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Theresa Gloster

Memory Painting/storytelling through paintings

Theresa Gloster

Recipient Information


Lenoir (Caldwell County), North Carolina


Memory Painting/storytelling through paintings

Year of Award


Grant or Fellowship

Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship

Grant Amount


Theresa Gloster is a storyteller who conveys her stories through paint and other media. "My art tells stories about childhood, about memories sparked by things that go on in the world today, or about just whatever comes to mind," explained Gloster. "I use paint, brushes, needles, thread, or whatever I can find to create art, and to tell the stories that need to be told." The emphasis is always on stories. Gloster is as much a chronicler as she is a painter; she has always seen her role as a holder and visual teller of stories. That's why kinfolk and community members regularly choose her house for their gatherings—because her home is always filled with painted narratives, reminding all those who have gathered of who they have been and who they are.

What is commonly practiced in Gloster's community is not painting, but the art of storytelling, and creating message-filled worlds of beauty. Raised in a household with twelve other children, the family relied on the single small paycheck of a coal-mining grandfather. But she remembers these times as filled with crafted beauty. Her grandmother and great aunts all quilted and made much of the family's clothing. Their yards were filled with subtly meaningful displays of roots, tires, tools, and other aesthetically re-purposed materials. Music flowed through the house and neighborhood, as did wonderfully textured stories, sermons, and folktales. Punctuating the everyday were the wondrous intricacies of hair care, Gloster's chosen profession. There were so many other ways to convey beauty, she explains, that did not require materials that were not readily at hand.

She first painted on cardboard, tin sheeting, furniture, old thrift-store paintings (that she could paint over), and whatever else seemed in need of a story. Eventually, she started painting on purchased canvases, though all these other media are still very much part of her repertoire. When she first began to paint, she sought advice from Sam McMillan (the vernacular artist whom she saw on UNC-TV, talking about his art). She carried some of her first paintings for him to see, and he declared, "Girl, you're a folk artist! Don't ever let nobody tell you to paint differently from what you're painting now. This is YOUR style, and you need to stick with it." She has done that for a quarter of a century, holding onto and honing a style definably her own.

Gloster typically paints her stories in her kitchen. "I really just need a little room, where I could do all of my art," she said. "Right now, I'm doing all of my painting in my kitchen.” Gloster is also constantly cooking meals for shut-in friends, sick family members, church functions, funerals, and holidays. For every such moment, she must pack up all her art supplies and to return the space to a functioning kitchen. And though she's long toyed with the idea of adding a small room to her house to serve as a studio, she has never had the resources until now; she recently learned that her home will be listed as a site on the Blue Ridge Crafts Trails, a project of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. After visiting her home (and taking in the vernacular art environment that is her yard, the paintings hanging on all of her walls, and the many walls in the house that she's painted with memory murals)representatives of the Heritage Area enthusiastically invited her to be a representative artist for the region. She was worried that having to keep her house (and, specifically, her kitchen) clean for Trail visitors would force her to constantly be clearing her art-making space, to make the room more "presentable." A possible studio will allay this worry, while allowing her a space that would always allow her to step into her paintings.