Elizabeth Singletary: 2013 Azalea Festival Artist
Work is for sale throughout the week’s festivities, 4/10-14.
“Deborah recognized my affinity for paper,” Singletary said. “She put Fleetwood Mac in the CD player, and I was just groovin’ and gluing paper. She grabbed my hand, ‘You know that you’re an artist!’ But I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m just having fun.’ Deborah said, ‘Yes. You are an artist,’ with the most serious expression on her face. It choked me up.”
An employee of the Successful Parenting Institute, Singletary’s boss encouraged her to take the Seaside Gestalt Institute 18-month program. At the beginning of the program, Singletary wrote, “I want to be an artist,” in small letters at the bottom corner of a poster board. At the end of the program, she wrote on a new poster, “I am an artist!”
By that time, her colorful collages were on display at two Wilmington galleries: the Fisherman’s Wife Gallery and Checkered Cab. Likewise, her work had graced the walls of WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery in a show called “Outside.”
Soon after, she bumped into fellow parishioner Donna Cameron. Singletary showed cellphone photos of her collage work, not knowing Cameron was president of the 2013 Azalea Festival. “That’s it! That’s what I’ve been looking for,” Cameron exclaimed.
Singletary was amazed Cameron put her faith in someone who shreds up hundreds of pieces of little paper and covers them with glue. “I ran a few ideas by her,” Singletary says, “and she said, ‘Follow your heart; be true to yourself. You’ll know.’”
The end result is a collage of three beautiful azaleas, made from shredded pages of past Azalea Festival programs, and a large Easter Tiger Swallowtail, perched on a butterfly bush. The Swallowtail is the new state butterfly, making its home in all 100 counties of North Carolina.
“To me the butterfly represents transformation,” Singletary said. “I am in a process of reinventing myself, as is our state and country. I have to be willing to put myself out there—to go beyond my comfort zone. It’s scary! Because if my art is rejected, so is a part of me.”
Instead, the Azalea Festival committee has embraced both Singletary and her work. She will participate in all the upcoming festivities. “I love the surprise of azaleas,” she notes. “One week there are only green leaves; the next week, the whole city is lit up with a blaze of flowers.”
Looking back, friends and family members—mother, brother, sister-in-law and son, Forrest—have encouraged Singletary to express herself through art. When she was nine, her father taught her calligraphy at their farm on rainy days. He died two years later, but left her a gift that’s been of use. In fact, Wilmington’s film industry has employed Singletary’s calligraphy for several productions, including Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” Nicholas Spark’s “Safe Haven,” Michael Weiss’ “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and the TV series “Revolution.”
With all of this work available, Singletary continues to keep herself open to the inspiration of life. She made a grand canvas of an absolutely magnificent rooster, thanks to her friend Christina Gianoplus.
This friend had four young children and fought cancer for several years. She and Singletary went to a Chinese restaurant and saw they were both born in the Year of the Rooster. They would give each other little rooster gifts and call each other “rooster friends.”
“None of the meds worked for Christina anymore, and we knew she was close to the end,” Singletary remembers. “I was crying, ‘You’ve got to give me a sign: You’re in heaven, you’re not worried about these children, it’s fabulous there. You can have a truck drive by that has a picture of a rooster on it.’ We were laughing about all the ways she could let me know, but she said, ‘It’s going to be an actual rooster.’”
Soon thereafter, Singletary took a kindergarten class to Old McFaye’s Farm in Castle Hayne. “We were looking at all the animals, and this beautiful rooster started following me,” she said. “There were other roosters, but nothing like this one—brilliant, crowing, following right behind me from place to place. I took a picture of him with my phone and sent it to Christina. Fifteen minutes later, her husband called me and said that she was gone. I asked him when she died and it [turned out the rooster began followng me] a few minutes after her death.”
Singletary is learning and teaching that transformation comes from life’s experiences, both great and small. Moving her studio to The Art Factory in the old Jacobi Building at 721 Surry Street will certainly be one of those experiences. Joining with her this year in celebrating Azalea Festival 2013 may well be another.