Written by Shawana Brooks, Guest Contributor
Somewhere, Over In Mandarin
Marsha Hatcher is not easy to read. First impressions with her can leave you misconstruing her high-pitched, southern, at times mumbling, monotone drawl for disdain. Her pokerface can have you wondering, if her deep dimples are there in support, or in spite of you. Her warmed melanin often mistaken for cold heartless steel. In big company, she can be a woman of few words. An oil can would not do much to unlock her jaw; what is needed is patience. Her body language is never expressionless, her doe eyes often hidden by sunglasses, show her true observations. Her thoughts don’t always leave her brain to get to her mouth. She takes that time to pick up a brush to tell a story. Hatcher says people don’t need to know her, they just need to know her art.
“It’s not about me. I’m behind the scene. This is what I want you to look at. Don’t look at me.”
She is indeed the wizard. But who is that masked woman behind the art, who doesn’t need accolades? Though she’s gotten plenty, including The Community Foundation’s Art Grant (2004). Her first show as a professional artist out of college was an international one. A solo exhibition, in Spain, handpicked by a Naval Officer’s Wife. Marsha makes artwork so personal she never imagined anyone looking at it. She still hides in plain sight. The best reward she feels she can get is for someone to look at her art and never need to know who created it. “Just say the work is gorgeous. I’m ok with just that.”
If I Only Had The Words
Marsha is not a writer. Words are not her enemy, but neither are they a comforting friend. She knows she is an introvert, an extremely shy child all through her adolescence, up until college. “It probably doesn’t show now,” Hatcher says jokingly.
“I used to never instigate a conversation. People make me uncomfortable. You don’t need people to create art. If I wanted people around me, I painted them. They don’t talk, so I don’t have to talk.”
She’s worked hard on her conversation etiquette. It was at college that the Georgia native made friends and met her husband of almost 40 years. The then Williams, not yet Hatcher, heeded advice given to her, “You are so shy! You are never going to have any friends. I tried really hard to break out. I could create my friends, so it didn’t bother me. I was a wallflower, I observed. But I knew it had truth to it.” Something innate to her Virgo nature.
She is by no means anti-social, just self-sufficient. That trust in self to start something and to finish it is why she stayed in college, when her then boyfriend dropped out to join the Navy. Hatcher has entertained the thought of a speechless existence. One where she iterates her disdain for “Jumping through hoops, having to get together images, I despise writing, even a bio. I’d rather use my imagery.” And with that, she is content. Her heart can be found in the art she produces. Beautiful faces that look like they are content to never utter a single word. “They don’t need to talk. They are saying enough.”
Merry Ol’ Land Of Jax
Her journey to the River City has led her down a colorful stony road across blue, red, and green bridges. After living abroad, she came to Jacksonville in 1989. Her husband was stationed here, and it felt close enough to her childhood existence in Georgia. The new mom stayed to herself and found solace in her creations. Raising two boys didn’t leave a lot of time to focus on the selling of art. The exhibition overseas was, by all means, a successful one. But besides that she had only sold one other piece of art, in high school, a picture of a dog for $120.00. She didn’t have the artwork to show when she was offered the exhibition in Spain; she created at least 20 pieces in a few months. Though it was thrilling exhibiting her art, she went back to life as usual, finding work at a private art gallery here in town. She was fulfilled to stay on the sidelines. Her bubble busted quickly.
She would create her art and hang it in her home, until someone close to her pointed out how selfish she was being. Selfish? This had not occurred to her. “They really put me in a guilt trip, said God gave you a talent and you don’t share it.” It weighed on her. Marsha was not yet aware of how Jacksonville had few opportunities afforded to a woman artist, especially a black one. This conversation ignited the flame that lies at the heart of her notoriety as an artist living and working in Jacksonville today, her tenacity.
“If you have a talent it’s not for you. If you get pleasure you should want to give it to other people. My art felt like writing in a diary. It was personal.”
She felt obligated to show her artwork outside her comfort zone. “If you are to be an artist, you have to exhibit.” Marsha didn’t wait for things to be handed to her like before; she fought to make them for herself. “I find it hard to say no, when its art-related. Sometimes I know I can do a better job. Not bragging, I have the tools. I’m detail-oriented and particular. I hate it. I can’t leave well enough alone. I don’t want it good. I want it perfect!”
We’re Off To Start Exhibiting
Marsha didn’t exhibit again professionally until Through Our Eyes. At the time its home was at channel 7, not yet at the infamous Ritz Theatre & Museum. “Somebody told me they featured black art there. When I came here no one knew I was an artist.” They know now, if still unknown to them physically, her art does precede her. It is housed in several prominent collections along the First Coast. All three of her paintings have been sold from LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience (Stanza I, Stanza II, and Stanza III). She has been a founding member of several artists’ coalitions over the years, the now disbanded JCAAA (Jacksonville Consortium of African American Artists), where she met most of the successful black artists creating here today. It has been reformed under the leadership of artist Suzanne Pickett, and is rebranded the JCD (Jacksonville Cultural Development Corporation), which recently was awarded an Arts Alive Grant from PNC.
