Camden County Dinosaur spacer Down a Country Lane

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Feb. 12, 2001

By Hoag Levins

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Fourteen painters, illustrators, photographers and other artists contributed 42 works that make up the month-long "African-American Experience" art show at the Camden County Historical Society. This is who they are:

Lorraine A. Bivans
The history of sharecroppers had long fascinated Lorraine A. Bivans as she grew up in Camden and heard about that hardscrabble life from her grandmother's friend. That six-foot-tall woman from Philadelphia, who smoked
Lorraine Bivans
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Lorraine Bivans with her 'Woman with Pipe.'
a pipe as she told stories, provided the inspiration for what became Woman with Pipe, one of Bivans' four entries in the Camden County Historical Society's "African American Experience" art exhibit.

Bivans, who has been drawing all her life, graduated from Camden High School in 1975 and went on to graduate from the Moore College of Art in Phialdelphia. She now works as a freelance artist.

Sharecropping took hold throughout the South immediately after the Civil War. Athough slaves were legally free, many lacked financial resources and were forced to accept work as tenant farmers for the same plantation managers who had previously owned them. Provided with seed, tools and a mule, they paid back the owner with a portion of their harvests. It was a life of backbreaking work and grinding poverty. Sharecroppers remained a major part of the southern farm economy until World War II.

"There's something about what they had to go through just to stay alive that has always interested me," said Bivans. "I was exploring that whole experience in my mind when I did this Woman with Pipe piece."

James E. Brooks, Jr.
Along with serving as guest curator to organize the "African American Experience" art show, artist
James Brooks
Photo: Hoag Levins.
James Brooks and 'Self Consciousness.'
and educator James Brooks also has several pieces on exhibit. The most haunting is Self Consciousness, which grew out of his encounter with a suicidal student.

Brooks, a teacher recently retired from the school system of Greenwich, Conn., now works as a substitute teacher in the Camden school system. He explained: "A friend of mine had a student who was threatening to take her life. They came by my house to talk and the experience was so sad and powerful that I began doing sketches shortly afterward that became this work."

Joe L. Speight
Joe Speight of Marlton has been sketching for most of his 61 years. A chemist who retired after a 30-year career in the labs of duPont, the U.S. Mint and the U.S. Army
Joe Speight
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Joe Speight and 'Transformation.'
Personnel Defense Center in Philadelphia, he has also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Students League in New York and the Samuel S. Fleischer Art Memorial in Philadelphia.

Speight's stark and moving lithograph, "Transformation," is one of the most striking in the Historical Society's show. "I used the double face to represent the change experienced during the long voyage from Africa to America. There's an American face and another one of our lingering African heritage," he explained.

Marcus Gould
Marcus Gould
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Marcus Gould and three of his works.
Twenty-three-year-old Marcus Gould of Vineland has completed two years at Cumberland County Community College and hopes to be accepted for transfer into the Fine Arts program at Rutgers University.

A painter, he has also spent the last six years air brushing art work onto helmets, motorcycles, cars and trucks. One of his entries, entitled "Hair," depicts a black woman's face surrounded by swirls of blond hair. The oversized work has visually dominated the gallery.

Gould laughed when asked how he came up with the idea. "It was just this crazy feeling one day," he said. "I wanted to do something really big with a funky frame put in as part of the work -- Hair is what happened after that."

Linda S. Cope
"One of the hardest things for an artist is to stay with
Lina Cope
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Linda Cope and 'Queen of Sheba.'
the commitment to work and not get distracted by the other things in one's life," explained Linda Cope, of Moorestown, who has two pieces of art in the show. To help keep focused, she and two other artists meet every other week for a night of drawing and art talk.

A year 2000 graduate of Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, she also recently became the librarian of the Camden County Historical Society.

"This show has a very intimate feel and the work is very inviting," she said. "I'm very proud to part of this."

Eden Mansuy
Eden Mansuy
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Eden Mansuy and his birds.
Although 32-year-old Eden Mansuy of Cherry Hill has been drawing and painting since he was 12, he has only recently started displaying his work.

His oil paintings, Autumn Day and The Kiss, are lush images of of tropical birds in jungle foliage -- deep greens, broad leaves and a lace of vines all studded with birds so colorful they stand out like jewels. It's a scene a villager might see every morning on a Caribbean island.

"I just love birds," said Mansuy, who studied at the Art Institute in Philadelphia.

Other participating artists

Clarence H. Still, Lawnside
Jacklyn Chambers, Brooklawn
Holly Ann Forrest, Maple Shade
Denise R. Fox, Collingswood
Normal Gaffin, Cinnaminson
Jonathan Gaffin, Lawrenceville
Victor L. Keto, Voorhees
Joel Zickler, Lenola.

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