your students to do it close?

Toll: I just want them to know. I think it's good to know how the proportion of a figure looks and then to be purposeful about your distortion or whatever, not just because you aren't equipped to do it correctly, you know. That's what I mean: Purposeful decision making. Not just like, blah, I'm an artist, like that.

Hayes: But you need a skill and technique before you can distort it.

Toll: I don't know about that. I have to say I've contradicted myself there, because I really, really admire some what we label as visionary art. You know, I really love art that is raw and straight from the gut art. I tend to lean towards that much more than I do the intellect. There are many people who've never taken an art lesson and I truly love their work. But people who are at school are there because they want to learn. So they're not there to be a visionary or outsider artists, whatever.

Hayes: They're buying into the system.

Toll: They came to teach themselves.

Hayes: How long did it take you to get the MFA from...

Toll: Three years.

Hayes: Three years, wow. And what were those courses?

Toll: I took-- well, basically I took some figure drawing. I did some independent study drawing where I was sort of directing what I wanted to do. But I had people shoving me in different directions, which was not a bad thing for me to do to try some different things. I was annoyed at times, but I stretched myself. In painting, I pretty much set my course in that. Because I was already doing a lot of that anyway. I pretty much, you know-- but I also believe my work grew and became something better than it was.

Hayes: Well, [inaudible] you're already an accomplished artist, an experienced artist. What would a teacher bring to you? Was it comment? Was it technique?

Toll: I had two really marvelous teachers over there, maybe three. One of them was a drawing instructor who I said pushed me in ways, to doing things I wouldn't normally do. And his name was Ray Elmore. And then there was a painting instructor named Paul Hartly. I think both of these guys are either phased retirement or retired now. And he was a very quiet, very few words, but he would say the one word that you needed to hear. It was like, "I think you need to _____." And then he'd be off. And one of the things I thought was really reflected his style, at one point, I was tearing my hair, I guess, and he was, "Oh, this thing is terrible; it's terrible." And he looks at me and he goes, "It'll be okay." And reflected back my drama to myself in such a way. And it was just like two words. He was terrific with leaving you alone but his timing, he had an artful timing of when to just insert a word.

Hayes: Now, what about when you're teaching your figure drawing class, the people who are working on it, what do you do as the instructor.

Toll: That's a rigorous class. That's probably the most rigorous class I teach because I'm constantly moving around the room and helping. In art classes you let people kind of, like in a painting class, you might leave them alone for a while. But in a figure drawing class, it's moving like this. I'm roving the room and I go, "Those legs are too short. What's happening there? How's the fat? Where's the weight? Where's the central axis? What's happening with the shoulders and the hips?"

Hayes: So you're really critiquing continuously.

Toll: Oh, yeah. Continuously. I'm moving around.

Hayes: But in a positive sense.

Toll: Yeah. I not, like, telling you, "Get out of here; you're terrible," or anything. No. I'm teaching. Right. I'm not discouraging them.

Hayes: I don't think many people understand the kind of one-on-one encouragement that's necessary in the fine arts. They're used to a lecture method. You don't do much lecture.

Toll: No. I hate doing that. I do it sometimes, but I don't like doing that.

Hayes: Well, I mean, if you had a survey class?

Toll: Well, every once in a while I need to slow down and show them pictures of drawings, and it's hard for me. I did go in and pull about 75 drawings of figures the other day. I thought, well, on a rainy day when there's no model, I'll take these in there and show them some other ways of doing this. And you really need to do that. But I'm a technical-- I'm an antique when it comes to technical and logical. That's why I have-- my student assistant's going to make me a bunch of disks with sample paintings, sample drawings so that I have some things to pop in and show my students. Because I think they do need to see other things. You know, and you can't depend completely on the art history person. So I have taken to this. Now I'm realizing they have computers, I've taken to doing this. I'm like, "You need to look at Mondrian's painting. You need to look at Ensler's paintings. You need to look at such-and-such paintings."

Hayes: Did you get that from school or did you get it from home?

Toll: I just know that. At Chapel Hill, that was a tremendous art history program over there when I was an undergrad. Cussket [ph?] was there; Donald Cussket was there. And there I learned a lot in the art history program. Not that I did just so great in my grades or anything, but when I got over to East Carolina I had to take a lot of art history. I took Native American art history. I took 20th century art history. I took, I don't know, a couple of other things so basic.

Hayes: And you say there were three or four people there at East Carolina, I'm just giving you the opportunity to mention any others so that one of the...

Toll: There was another guy named Soto printmaker, and I think he's somewhere in the Midwest now. He's from South America. He was a fabulous printmaker. And there was a really good...

Hayes: But you know that you took that, but you didn't go in that direction.

Toll: No. I only took one class with him.

Hayes: So one of the things of having an MFA is not necessarily that's total immersion. You take others.

