Sunday, March 16, 2014

Serendipity with Artist Toni Scott

By Laurie Epps

I usually don't include a story so personal, but I feel this story should be told even though it's still unfolding. This fall, I was taking an Advanced Poetry class in college, but I really wanted to write in response to art. Living in a college town gives some limitations, so my first line of defense in such an endeavor was to peruse my campus' various galleries.

Outside the Vandiver Gallery was my art history teacher from the previous semester. She greeted me in the same warm way that she always does, and asked me if I wanted to look around. Of course I did! Although my time was extremely limited since they weren't officially open yet, I snapped a photo of the painting that spoke to me. It also gave me a chance to meet the visionary artist herself.

That night, I went home and took pen to paper, noting the decoupaged messages off the sides of the canvas. I was nervous because I was partially afraid to not do the painting I saw earlier in the evening justice. From those quiet moments at my kitchen table, and wads of crumpled up papers that weren't quite right in my wake, the poem Hauntings was born. I actually worked on it a number of times, and usually at night.

Artist Toni Scott
I found Toni Scott's artwork to be powerful, profound, and moving. I physically cried just from looking at some of her paintings. But somehow, Toni Scott and I weren't done. I would talk to this woman again.

After the Christmas Break, I decided to write a month's worth of Eukrastic poems, and Hauntings was among them. I didn't want to violate copyright infringement, so I contacted my art teacher and requested permission to publish my iPhone's image of her painting along with my poem. After a lot of tears, and carefully worded emails, my professor grew tired of being a go between. That was when I first began talking with the artist directly. My poem Hauntings appeared on my Thoughtful Thursday column on January 23, 2014.

By the time my blog about Toni Scott appeared, I'd begun a new set of classes. Among them is my favorite class, Women Writers. At the beginning of the semester, we had to sign up to lead the discussion over one of the books we talked about in class. My selection was on Incidents of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. I was surprised when I couldn't put down a slave narrative. I had to know the fate of Linda, and her children Benny & Ellen. I believe it was one of the best discussions I'd led in my entire academic career.

A few days later on Facebook, I saw the image at the top of the screen, and learned the painting was based on the same book I'd just read for class. What? My mind was swimming. How could that be? I didn't mean to do that, but it was meant to be. Then I learned that my college bought that very painting. If all that isn't weird enough, Toni contacted me for permission to share my poem. Of course, YES. So, then I started looking at her fan page on Facebook, and learned we're both from Los Angeles. Not only are we fellow artists, but we're both strong, independent Angelino's.

Once all these strong coincidence's started swirling in my head, I felt the hand of God on me in that moment. There's a reason why Toni and I found each other, though I can't quite pinpoint it yet. I went on to send Toni my handouts from my presentation, and I can't wait to press on and uncover what we're meant to do together. I love you Toni Scott, you inspire me.

Back to my poem, now that all of this came together, I'd have to find out how accurate my poem was to the actual narrative. Surprisingly, it was dead on. I think that's why a lot of us write. We write to leave a legacy. Just as Linda fought the entire narrative to free her children from slavery, her words speak through women like Toni & I, and women everywhere who will continue to fight for our equality and our voice amongst a male dominant social landscape.

To learn more about the artwork of Toni Scott, click here.

Laurie Epps is a non-fiction author, essayist, editor, and poet living in Anderson, South Carolina. A seeker of beauty, her is dream is to travel the world one day and tell the many stories of those she meets. Columns include: Monday Morning Book Club, and Thoughtful Thursdays, a column dedicated to the fine art of poetry.

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