The following is a collaborative piece: Interview conducted by Mary Margaret White on May 11, 2010 in Columbus, Mississippi in the artist's home, photos by Susan Liles, narrative by Molly Knight.
Elayne Goodman from Columbus, Mississippi is a self-taught artist who combines fabrics, pieces of wood, little boxes, buttons, beads, paint, and anything else she can get her hands on to make unique pieces of contemporary folk art.
She works and lives on the very same farm where she was raised. This farm has been in Elayne’s family for six generations, and each generation left what Elayne calls “accumulations of stuff” in the buildings around the property. As children, Elayne and her four siblings would explore these buildings and entertain themselves by with the items they found there, often imaginatively combining them into homemade works of art.
Elayne recognizes that her artistic style was shaped by these childhood hours spent in inventing and creating. She also remarks that she learned from the creativity and thrift that her own mother showed in running and furnishing their household using mostly recycled materials. “She made bedspreads from fertilizer sacks,” Elayne remembers, “because that’s what she had to do just to live. I think [my art] is a refining of what I did in my life and saw [my mother] do all her life.”
To this day, any material that she can get her hands on is transformed in marvelous pieces of art. Elayne’s art thrives on spontaneity.
Even though art creation from recycled items was always part of Elayne Goodman’s life, she decided to pursue a career as nurse. It was a difficult time for Elayne, and she struggled to balance classes, working, and raising her two children. In the late 80s, she became burnt-out on her nursing career, so she took a 30-day leave of absence and did something she’d always wanted to do but had never had the time: she enrolled in a ceramics course. Through the class, Elayne realized that she was meant to be an artist and always laughs when she explains “that 30-day leave of absence continues until today.”
Elayne has never looked back. To this day, any material that she can get her hands on is transformed in marvelous pieces of art. Elayne’s art thrives on spontaneity. She lets the projects go wherever her imagination leads her, and always works with multiple pieces at the same time to ensure a unique life in each of them.
She uses several pop culture themes to influence her artwork. The artist explains, “Elvis is the main thing that I do. I do some serious Elvis pieces and I do a lot of really foolish, fun Elvis pieces. Elvis always sells. No matter how silly.” She also likes to use Southern themes, and tries to tap into people’s memories by using familiar materials like cigar boxes and old Coca Cola bottles.
She was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, and her admirers include Joel Schumacher, Meg Ryan, Brooke Shields, and Julia Roberts.
Elaine shares her secret to ceaselessly create artwork: avoid feeling intimidated. “It’s just like appearing in public nude, when you first start putting your artwork out there. Because you really are showing people your soul, it’s beyond what’s on the outside. You are showing people what’s your insides are really like and it’s very difficult at first. But after [selling my first piece], I lost all fear of what anybody must think or care.”
Elayne has gained widespread recognition for her art. She was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, and her admirers include Joel Schumacher, Meg Ryan, Brooke Shields, and Julia Roberts.
It was not until Elayne was 40 years old that she went back to college for a degree in art. There, her teachers encouraged her to continue in the style she’d developed on her own. In 2009, she was awarded with an honorary Doctorate in Contemporary Art, in recognition of her constant effort to graduate and immense talent. “I certainly never expected to have a doctorate, it’s just amazing.”
Elayne has never regretted deciding to do what she loves. “If you don’t really love what you are doing you’re just spinning your wheels and making yourself old quickly,” says Elayne. Her choice to become an artist has taken her farther than she ever imagined it would.