Mary Langston

I make art to try to understand things I cannot understand in any other way, to get in touch with feelings that are not reachable in words. I make art to capture memories – recall past visions.

For the past thirty years I have been living in Washington, D.C. Why, when I visit the area I call home in eastern North Carolina, do I always see in my memory visions from my childhood, not the changes that have taken place? The memories of a place we knew do not grow dimmer with time — they intensify.

When I grew up in Winterville, Pitt County, there was not an art museum in Greenville, nor was art taught as a special study in the schools. The creative people I knew did not call themselves artists. I made a lot of mud pies, cakes, later the edible kind, did some sewing, crewel embroidery, paint by numbers, did a lot of pickling and canning and watched much destruction and construction.

My father bought a farm with a lot of woodsland on it, which he proceeded to clear using dynamite, bulldozers, and tractors, to convert to land primarily for growing tobacco. After clearing the land, he built tobacco -barns, had irrigation ponds dug to water the crops. As a child I witnessed the conversion of a wooded landscape to farmland which became imprinted in my memory. Now the landscape is radically changing again as Pitt County keeps pace with the generic growth of other parts of the country. This time it is not woodland that is being cleared. It is our homes, obsolete barns, leaky pack houses, beloved trees planted to mark special occasions, flowers tended for years.
I feel very fortunate that my parents and others showed me more than one way of looking at the many transformative processes which were part of our lives. The excitement of color and, texture as watermelon and cucumbers were made into pickles, the growing of flowers – the way line, color, size, placement, weight could influence an arrangement, and the privilege of watching close up the planting, harvesting, and curing of tobacco – the care, knowledge, skill, faith, and combined effort that is a way of life for farming communities.

Tobacco farming has its own language and way of measuring time. In this work I continue to reflect on the tobacco growing process and its place in our history. I am transferring methods and observations teamed there to a painting/art making process. There had to be a real sense of color and feel for tobacco farming. “Priming” the tobacco from the field when it was the right color, achieving and maintaining the temperature at the right level in the bam and for the appropriate time at each increment to achieve the most desirable color and texture. I allow these visual and kinetic memories to determine the choices I make as I paint.
I present this exhibition as a celebration of the freedom of the imagination and hope the viewer will bring her/his own memories, visions, and feelings to it. As my father said, “Remember where you came from.