Reluctantly her focus shifted to the business of art. She has served as President of The Art Center Cooperative (TAC) also home to fellow LIFT exhibitor Princess Simpson Rashid. It is expansive, with two locations in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville. One in the newly-minted “Cultural Corner” in
Hemming District acts as studio, gallery, and storage space to more than 20 artists. The other resides in the not-so-engaged Jacksonville Landing. TAC doesn’t quite get as much love as other art studios, such as CoRK Arts District. Its time is coming with more attention being focused on our burgeoning art scene. She’s an anomaly, an artist who feels sick if a deadline is not met. Yet falls right back in line by lending to the stereotype of the bleeding heart. Her difficulty in keeping to the “No” when having it declared is where I find her, at her home studio, hard at work on one such project. I’m greeted by the whines of woodworking, the screeching jig, of a jigsaw. She’s been commissioned to make six awards for an event. She doesn’t know what organization it’s for. It doesn’t matter, though all she knows is that she was asked to create them. That’s enough for Marsha.
If I Were Queen Of The Artists
She’s “Sexty. Sexty years old,” words Hatcher references to describe her age. She defines herself as a black woman, “I like black. I am not the one to switch up (ethnic terms) depending on the season. We done been through some names. Negroes, Colored, African-American.” Though her work is figurative, she focuses on the upper half of the body; she considers herself a portrait artist. Her dining room doubles as a work station. The table is scratched barely through the finish. It’s worn from her constant crafting. It’s right here she crafted the three pieces entitled Stanza I, Stanza II, and Stanza III. Their magnetic gravitation is anchored directly under the sign in the Jacobsen Gallery, centered above is the title of the now nationally-recognized exhibition, LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience. The magic of those pieces are still in the hands of their master.
Towards the right of the table sits imagery similar to LIFT. Faces of black-skinned boys and girls seep through copies of a newspaper past its prime, The Black Chronicle. She shares the complexity of the supposed easy task. Its evolve-ment disgruntles her personal process. “It’s not always a good thing. It doesn’t stop (ideas). I can keep on.” The usual low lull in her voice is replaced by squeaks of admonishment. “Though I never know when to stop.” Her southern drawl is laced with artistic discovery. Hatcher is proud of the work she completed for LIFT; of the thousands of pieces she’s done in her lifetime these are in her top ten percent. Artists are all fairly hard on themselves and don’t always think their work has hit the mark. She is inspired by artists like Elizabeth Catlett and Augusta Savage, and her fellow LIFT artists too. In reference to the exhibition she says, “I think its exceptional (LIFT). It’s edgy and its controversial, but it’s relevant.”
Hatcher is not accustomed to making art that can be viewed as political. She thought hard about what she wanted to put on the walls of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, “I tried to give a glimpse of the truth, not so much in the face like Overstreet’s works; I didn’t want to shake the finger.” She prefers subtlety.
“I never have been one to use my canvas as a sounding board. I prefer not to do that. I want to keep it balanced, not all truth. I got to paint what I can live with.”
She is glad there are other simple perspectives, like Chip Southworth‘s three paintings involved in the exhibition. “You look at the work and you can get it,” yet she admits she wishes she could get a little deeper. “Roosevelt (Watson III) has A LOT going on. But he puts it all together, like a puzzle, and then you see how they fit. Y’all too deep! Don’t be doing stuff that I don’t know what you are doing!” Her overall concern with LIFT is representation “One thing that motivated me as a child artist is I didn’t see any faces that looked like mine. If so, they weren’t pretty faces.” I have personally heard a story of a child in the Jacobsen Gallery who looked at Mrs. Hatcher’s work and said aloud to his caregiver, “His lips look like mine.” Doesn’t seem like much when you are used to seeing your image in everything you do. But here in that rarity, in that moment, it means EVERYTHING. This where the exhibition shines its most bright, on our faces.
There’s No Place Like Home
Though finding continued success, Hatcher was disillusioned with the art scene for quite a while, weary of just exhibiting here in Jacksonville during the month of February. “It’s patronizing. For a long time I refused to do any shows. That’s when they come looking for black artists.” The negative reception for a black-themed show is disappointing. No one is opposed to criticism, this distinction is not that.
LIFT will close on Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, 2017. Lincoln holds a special place in the Hatcher household, as his face dons the copper coinage of a penny. “As long as I’ve known my husband, he has not been too proud to pick one up. We have five-gallon bottles filled with them.” Recently Marsha decorated her kitchen table in homage to her husband’s hobby, a beautiful table with pennies decorating the top. A creative fiend, she recently tackled a deck chair from scratch and is getting ready for another art exhibition with artists Annelies Dykgraaf, Cookie Davis, and Princess Simpson Rashid, at Reddi Arts, located in San Marco, in November.
Marsha doesn’t know how to stop.
“There was a time when, like Picasso, I painted a ‘Blue Series’, but it was just because I had a lot of blue paint. People always want to add more. They want a story to everything you do. I’m not a storyteller. There’s not a way to everything.”
When first focusing on her current work, she let the song dictate the images. She became absorbed, as greats do, and later pulled it back because, “Well, deadlines.” On my way to this interview I told a friend who I was going to meet. She said “Who?!?!” But once I described the art, she knew exactly to whom I would be speaking. After interviewing Marsha, I know this is exactly how she likes it. No notoriety. That isn’t how I like it. I think her name should be as recognizable as the Fuller Warrens and John Stocktons of our community. More so once you realize their history. In a hundred years will there be a Marsha Hatcher bridge? Symbolically she has been one for the art community and the black art community. Yes there is a big difference. She figures a hundred years down the line she will have that last laugh. Intellectuals will try to construct a criticism of her work but she will know better. She laughs, “Let them agonize for days!”