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Carroll Cloar’s Delta art returns to Leu

Carroll Cloar’s paintings don’t just jump out at you — they grab you by the heartstrings and pull you right in to the soul of Memphis, Cloar’s home and inspiration.

Until May 24, the soft lighting of the Leu Art Gallery will illuminate the works of the late artist who focused so much on the Mississippi Delta.

In a tribute article by “Memphis: The City Magazine” in 1993, the year of Cloar’s death, Marilyn Sadler said Cloar could capture the beauty of his city and translate it into something universal.

“Cloar, perhaps like no one else, evoked early twentieth-century days in a small Southern town, yet spoke of themes that transcend time and place,” Sadler said.

That reason could explain why his paintings have become so popular, now hanging in homes and museums around the world.

“More than 40 of his paintings — those dreamlike renderings of Delta life — belong to major museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian. They also hang in such lofty places as the foreign embassy in Paris and government buildings in several states,” Sadler said in her article.

Art collectors have also seen value from Cloar’s work. Many of the paintings featured in the Leu Gallery are on loan for the exhibition from their Mid-South owners, including David Lusk, a Cloar art collector from Arkansas.

The work featured in the exhibition is diverse, ranging from his more popular acrylic paintings to his lithographs and prints.

Jessica Owings, director of the Leu Art Gallery, said Belmont has shown Cloar’s work twice before.

“I believe this is the first time drawings and lithographs will also be presented, and the interesting thing is that the lithographs are what initially garnered Cloar recognition for his art work,” Owings said.

The lithographs hang side by side in the center of the gallery. They depict a preacher and his congregation, a woman peering out from the sheet music that is her backdrop and a man with a handlebar mustache and a classy pocket watch standing against some flowery wallpaper he clearly does not like.

Dr. Bob Fisher, an Arkansan like Cloar, has a deep appreciation of the artist’s work. Owings said Fisher is responsible for initiating the collaboration of Cloar’s work for a new and different exhibit.

“We were interested in showing a selection of paintings, drawings and prints previously unexhibited in Nashville,” Owings said. “He was a very interesting artist and really a pioneer for Southern artists in the 1950s and ’60s.”

Cloar once described himself as a “keen observer,” a characteristic made obvious in the artistic renderings of his life. Each work reflects a memory, an image or emotion: Neighbors mow the lawn outside their house; a little girl runs through the yard playing hide-and-seek with her goat; an old farmer sits by a desk, looking grim and tired from a life of hard work.

Each piece tells its own story from Cloar’s past. But none is without a matter of the heart, something that makes them relatable, Sadler wrote.

“While Cloar’s works belong to collectors like John D. Rockefeller III, they also brighten the homes of less famous folks throughout the Mid-South and across the country, people who see their own past and memories, their own fears and fantasies, through the eyes of an artist who called Memphis home,” she said.

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