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Memphis Artist Carroll Cloar Exhibition Scheduled
Cloars in Home Studio Carroll and Patricia Cloar discussing his work in his studio that is papered with newspaper clippings and photos.

Colorful memories from a childhood filled with fantastic stories, pictures and news articles collected over the years and pasted on walls commemorating past events, phrases that dropped out of nowhere spilled from a pencil onto paper ... inspiration came in many forms to Carroll Cloar.

“First of all comes the idea or maybe something remembered, something seen or something never seen at all,” Cloar said in a collection of his notes titled “Random Thoughts of Carroll Cloar” housed in Special Collections at the Ned R. McWherter Library at the University of Memphis. “I collect new material in the form of sketches and photographs and I use this material the way a writer uses his – expanding or evolving it into something else.” 

On June 8, the Art Museum at the University of Memphis will revisit their relationship with Cloar in a special exhibition entitled “In His Studio: Carroll Cloar” that will provide more insight into Cloar. The exhibition is scheduled in conjunction with “The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South,” organized by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Arkansas Arts Center.

“We thank the Brooks Museum and Arkansas Art Center for offering us the opportunity to present the artist behind his well-loved paintings,” said Leslie Luebbers, AMUM director. “Cloar was a precise curator of his public image, as we discovered in developing the 1991 show.” 

Luebbers didn’t know that Cloar had cancer while preparing for that show, “Carroll Cloar: Story- Painter/Picture-Teller,” but remembered how he insisted that the show be a summation of his career. 

“The process was for Cloar a personal odyssey through his past, and he shared the journey with us,” she said. “After his death in 1993, AMUM staff sorted over 1000 drawings left in his studio, and we had another chance to review his career.”

In 1996, AMUM presented “Behind the Seen: Carroll Cloar’s Sketches and Studies,” a first look at the artist’s working methods. Now, AMUM will literally and figuratively present the artist in his studio and his creative atmosphere. Plans include reassembly of the artist’s studio.

“Thanks to gifts of drawings and the physical studio from Patricia Cloar to the Art Museum and the Carroll Cloar archives to the Special Collections, University Libraries, AMUM is able to assemble a personal portrait of the artist. We are excited!”

The collection includes stories of his travels, letters to friends and loved ones, fictional short stories about childhood companions, notes about artwork and many other pieces of information. The collection also contains costume designs for a ballet he wrote with music professor James Richens (BS, ’58).

“The Carroll Cloar collection, consisting of some twenty-plus boxes and drawers of material in various formats—letters, sketches and sketchbooks, finished early works, photographs, and more—illuminate the artist’s life and creative process,” said Ed Frank, associate professor and curator of Special Collections.

“From his small-town childhood in rural Arkansas, through college, art school, foreign travel, and military service, they provide insight and context for his development into the unique artist that he became.”

The collection was so valuable to historians that The Smithsonian Institution approached Patricia immediately after Cloar died, requesting his papers. Through friendships with faculty and partnerships with the museum, the Cloars had built a relationship with the University, leading her to donate it to AMUM. Their relationship also included publishing his book, “Hostile Butterflies and Other Paintings,” the only one that exclusively features Cloar’s work. And, in 1991, Cloar received the Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts from the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

“Through the years, the University of Memphis honored Carroll, but they never asked for anything in return. They treated Carroll and his work with great respect, so I think it’s important that the University have these things,” Patricia said in the Spring 2000 issue of The University of Memphis Magazine.

Cloar’s paintings are included in a variety of collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Fine Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

For more information about the exhibition, contact AMUM at 901.678.2224.

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