Art review: Folk artist Sam Ezell's idealistic visions of Hillsborough | Arts

Art review: Folk artist Sam Ezell's idealistic visions of Hillsborough

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"The Old Library" by Sam Ezell - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE'S ART TRUCK
  • photo courtesy of Mike's Art Truck
  • "The Old Library" by Sam Ezell
Picture Hillsborough: Folk Art by Sam Ezell
The Orange County Historical Museum
201 N. Churton St., Hillsborough
Through September 25


Self-taught painter Sam Ezell portrays the buildings of Hillsborough with optimism and idealism. He paints some of the historic 18th-century buildings the town is known for, but he also paints local businesses including Latta Brothers Tractor Service and Dual Supply Company.

Ezell’s paintings have been making their way around town this year—first, in a group show at the Orange County Main Library; then, in a summer show at the Hillsborough Visitors Center. Now, a group of 12 paintings are on display on the second floor of the Orange County Historical Museum in Picture Hillsborough: Folk Art by Sam Ezell. It includes a new painting of the museum, “The Old Library,” alongside previously shown paintings of the Hillsborough Visitors Center, Durham House, the Burwell School and more.

"Tear Drops" by Sam Ezell - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE'S ART TRUCK
  • photo courtesy of Mike's Art Truck
  • "Tear Drops" by Sam Ezell
A longtime resident of Hillsborough, Ezell does maintenance work at The Shops at Daniel Boone, where he also has a studio and workshop. He describes his background as “carpenter-type work,” and it’s only within the last decade that he began painting. A friend suggested that Ezell try it, and he found he enjoyed it. Mentioning that he’s now 62, he says, “I hope I keep on painting until the day I die.”

Ezell started painting houses for Habitat for Humanity, for both the owners of the houses and donors. Familiar with those paintings, the owners of Mike’s Art Truck suggested he paint pictures of houses in Hillsborough. Owned by Greg and Karen Mack, Mike’s Art Truck is a folk-art gallery that moved from Atlanta to Hillsborough in 2012. It's named after the Macks' cat, and there is no truck. It presents work by self-taught artists such as Ezell on its website and by organizing shows like these. Following the Macks' suggestion, Ezell started taking photos of various buildings, which he works from in order to capture each one’s details.

"Visitors Center" by Sam Ezell - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE'S ART TRUCK
  • photo courtesy of Mike's Art Truck
  • "Visitors Center" by Sam Ezell
There’s an appealing graphic flatness to the bright acrylic colors. Ezell tends to paint straight-on views of buildings, placed in the center of the canvas. He adds green lawns, bright blue skies, white clouds, V-shaped birds and a few trees on the sides. But his approach resists feeling formulaic because of the attention he pays to unique details—the teardrop-shaped windows of the Inn at Teardrop; the first- and second-floor balconies of Twin Chimneys. The result is a joyful celebration of each building’s distinctiveness.

Ezell says that he likes it when his paintings make people happy. However, I see them as achieving more. They present us with spirited views of these historic Hillsborough buildings, allowing us to look at them again—or for the first time—with fresh eyes and new attentiveness.

For more Ezell, see Just for Fun: More Folk Art by Sam Ezell through Sept. 18 at the Hillsborough Visitors Center (150 E. King St.). 


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