Arkansas Sketchbook

Gravel Road with Cell Tower
Norwood Creech | Charcoal and Oil on Linen | 2015

IN THE DELTA, THERE ARE SOME DAYS WHEN THE LAND is different and changes, throws up plumes and waves and choking walls of acrid smoke that might be laced with iron. There are days when there are colors that vary, splashed over row crops converging on a point, when she has to paint furiously to capture what’s already fleeting when she opens the back of her truck and sets up her easel and stands there at the canvas, engrossed in the colors and lines and landscape there before her.

It’s a place that she, Norwood Creech, has adored for nearly two decades. Ever since she was living in Memphis, desperate to be away from people and desperate for space (“My mother’s always teased that I need a lot of space,” she says), and started crossing the bridge into Arkansas and running up and down the levees. Eventually, having spent enough time crisscrossing the roads and exploring, she found a place she loved, settled there and claimed that place as home. Nowadays, from that home outside Lepanto—a structure designed to recall a cotton gin, and where there are 10 dogs, 35 cats “or thereabouts,” two horses, five goats and a donkey named Luigi—she charts courses in a 20-mile radius, seeking to capture the place.

In reviewing the work she’s done—the years and years of work—it’s clear why in a sprawling, elegantly written introduction to an exhibition of Creech’s work at his newly opened Drawl Southern Contemporary Art Gallery, the artist Guy Bell writes, “She regards her role as a steward of the land. It occurs to me she might be better described as the area’s visual historian.”

And to consider this, what it would mean to live in and document such a place—where social interactions are determined less by chance than by what one seeks out and wants or needs, where despite the languor so often associated with country life, there’s a dynamism particular to so much of the life lived there—it becomes clear why, when asked about this, Creech says the following:

“[As a friend of hers says], it’s not about, ‘I’m going to make this picture of the Delta, and we’re going to sell the Delta.’ That’s not where I’m coming from. I see that it’s beautiful, and the older I get, the more I want beauty, the more I want to see that [it’s] pretty—that makes me feel better. So if that makes me feel better, let me see if I can get that down on canvas and [see] how that comes out.”