After teaching for 35 years in Georgia, Annie Greene retired to focus on her art. She describes herself as a painter but also works in mixed media, cutting and placing yarn on canvas to create scenes of southern life. She finds inspiration from her childhood in segregated Georgia. Here, Greene describes life before integration.
“I am from a family of educators. My daddy was a principal, and my mother was a teacher. Plus I had an uncle who taught industrial arts at a college. He would draw pictures of his wife and other things, and put them around the house. I always admired them. I think that is what encouraged my interest in art. When I went to college, they didn’t have art as a major, so I majored in elementary education. Later, I got a masters degree from New York University in art education. One of my instructors made a statement, ‘I bet when you teachers go home, you don’t pick up a brush.’ And I was guilty because I had a baby, and then before I finished my program, I had a second child. Anyway, that motivated me to start. I took local classes during the summer for six weeks, and that started my art. In Georgia, we weren’t integrated at first, and even before schools were desegregated, I joined the local art association. I asked if I could have a booth in the show before they were desegregated, and they gave me a chance to do that. Just about every year, they gave me a booth at the local art show.
I like to do a lot of things that deal with southern living before desegregation and before integration. All of the works from a series called ‘Once Upon a Time’ come from what I saw and remembered as a child. I will think of how things were during my childhood, like cooking on the wood-burning stove, bathing in the tin tub, people riding on wagons drawn by mules to church or to town on Saturday afternoon, cotton fields—I think I have done over 25 cotton fields. I have so many [favorites], like the ones from the good old days in the summer time. As a child, I enjoyed going to my grandparents’ farm so much that those are sort of based on the experience I had from the farm. We didn’t live on a farm, but my grandfather—that was his livelihood. He had a lot land, and he was a very good provider for his family. He was a hard worker. He was also a builder—he could build houses and had about five rental houses on his property. We spent two whole summers on the farm. After the work was done, there wasn’t too much to do unless the fair was in town. Sometimes we would go to the fair on Saturday, us little girls, and our cousins would go to the movies.
Some people think I stitched this yarn, but the yarn is glued onto watercolor paper with Elmer’s glue. Sometimes I will paint the background with acrylic paint. I will use other materials with this, like paper. For instance, when I was growing up, you could go into substandard houses, and the houses were in pretty poor condition; sometimes people that we knew lived in them. Sometimes they would have cardboard stapled or nailed to the wall to keep the wind from coming through cracks that had developed from the outside wall. I have seen people using newspaper in the place of wallpaper. I have used those kinds of materials in my work to carry out the idea, using whatever I think will carry out the idea I’m trying to get across. I have more ideas than I have time to put on paper. If you get into art, you just want to do it all the time. The more you do it, the more the ideas come to you.”