Dialogues with Mother Earth: Drawing to Save the Planet

by Erica Daborn

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Erica Daborn, The Rescue, charcoal on canvas, 70” X 102”, 2020

Exhibition Dates: Feb. 23-Aug. 16, 2024

Opening Reception: 5-7 p.m. Friday, February 23

Erica Daborn uses her art as a socially transformative tool to generate positive change by capturing the attention of the public via 13 large-scale charcoal-on-canvas murals. Each artwork opens a discussion about a series of critical issues facing the planet and our respective roles as participants in creating change. Issues like the culture of consumerism and waste, the food crisis, endangered species, and climate change are presented via scenes of ambiguous characters that blur race, culture, and borders.

Since 2016, the murals from Dialogues With Mother Earth have been exhibited in eight major museums in the U.S. and Mexico, including the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, Missouri; the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, Texas; Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts; Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; Centro de Las Artes de San Luis Potosí in San Luis Potosí, Mexico; Museo de Ciudad de Querétaro in Querétaro, Mexico; Museo Iconográfico del Quijote in Guanajuato, Mexico; and El Centro Nigromante Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Support provided in part by Simmons Bank, Arkansas Humanities Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, Pine Bluff Advertising & Promotion Commission, and the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas Endowment Fund.

About the Artist

Erica Daborn

Erica Daborn was born in England and received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Royal College of Art in London. She moved to the U.S. in 1984 and permanently to Mexico in 2015.

Daborn’s first solo show was at the Arts Council of Great Britain’s AIR Gallery in London in 1981. In 1984, she received a Welsh Arts Council Special Project grant in support of a residency at the MacDowell Colony in the state of New Hampshire in the United States. Significant museum exhibitions include Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum; Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy; National Museum of Wales; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; the Royal Academy of Art, London and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art. In 2008 her drawing “Interplay: Carafe” was purchased by the British Museum. She received fellowships at Virginia Center for Creative Arts in 2005 and 2006. From 1995 to 2015 Erica taught drawing full-time at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Dialogues With Mother Earth” has received support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program.

Maeleen Clay Arrant

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Maeleen Clay Arrant was the supervisor of elementary schools in Pine Bluff until 1969. In 1932 she taught in an experimental school for African Americans, sponsored by the Southern Education Foundation, to study the benefits of having qualified teachers in a low-income area. Arrant often talked about freedom and racial prejudices, and her belief in hard work. Her activism continued after her retirement in 1969.

In 1974, Arrant served on the governor's Committee for the Integration of Institutions and Higher Education. She remained active in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and as an alum of the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Maeleen Arrant was also a member of the Arkansas American Association of University Women. In 1980, the Arkansas Education Association named a scholarship in her honor. Maeleen Arrant died in 2000.

Chanah Reid Foti

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Rebecca Kilmer, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Chanah Reid Foti was the youngest person interviewed at the age of 7. When asked about work, she said, “I’d like to be a carpenter. I’d build a house.” When asked, what do you think a poor person is? She said, “Somebody who doesn’t have any friends and can’t get along with people.”

Chanah lived in Arkansas throughout her early twenties. She then moved to California and became a drug and alcohol counselor with her husband, Pierre La Merre. Chanah passed away in 2017.

Mrs. O. G. Dawson (Ethel B.)

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Mrs. O.G. Dawson (Ethel B.) worked for the sharecropper program National Council of Churches in Lincoln County, and encouraged people to vote and pay their taxes. Dawson discussed racial segregation, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committees activities in Pine Bluff, and facing and challenging sexual discrimination as a working African American woman. “I’ve always been accused of being outspoken. I don’t mean any harm. I never meant any harm, but at the same time, I’m just telling the truth.”

In her later years, Ethel Dawson worked with the Jefferson County Voters Association and the League of Women Voters. She remained an active NAACP member and strove to get Blacks hired at the Jefferson County Court House. Ethel Dawson died in 1984.

June H. Davis

Altheimer, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Judith D’Elena, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

June H. Davis was the secretary to the principal and counselor, at Altheimer High School. She discussed the growth of Altheimer, Planter’s Gin, and Altheimer’s Gin Company, and the mechanization of farming. Davis appreciated living in a small town and the tradition and heritage of the area.

