By Ann Robson
Everything has a purpose for Debbie Crawford, a self-taught artist who has loved to “make things” since an early age.
A button, a swatch of fabric, a piece of lace, an old photograph are all important to Debbie. “They tell a story,” she says. When she puts seemingly unrelated pieces together she tells a story using whatever material is at hand. The end result is a mixed media collage. Her current work, “Comin’ and Goin,’” illustrates stories of the Great Migration of 1940 – 1960 when many African-Americans left the South and headed north for better jobs, and a better life without segregation. She remembers that as a young child she and her family and friends were not permitted to use the same facilities as her white counterparts. She remembers the “colored only” signs of her childhood and credits the attitude accompanying those signs as making her “want to get out of here. I wanted to see what was on the other side.” She did leave North Carolina for several years but happily returned to her roots and family where she feels the freedom of expression.
The follow-up to “Comin and Goin’” is in the planning stages and Crawford will use video in the next stage of her long story.
Red is her favorite color. It adds a special spark to her life. In some of her collages she will paint a red bow on a girl’s hair, or a red hat on an older woman. “This says I am here.” Red is her “happy” color. “You can have a piece of artwork that looks dull and just put a little splash of red and it changes.”
“I hope each piece offers a story one can connect with. I enjoy listening and seeing the view from another’s eyes. When we share our insight, we share part of ourselves. And to me, that’s what art is all about,” Crawford notes.
Crawford is much more than an artist who produces interesting paintings and collages, she has a keen interest in history and the future. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you’re going?” she asks.
Education is high on her list of priorities. Nothing pleases her more than working with a group of students and turning loose their imaginations. Coloring within the lines is not what Crawford considers art education. She enjoys presenting opportunities for expressing individual creativity. When children are working on a piece of art, Crawford delights in seeing their hands covered in paint or glue. The children seem surprised that they can create something, she adds. “Everyone is creative,” she tells them.
Her four children (two teenagers and two in their 20s) are all pursuing creative interests. “It’s in their blood,” she says. Her children have been watching her create things all their lives.
Concern about the youth of today is high on Crawford’s lists of concerns. She believes they are missing a great deal of their own lives because of their total absorption in all things electronic. They are also missing out on their own history. For many years the African-American community did not talk about what was happening in the world around them. Crawford cites the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as an awakening for many in the black community. She finds it unsettling that racism has risen to such a violent level in recent months because of many events. She does not see violence as a way to solve problems.
Crawford said that when she goes to outdoor shows with her work, she does it as much for the stories from people with whom she interacts as for the display and possible sale of her items. She believes strongly in personal interaction through conversation and storytelling as a means to a better world.