Toll: I like to stretch myself that way. That was the only B I made, but I really learned something, you know. I did lithography, and it was a really valuable learning experience. It was not easy, but it was good. And I remember somebody else in graduate school saying, "Well, I can't believe he didn't give you an A." And I go, "Why should he give me an A? I mean, I failed. Some of my prints didn't even work, you know. What are you talking about?" "Oh, yeah, but that's not your specialty." I'm like, that's whacked out.

Hayes: But the grades didn't matter?

Toll: No. No. It was like, I was in there to learn something.

Hayes: And does anybody ever ask you...

Toll: I didn't even look at my grades sometimes after a semester was over.

Hayes: Does anybody ever ask you how you did in your graduate program?

Toll: No.

Hayes: Because you either get it or you don't. Right? That's it.

Toll: No. You just go in there to, yeah. I think I basically probably went there so I can, you know, have a wage-earning job. Because when Tony Janson hired me over here to sub for Ann, it was years ago, he just hired me on the basis of my resume. He said, "You have a master's there in your resume. But then it became clear to me that, you know, that it was important for me to do that for that job. But I'm really glad I did it now. I mean, it was good for me, period. And part of the value of it is that you are immersed. You have an excuse to let the rest of your life go to completely immerse yourself and make an art. And that's what, you know, I had.

Hayes: And people accept that, too, right? In other words, all your students. So they understand.

Toll: Right. And I had an assistantship, I was teaching classes over there. I was teaching here the first year and going there, and then the next year, I was teaching there.

Hayes: Well, what did you teach there?

Toll: I taught figure drawing. Did I teach basic drawing and figure drawing.

Hayes: Some undergraduates?

Toll: Yeah. And then I was an assistant, like, doing some other stuff one year. Yeah. I had an assistantship.

Hayes: Is that pretty typical, three years to get through?

Toll: Yeah. It's 60 hours. I don't know how you can do it. I suppose the first year I didn't take a lot because I was teaching, I was commuting back and forth every day. And I had a son in high school, too. It was tough. That was a tough three years. Because I'd go over there for three days. I had a room I rented. And I'd go over there and I would put in a 30 or 40-hour week on art. And then I came back over here and attended to whatever I had to attend to here and did reading and writing.

Hayes: You had some health problems through that time?

Toll: No. After that. I collapsed after that.

Hayes: Oh, you collapsed?

Toll: Yeah, I got sick, really sick.

Hayes: [inaudible]

Toll: I'm fine. I'm fine now. Yeah. I got really sick after all that.

Hayes: Well, it may have been partly wear and tear.

Toll: Stress. I think stress was a big factor. But, you know, now that I've made it through all that, it's like a fire. It burns you down.

Hayes: So you're proud of that, aren't you, in a sense?

Toll: Yeah. Yeah, I'm burned down to my elemental who I am. You know, it's like coming through a fire. No, I am glad I went.

Hayes: Let's finish by talking about as much as you can think about it. Do you have any sense of where the next trips of the road will take you? It sounds like you're going to get still very involved with this lady from the Netherlands, right? Is that for a while?

Toll: Right. I think we're going to do a cooperative project with No Boundaries.

Hayes: Are you going to keep teaching at UNCW?

Toll: I love teaching. I really do love teaching. I really do. I'm amazed. I think it just, I give and I get, and then I just love teaching.

Hayes: What do you learn? In other words, what do you get? Just ideas?

Toll: Not necessarily. What is-- I think there's nothing more satisfying in life than helping other people, to be giving something. And so I'm giving something. I'm sharing something with-- and, you know, I wish I had had more people when I was that young. To have been able to work in somebody's studio like this, oh, my gosh, I would have-- it would have been incredible.

Hayes: Is the new facility better?

Toll: Oh, I think we're going to do some great things over there because our faculty's getting bigger, more diverse and more interesting. Our thinking is getting broader.

Hayes: Do you have a lecture over there now? Did you get one of the...

Toll: No. I'm a part-timer. I have four classes, I'm part time.

Hayes: Are they thinking about [inaudible]?

Toll: I think he's trying that. I think he's trying to do that.

Hayes: Yeah, well, it just gives you a better [inaudible].

Toll: Right. And we have that gallery now, and so we got together and talked about what we're going to do if a gallery. It's just, I mean, incredible names. I mean, we just sort of imagined the best possible scenario, and I think we're going to do some of that. And, you know, and there's more classes and there's more people wanting to take class-- more people are able to take classes. The SAT, I heard it's the highest SAT now in the state school system. The quality of the students has gotten better.

Hayes: Have you seen that?

Toll: Yeah. I absolutely have seen that.

Hayes: Even in your art students?

Toll: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: Because, you know, _____ pretty focused, I mean.

Toll: No. It's gotten way better.

Hayes: Because you don't get many...

Toll: We have a scholarship now in the art department. We never had a scholarship before. We get to give freshmen, a couple of freshmen some money. So we get to look at some of the people who are coming in. It's really change-- and I think that the next thing is going to be to get a BFA degree there.

Hayes: I don't understand that term.

Toll: Bachelor of fine arts is a much more rigorous thing than just an art degree.

