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The Spirit of an Artist

God in My Fingers
Dir. Sheena Vaught
Thurs., Nov. 8th • 4:45 p.m.
TheatreNOW • FREE!

PAINTING THROUGH IT: Ivey Hayes, a legendary regional artist, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, though he always believed the crippling disease was a blessing in disguise. Screen shot courtesy of Sheena Vaught.

Local artist Ivey Hayes grew up not too far from Wilmington, in rural Pender County. One of his favorite things to do as a child was sketching with pencil. His art was a variation from the normalcy of his life, a break from picking blueberries to make money for his family.

Hayes went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in art from NC Central University and received his MFA from UNC Greensboro in 1975 before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He became the first black police officer in Elon, NC, thereafter, and he eventually ended up working at the nearby Riegelwood paper mill.

In 1987, rheumatoid arthritis left Hayes with no other option than to retire from Federal Paper Board. Over the years, his hard-working hands became deformed, twisting like weathered branches in a maritime forest. Eventually he was constricted to a wheelchair due to the systemic disease.

Hayes could have sheilded himself from the world in a room of self-pity. Instead, he realized the arthritis was a ticket back to his deep-rooted love for art. Through therapy he rebuilt enough fervor to paint again—and a lot. His bold, vibrant works became phenomenally renowned in this region and across the nation, as he exhibited in Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston. Hayes believed God worked through him to create and bring people together; he has long been celebrated in southeastern North Carolina.

Director Sheena Vaught is in the process of completing a film about Hayes called, “God in My Fingers.” Though, her work came to a halt as Ivey Hayes passed away on September 28th, 2012. He’d been hospitalized for about a month at New Hanover Regional Medical Center for pneumonia and other complications. Vaught—inspired by Hayes’ work and his jovial, spiritual life—is unsure in which direction her work-in-progress should continue. She will unveil clips from “God in My Fingers” during Cucalorus Film Festival on Thursday the 8th at TheatreNOW at 4:45 p.m. The filmmaker will discuss the project and its future, as well as seek constructive criticism from the audience. encore spoke with Vaught about the project and her love of the artist and film.

encore (e): When did you know you wanted to pursue filmmaking, and what steps have you taken to get you where you are today?
Sheena Vaught (SV): Only over three years ago. Don’t get me wrong—I have always had a fascination with the world of film, but I literally did not think it was a realistic dream or goal as a viable career choice; I always thought finding a good 9-to-5 was more sensible and attainable. But my mom saw something in me and my interest, and she suggested I go into film.

I was hesitant at first—so much so that when I applied to UNC Wilmington I chose math as my declared major. All I could think was, I can’t do film. Then a voice inside of me spoke, which I know was God. He was challenging me; He asked, “Why not?” I could not answer “Why not.”
Everything I believed was put to the test and I told myself, “Forget all the worries and go for it.” So I went to UNCW and graduated with a degree in film studies. I have gotten around people in the film industry by way of Cucalorus Film Festival, and now I am attending Cape Fear Community College and I am in their film and television program to meet people, to learn more, and to create camaraderie. I am still finding my way, through many errors and mistakes, but I am thankful to the ones who are willing to teach and help me along this journey.

e: Tell me about your relationship with Ivey Hayes and why he is important to you.
SV: I first learned of Ivey Hayes as a little girl, My mom, Shelia Vaught, who is an artist and art teacher, loved telling my sister and me about different artists. I can tell you about Piet Mondrian, Minnie Evans, Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Rodin, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Munch, and many, many more. Along with those artists I learned about Ivey Hayes; he was one of those characters who had a great gift that one should stand in awe of and appreciate. When she showed me his works, during his celebration of colors, all I could think about and see was myself and my family and friends. His paintings were inside of me.

e: What was the motiviation behind it?
SV: The motivation behind this project was conformation. What I mean by conformation is that I believe when God is trying to get something to a person, He will conform it. I wasn’t even thinking about doing a documentary on Ivey Hayes—I mean, if I had given it any thought, I would have figured a documentary was already made. But random strangers and also people I knew said to me, “You should do a documentary on Ivey Hayes.” Please don’t think I do whatever someone suggests—but after about a year, on four different occasions I was like, “Lord, are you trying to get something to me?”

e: How has Ivey’s passing affected the project?
SV: This project has been affected greatly by the passing of Mr. Ivey Hayes, and I feel that now I need to find a new direction. When I first started, I had one thing in mind, but now I feel like a new path has been carved for this documentary and now it is my job as the filmmaker to seek wisely and follow the path accordingly.

e: What do you hope to accomplish through this piece?
SV: I hope to [show] everything Ivey Hayes [was], a man who loved and feared God, and allow this film to be a form of posterity for [the] artist and generations to come. I hope this film will be a reliable reference into getting more insight to the man and also the painter. I hope this film will be attached to Mr. Hayes’ great legacy.

e: Why are you excited to share it with the Cucalorus audience?
SV: I am excited and nervous at the same time for this work-in-progress session. It has been a while since I’ve been in a setting of critique, but in my experience at UNCW, this is what we did all the time, and I know that people will be as helpful as they can be. If they are there only to judge my filmmaking abilities, then I pray to have the right discernment on which criticisms to take. Like my grandma Letha always said, “You chew up the meat and spit out the bones.’

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