National exposure

Published 11:39 pm Monday, September 29, 2008

A simple Christmas gift has led to tremendous success for Opp artist Toby Hollinghead who, after a decade of painting, will see her art be available to art enthusiasts across the nation through Macy’s.

According to Hollinghead, Gitter Gallery LLC, which has reproduced and sold her work to the public for a number of years, has completed the negotiations.

“After over a year of negotiations with Macy’s, they decided to take 23 images from the seven artists working with Gitter Gallery LLC,” she said. “Out of the 23 images, eight of the ones selected were mine.”

Hollinghead said the prints will be available in the furniture department of Macy’s locations beginning in mid- to late-October.

“The prints are made using the giclee reproduction process, which is a high quality process and looks very close to the original,” she said. “Each piece will be pre-framed and ready to be placed on the wall. Each piece will also have a biography and description on the back.”

Hollinghead said she was surprised when Doug Gitter, owner of Gitter Gallery, asked her to become a contributing artist.

“Gitter Gallery discovered my art and they believed in it enough that they chose to take me on as one of their artists,” she said. “They had only, at the time, taken on seven artists. They wanted to take on folk art and bring it to the masses. They wanted to make it affordable to everyone. Artists at the time included Howard Finster and Clementine Hunter, whose work is featured in the Smithsonian. I was extremely honored.”

Painting has transformed from passion to career for Hollinghead, but she said the birth of that career was something that just happened.

“My daughter gave me a small acrylic paint set from Wal-Mart one year for Christmas,” she said. “It was in Christmas of 1997. I put it in the cabinet and forgot about it. I was busy doing other things. Music has always been a big outlet for me. It was my creative outlet back then and still is to this day. I am a self-taught musician. One day in 1998 the paint set just called out to me. My husband was playing blues music on his stereo.

“I guess it was a combination of that music and the quiet nature of the rest of the house,” she added. “That paint set just called to me. I reached under the cabinet and pulled it out. I did not have a clue where to begin. I had never taken any lessons. I squirted some colors I liked onto a paper plate and began pushing the colors around in my mind and on the plate. The color started free forming. Before I knew it I had painted memories I had of being a little girl.”

Hollinghead said most of her paintings come from underlying emotions of deeply recessed memories from her childhood.

“My first pieces were some of my earliest memories of growing up in the cotton field associated with my grandfather’s farming,” she said. “He was sharecropping at the time. I was probably six or seven years old. They were old memories of picking cotton and working in the fields with my mother. One piece represented me receiving $1 for a whole day’s worth of picking cotton. My mother helped me save it. She helped me make a cotton sack out of a flour sack. I made a whole dollar by filling up the sack.”

Hollinghead said her creative process has not changed much over the past 10 years, although her audience has increased dramatically.

“I am still pretty much the same today,” she said. “I have just gotten a little better with pushing color around. It appears when it appears. I don’t pre-sketch anything. I have only recently begun working from photographs, but they are photos I took.

“Everything I do is a surprise for me,” she added. “Nothing I do is really preconceived. I may have a notion of what it may look like when I begin, but it is very likely to change several times before the finished product. My work paints itself. I simply hold the brush and God directs the paint.”

Hollinghead said that she has produced several pieces that are near and dear to her heart, but her favorite piece changes on a routine basis.

“The very newest piece is always my favorite,” she said. “It is the new baby. That one is usually the hardest to let go. I do have a few special pieces that I have let go and wished I could see again. My joy is in the creative process. When they are done I step back and look at them. It is an emotional process as much as it is a creative process.”

Hollinghead will host a one-day art exhibit this Saturday at Strickland’s Art Gallery in Florala. The day will begin with a reception at 10 a.m., followed by a viewing of some of her newest pieces.