June Hale Davis graduated magna cum laude in 1982 with a fine arts degree from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and enjoyed camping, hiking, and antiques. She passed away in 2011.

Annie R. Zachary

Marvell, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Ra Heilman, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center

Annie R. Zachary, “When you say “true grit” well you got to have it f you are going to survive in this world as a woman.” Following her husband’s death, she was a widow, mother, politician, public worker and farm manager struggling to gain respect in the farming industry because of her gender. Zachary was a force to be reckoned with, and in 1969, Governor Rockefeller appointed her the first Black person, male or female, to serve on a Governor’s board.

In 1977, she married Lester Pike, and in 1979, she helped establish National Teachers’ Day. In 1985, the Arkansas Education Association recognized her many years of volunteer service. From 1999 to 2001, she served on the Arkansas Tobacco Control Board. Her husband died in 1997. In 2002, the Phillips County Road 125, which runs through Zachary farmland, was renamed Annie Zachary Pike Road. As of 2019, Pike still resides on the family farm in Marvell.

Geneva Byrd

Tucker, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen. 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Geneva Byrd was the daughter of a share-cropper, beginning a life of hard work as a little girl. Part of her income, in 1976, is from selling eggs. Fresh eggs are popular because, “They say it makes better cakes and the bread looks better.” Her time behind a plow, hauling firewood, chopping cotton, and raising chickens led to independence for Byrd, “ I could live without a husband good as anything because I know how to work. Been working all my days!”

Geneva Byrd worked for the Kahn and Freeman family as a housekeeper until she retired. She enjoyed gardening and caring for animals. Byrd was preceded in death by her first husband Herman Sloan and second husband John Byrd--to whom she was married at the time of his death. Byrd passed away at the age of 94 in 2012.

Mildred Laureles

Snow Lake, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Mildred Laureles had been a postmistress since 1947. Lamenting on the disappearance of her town of Snow Lake, “Well I’ve seen it goin’ down an awfully lot. When I came here, you see, there was two stores, and two gins, and a number of sharecroppers’ families. Lots of people. Now the stores is gone, the gins is gone, and most of the people’s gone.”

After serving as Snow Lake’s postmistress for over 30 years, Mildred Laureles retired in 1981. After retirement, Laureles moved to West-Helena, where she ran a gas station and enjoyed watching soap operas in her free time. In August 1990, Laureles was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away in 1992.

Emma Merlo

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Arleen Olsen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Emma Merlo was a mother, wife, gardener, and greenhouse manager of what was formerly known as Woodstock Plantation. Merlo found joy in the solitude of the Delta and described Pine Bluff as quiet and peaceful with few disturbances.

Emma Merlo sold Woodstock Plantation after the death of her husband Claude Merlo in 2002. As of 2021, Merlo is 90 years old and resides in Belton, Texas, with her daughter, Claudia Croswell, and son, Joseph Merlo.

Ora Brown

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Ora Brown, owned rental properties and Ora Brown’s Beauty Salon. Small business ownership was one way to earn income in an era of few career opportunities for minorities.

Ora Lee Brown was born in 1906 and died in 1982.

Idella Kimbrough

Gould, AR

1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Idella Kimbrough, was a reporter for the Lincoln County newspaper for 26 years. Kimbrough’s work within the community and church earned her an Outstanding Citizenship Award. She recalled her grandmother growing up in slavery working as a cook, and the hardships and injustices of the era.

Idella Kimbrough was born in 1906 and died in 1986.

Lucyle Cantley

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Lucyle Cantley was interviewed at her antique and book store. She was in business for 49 years. Listed in Who’s Who in Arkansas and in Distinguished Americans of the South, Cantley opened her first store at 17 years old. Cantley recalled the obstacles women faced obtaining business loans and needing fifteen times more collateral than a man.

Lucyle Cantley died in 1978.

Jessie Tidwell

Pine Bluff, AR

Interviewed and photographed by Cheryl Cohen, 1976 The Pine Bluff Women’s Center, Inc.

Jessie Tidwell, was a cook and housekeeper. She began cooking with her mother at an early age. Tidwell recalls her mother’s home remedies for colds and other ailments. She remembered the Flood of 1927 and its impact on her family and neighbors. Tidwell stated that the event brought together Whites and Blacks in shared hardship.

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