by arlene winkler
road to Leicester is neither smooth nor easy, careening between
tall peaks and fertile valleys, with long lonely stretches between
trailers, houses and storage buildings of every age and description,
parked with pickup trucks of similar provenance. It is an apt metaphor
for the life of a Southern artist who drew her first breath in New
York's Queens County, came of age in Macon, Georgia, and finally
settled in the mountains of Western North Carolina when she was
free to do so.
my parents divorced, we moved back down South to live with Mamma's
people," Margaret opens. "I grew up in Macon, where it
is truly too hot to live, but the music we heard on the radio was
fabulousOtis Redding, Little Richard, the Allman BrothersI
was fascinated. If I didn't tend towards hysteria when it was time
to perform, I probably would have pursued a career in music.
I also considered a career in nursing, when my grandmother, whom
I adored, became ill with cancer. But one day, when I was about
fifteen, she called me into her room and asked me to make her two
me that you will always use the gifts that God has given you.'
Ma’am.' I said.
that you will always take care of your mother.'
Ma’am,' I said—and she went into a coma and died."
I did," she tells me. "I took care of my mother, until
she died of Alzheimer's about 6 years ago, and I have never stopped
look at the canvases lined up for my viewing, and I’m profoundly
glad that she kept her word. There is a listening quality to the
portraits, evoking the voices of her subjects who are, all of them,
quite old. In fact, every sitting begins with a conversation, struck
up by Margaret who usually needs help with something, ending up
with permission to sketch and photograph them, while they do what
am in love with old people,"
she says with a big grin. And the exquisite attention given to hands,
and body language, bears witness to her feelings and her skill.
see the influence of the Secessionists, Schiele, Klimt and Soutine,
and strangely enough, Thomas Hart Benton in the transparency of
her skin tones, the brilliant skies and an enviable confidence of
line. Although she claims the thinly applied oil paint is a by-product
of artistic poverty, it is clearly the perfect vehicle for the ephemeral
nature of her subjects.
another wall, there are variations on a lonely quintet of horses
that graze on a narrow slope near her home, a trespassing cow, whose
stupidity she has captured so perfectly it makes me laugh out loud,
her dog in a calm moment, ensconced on her bed with her—all
part of a new exploration on animals. Like the portraits, there
is always an emotional undertone, which varies from lonely to laughable.
But then I hear myself sighing as we look at her series on the death
of her mother from Alzheimer’s, a progression from suffering
to transcendence that is almost a metaphor for the disease in the
way it pushes the line between figurative and abstraction. Indeed,
since her first professional show in 1977, it is a line Margaret
has crossed repeatedly, painting on surfaces ranging from 4 x 8
sheets of plywood, to framed canvases measuring 4" x 8”
"Were there men who encouraged you?" I ask this daughter
of strong Southern women. In answer, she shows me a carefully preserved
portfolio of black and white photography—beautiful portraits
from the 50’s and 60s.
father was a photographer and an artist, who struggled most of his
life with manic depression. When my sister and I went to see him
in New York, he'd give me paint and drawing materials, and encourage
me. That, plus having a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother,
gave us a much broader perspective than most little girls in Macon,
Georgia. However, it was my mother who had the courage to let me
study art in collegealthough she did say, 'How will you earn
any successful artistwith a day job.
answer to her mother's question turned out to be ten years of waiting
tables, and nine years in retail, and living with a not very good
rock band, that gave her a free room in exchange for house cleaning.
Atlanta was a good place to be. Her art career was about to take
off. It started when a good friend insisted on holding a show of
her work in his dojoat the same time as the well-known Inman
Park Arts Festival. That, plus gallons of spinach dip and plenty
of cheap wine brought the buyers in, and Margaret got picked up
by her first gallery.
Drum, the gallery owner, became known as the man who raised the
art consciousness of Atlanta, by showing challenging, difficult
work. For Margaret, it was the right time in the right gallery,
in a vibrant city that was already home to a superb symphony and
a highly visible theatre scene. With all the pieces falling into
place, Margaret was free to join her husband, who was in Israel
on business. But while they were gone, Tom Drum died.
turned out to be a very important time for me. I spent three months
on my own in the Tel Aviv Hilton because John was so busy. I spread
newspapers on the floor of our room and did a lot of paintings,
I met remarkable people and learned a lot about my own country,
and about Judaism and that part of my history. It changed my life."
was a good thing, because once back in Atlanta the second promise
came home to roost. She moved her mother up from Macon to supervise
her care, while her sister was losing her battle with breast cancer.
In addition, they had a friend living with them while he recovered
from triple bypass surgery. "All this while John was getting
his own business started, and I was working at Neiman Marcus…and
painting." She pauses for breath, "But when Mamma died,
and I was no longer responsible for her care, we escaped. We sold
our house and came to Asheville, sight unseen, on the advice of
me guess ," I interrupt, 'You'll love it, it's so beautiful
for word," she agrees. "Even though it meant John would
have to commute—for four years as it turned outit
sounded right. We sold our tiny old house with a leaking roof and
moved into a large new rental here, where everything worked.
when I thought it couldn't get any better, I got my first clue about
the art scene. I had finished the series of paintings about my mother's
death, and I took it to Blue Spiral and 16 Pattonboth of whom
took one look at it and said 'No thanks.'
it surprised you?"
always a lot to learn in a new community."
the art connection
Leicester the couple found a hundred acres they could afford and
they moved out of the rental house into a falling-down hunting shack
and started to renovate. A month later when John had to go back
to Atlanta, they still had no power. "I lived that way for
5 months, mostly on my own, with the help of a couple of Kerosene
heaters and some wonderful neighbors. It was incredibly hard. But
I loved being by myself, waking up in the mountains, walking our
reminded of another strong woman artist who liked living by herself.
But Georgia O’Keefe's problems had to do with a different
kind of energy.
we finally had power," she continues, "I found the Artist's
Roundtable on the Web and went to my first meeting."
problem with the Artists Roundtable," I grumble, "is that
they don't know who they are; there are too many disciplines."
disagrees. "That's the best thing about the group, that it's
such a mix. Unlike a guild, for instance, where quilters speak only
to other quilters, when we have "crits", we have the visual
arts discussed by dancers and musicians. It gives you a totally
different viewpoint. With the support of The Arts Council, I think
the Roundtable can become what it should bea real organization
that helps its members and adds to the community."
that mean you're staying?"
no where else I want to go. I'm happier with my painting than I've
been in years. I recently sold my first piece since moving here.
Not in Asheville of course, but I have a lot of new work and I'll
re-apply to Blue Spiral and 16 Patton."
adversity builds character, then what she has just shown me is that
it also enhances creativityand I am truly humbled. For Margaret
Katz Nodine, the sum total of loss, death and isolation is a celebration
of what is, that is visible in every brushstroke.
has been showing professionally since 1984. A graduate of University
of Georgia, her work is in museums and private collections in Alabama,
Georgia and most recently North Carolina.
is a financial writer.