Hayes: It's a studio type _____?

Toll: So, I think we're working on that. I'm not involved in that, but I'm hearing that. And that's all good.

Hayes: So you're going to keep teaching, you're going to keep traveling?

Toll: I'm going to keep teaching and I'm going to keep traveling.

Hayes: And Acme's at a high point?

Toll: Acme's fine, rolling along.

Hayes: No Boundaries?

Toll: No Boundaries, and we're realizing we can delegate some of that work some. And that's a good thing. And then my own work, I'm working on something for that museum show right now, for the Holocaust. Do you know the...

Hayes: No.

Toll: It's for the UNC system professors, and it's a show commemorating the Holocaust. And that's huge, that's a huge thing. I've been reading. I've been looking at things, I've been working on that, like you said, in my head every since we started in the fall, really.

Hayes: And where would the show be?

Toll: The show's going to be at the Cameron Art Museum.

Hayes: Wow.

Toll: Yeah, and so it's scary, it's kind of overwhelming. It's really sad, and then, of course, you want to put your ego to the side. Yeah. But I have some ideas. I don't know. You know, you don't want to trivialize anything. It's so huge and weighty.

Hayes: Now, can you do multiple pieces at once? Or do you kind of just...

Toll: I have three right now. I have three ideas that I'm working on right now. I've got one started in there. One I started a collage, but that's going to be a big drawing. And then the other drawing is sitting here on this drawing board. I've got three big drawings in mind for that.

Hayes: And they can be radically different working on them?

Toll: Yeah. They're all of a similar vein. And then I'm even thinking about doing a drawing on a mirror for this show, which would be something different. I don't know any, technologically I don't know if I can pull off what I want to pull off. So I don't know if it'll happen or not. But I'm pretty excited about it. And then I'm going to Spain in June to an art symposium in Noja up on the western coast, tip of Spain near Portugal. And that, through a Spanish artist that I met at the Paint a Future project in France, and he has this symposium where he brings all kinds of artists, like sculptors, conceptual artists, different kinds of artists. They work together for a couple of weeks, same way, and then every night there's a cultural event, music, lectures. So it's a more, it's a little more scheduled than what we have at the art colony. So I know that's going to be a whole other big push for my own work. I have a couple of paintings I'm working on right now that have been sitting in here for a while. I haven't worked on them since the fall-- well, yeah. I couple of water things.

Hayes: So you can take something and just put it aside for a while because it just isn't working or you get distracted?

Toll: I usually do that when I'm not sure if it's finished or not. And then, sometimes it's like, oh, yeah, it's finished. It's over. Then other times, it's, no, it's not. It's not a good idea to let things hang a long time, because you can run the risk of never getting back to them at all. There's things that that happens with. It's like by my bed, there's about five books. Some have 50 pages read, some have 30 pages. And that's really, it gets a bit chaotic. But I always have a lot of things going on in here at the same time because if I get stuck on one thing, then I can go next. Matter of fact, I read some place that Hemingway said, you know, he had this schedule of getting up really early in the morning and writing standing up at a table until lunch, and then he kind of knocked off and probably drank all afternoon, whatever. But he always stopped where he knew where the next thing was coming. Like, he never stopped when he was expired, all of his ideas were expired, but just like, I know what's happening next, so I can come in the morning and start with what's happening next. And I try to do that in here, like, because I know exactly what I'm going to do next in that drawing. I'm going to add about four inches of paper, I've decided, to this drawing, and it won't show because I can cover it up with some transfers at the seem-- I think I can. I hope I can. Anyway, it's about two inches too short, that paper is, but, you know, I kind of know, when I leave here, the next three or four things I'm going to do so that when I come in here I'm not just, like, looking at something and completely stumped. And then I do a couple of different kinds of things. Because when I was sick, my sister took about 20 paintings and sold them for me in Baltimore to help me out so I could pay my bills and everything. And the thing that sold were things that people wanted to live with. So, it would be a painting of pears on a table cloth or whatever. And so, now, she says, "Paint for yourself, but every so often paint a painting like that that you know you can sell." And then actually, then I sort of, I do those kind of paintings. And they're like exercises, and I enjoy doing-- the thing I enjoy about them is they're something I'd start and finish in one week, whereas these other things, like this painting out here took me a year, because the paintings that are inside of my head are much more angst ridden. They're much more-- I wouldn't say torture, but they're much more-- I take this tremendous amount of movement inside of me, and I can't even explain it, really. But they wipe me out. They're different than setting up a bowl of fruit in front of me, amen.

Hayes: Well, that's good.

Toll: Yeah. It's good that I can do both. It's good that I can make those and sell them, buy the paint to do these other ones, you know. That works out. It works out.

Hayes: Well, you're a very busy person with lots of things. And I want to thank you for letting us share it and giving us this much time. I mean, that's a long time to talk about yourself.

Toll: That was fun.

Hayes: Thank you very much.

Toll: Thank you.

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