Behind the images

Published 9:37 pm Friday, April 8, 2011

Mary Ann Casey returns to Troy and this time she brings with her the iconic characters of Alabama as seen through the eyes of an artist who knows what it’s like to both fight the demons of the cotton fields and rub elbows with the rich and famous.

The former Trojan is a native of the Deep South. She was born in Rehobeth and worked in the cotton fields along with her brothers and sisters.

“My mother and grandfather championed my artistic endeavors, however, in college I was steered away from art and studied English,” Casey said.

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“My creative muse reawakened with a love of sculpture. But later I also found expression in painting, sculpture, mixed-media assemblages, crosses, jewelry and custom designs.”

Casey’s work has been displayed in acclaimed one-woman shows in Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida and New Mexico.

She was also featured in the group show, “Women of Worth,” in Fort Worth, Texas. The show ran for three years. Most recently, Casey was a featured artist in the two-woman show, “Sacred Spaces” at the Art Gallery in Ft. Summer, New Mexico.

With the opening of her “Behind the Images: Alabama Stories” at the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy on Wednesday, Casey has come home to Alabama and she has come home to Troy.

“The ‘Behind the Images’ exhibition was born when I honored the call to prepare an exhibition for the Johnson Center for the Arts,” Casey said. “The exhibit features 23 portraits of people that have important stories to tell.”

Casey’s portraits include Alabama icons and several others that have greatly impacted the lives of Alabamians.

“Mary Ann Casey paints with her heart in her brush and it shows in her work,” said Richard Metzger, Johnson Center executive director. “The portraits span a vast area of Alabama culture, from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, from W.C. Handy to Hank Williams, Jr. and from Annie Pettway of Gee’s Bend to Winton Blount and the Shakespeare Festival.”

Other portraits included in the exhibit are Johnny Mack Brown, the Tuskegee Airman, Hank Williams, Sr., the Birmingham Girls, Big Mama Thompson, Helen Keller, George Washington Carver, Willie King, Randy Owens, Condoleezza Rice and Emmy Lou Harris.

“‘Behind the Images’ is a exhibit that everyone will enjoy because it is outstanding art and because the images are those we recognize and whose stories we know,” Metzger said.

The stories behind the faces will be shared in Casey’s own words in the written word along with the portraits hanging at the local gallery.

“Hearing the stories of the people in these portraits takes us beyond ourselves into the triumphs of the human condition,” Casey said. “During the research in preparation for the painting of these portraits, I developed a personal love and deep senses of reverence for each person.”

Casey said that it is her hope and desire that those who view the exhibit will be moved by the story in the lives of “these inspirational images.”

“My prayer is that the viewer will be transformed for that moment to a deeper, more soulful places in his or her own journey,” she said.

“I want my art to empower. I want the viewers to have a companion in their crossroads, an acceptance that we all have within us, this tremendous capacity to be more than we ever imagined.

“We can walk through that tight valley of high walls that close us in – the walls of prejudice, jealousy, greed, media, social standing and abuse. Those who have gone before us show us that there is a way out of our personal prisons.”

Metzger said Casey’s artistic canvas transcends her own Native American ancestry and deep Southern roots.

“These roots inspire her to continue telling stories through images that resonate, provoke and energize the viewer’s resilience,” he said.

Casey’s “Behind the Images: Alabama Stories” exhibit will run through May 1 at the Johnson Center for the Arts. The exhibit will be a featured event of TroyFest, April 20 and May 1.

An artist’s reception will be held from 4 until 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Johnson Center for the Arts. The public is invited.

Admission to the Johnson Center is free. Hours are from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.