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Words of local musician inspire visual creations in Hillsborough gallery

Holding on to the Innocence I Once Knew-nancy-smith.jpg
Photo of "Holding on to the Innocence I Once Knew" courtesy of artist Nancy Smith

Musician Mary Rocap said she initially missed what was a very important email from the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts. 

She skimmed right over it, thinking it was a reminder for an upcoming show. Fortunately, she said, they reached out again with the invitation for her to be the featured artist on the gallery’s 10th volume of their yearly event "It’s All About the Story,"  which opened on Feb. 20 and runs through March 24. 

Every year, the gallery, which was formed in 2006, has featured a local writer whose words are used as inspiration for its visual artists, who use their diverse mediums to interpret what they read.

After the event's first few years of featuring authors,  particularly of short stories,  the gallery decided to branch out. Last year it was a poet, and this year it's singer-songwriter Rocap. 

“The other people who they've selected as muses — this is the 10th show — are superheroes of mine,” Rocap said. “Michael Malone, Allan Gurganus, Jill McCorkle —all these really important writers of Hillsborough have been muses before. So I'm just happy to be ‘and Mary Rocap’ at the end of the sentence.”

Rocap said she began making music when her parents gifted her a guitar in 11th grade, writing folk music in hopes of becoming like her idol, American folk singer Odetta

It wasn’t until her 40s, though, that she started taking songwriting seriously. Since receiving a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship for songwriting in 2001/2002, she has released five albums. Her 2011 project "Deep December Dreams," a collection of songs exploring the season of winter and its deeper meaning, is the written work being used for the exhibit. 

Despite all of this success, Rocap said that her selection by the gallery is a total mystery to her. She did have one suspicion, though: Chris Graebner, one of the 21 artists who co-own the gallery and a friend of hers.

“I'm thinking that she was my champion and was the one who suggested me,” Rocap said

Her suspicions were correct. Graebner, who is also the gallery’s publicity coordinator, had recommended her. 

Graebner works as a botanical illustrator and has a painting of a cotton blossom in the exhibit, inspired by the track on Rocap’s album, “Cotton.” 

While Graebner described her art as “straight-ahead,” she said there are many different takes in the gallery, including some that chose to be less straightforward.

Nancy Smith, a water media artist and treasurer of the gallery, said she wanted to do something a bit more figurative. 

Inspired by Rocap’s song “Oleander,"  which describes the personal hardships of a woman with the name of the poisonous flower, Smith painted the portrait of a woman holding onto a bird’s nest with an oleander flower tucked behind her ear. 

“We're born with innocence,” Smith said. “And when people give us names or they have certain ideas for who they think we are as people, that can really affect us in our lives and create a lot of strife in ourselves and trying to find our true selves.”

When Rocap walked through the exhibit and saw the art of Graebner, Smith and the gallery’s other artists on the walls accompanied by the words of her album, she said she welled up with tears. 

“It was deeply moving for me,” Rocap said. “And I got there on the opening night. There were quite a lot of people there, so it was nice to talk to some of the artists who were there at the same time I was about their work. It was just great. I recommend it to any artist to share your work with someone else.”

On March 10, Rocap will be performing songs from the album at the gallery from 4-6 p.m., which is free and open to the public. 

Graebner said the combination of different art mediums is enjoyed by both visitors and artists. Drawing inspiration can sometimes be challenging, she said, but above all, it’s just really fun.

Smith called this collaboration an unspoken connection that you develop with another artist. She described it as magic.


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