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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Thomas Center opens its doors to a new folk art exhibition

Alyne Harris’ 200 paintings are on display in Gainesville until January 2022

Nancy Parkinson, 80, a Gainesville resident, stands in front of artwork at the "Between Heaven and Earth" exhibit at the Historic Thomas Center on Thursday, June 17, 2021.
Nancy Parkinson, 80, a Gainesville resident, stands in front of artwork at the "Between Heaven and Earth" exhibit at the Historic Thomas Center on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Streaks of vibrant colors stretch across each frame decorating the walls of the Thomas Center. Each canvas captures the ever-changing nature of life the artist and her audience share. 

The exhibition, “Between Heaven and Earth — The Paintings of Alyne Harris,” opened June 17 as part of Gainesville’s “Journey to Juneteenth” and will be on display at the Thomas Center on 302 NE 6 Ave. until Jan. 15. Alyne Harris, a 79-year-old Gainesville resident and self-taught folk artist, portrays her life experiences with symbols such as angels and flowers.

Russell Etling, the City of Gainesville’s cultural affairs manager, said Harris’ works cover different areas of her life from her Christianity to her Black culture. He said Harris grew up near Mount Pleasant Cemetery on 2837 NW 13th St. and played in the graveyard as a child.

“They talk about incidents that happened of great joy and also of great sorrow,” he said. “They're very expressive and her freedom of imagination, her use of color and the passion of which she tells the story is very very powerful sometimes.”

Two hundred of her paintings are displayed on the walls of the first and second floors for anyone to see for free. 

Evelyn Tanner, a 93-year-old resident from Archer, said the paintings reveal Harris has lived a full life. 

“You can tell she's seen good and bad things in her life and been through hard times just like we have,” she said. “They all tell a story. This is what she's seen in her life.”

Stephanie Birch, a member of the City of Gainesville Cultural Affairs board and the UF African American Studies librarian, said she came to see the exhibit to show her support for Black history and Juneteenth celebrations. 

“It's a really fantastic opportunity to come see such an immense and rich body of work in one space all at once,” she said. “Seeing so far just a fraction of the exhibit, there is a lot about Black life and experiencing life through the eyes of a Black woman that is very telling — that you can just really see pouring off of the canvases.”

Birch said the exhibition shows how young people can still learn from older generations that have contributed to the Gainesville community. 

“It's important that we still have folks who can share and paint and show us what they looked like — what life looks like and has looked like for African Americans throughout the years through art — through whatever means of expression that there is.”

Anne Haisley, an 81-year-old former co-owner of Books Inc. and an attendee of the opening, said she has bought Harris’ art and encountered her at downtown art shows. 

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“She would smile, and she would say hello and that sort of thing,” she said. “No long conversations because she's not into that — at least she hasn't been that I know of. But it's her work that speaks for her.”

Haisley said she admires the dedication and progression of Harris’ works. 

“Even then in the very beginning when it was much more primitive, you could see it just came from her heart and soul,” she said. “Her spirit and soul kind of jump out at you from the pictures.”

Contact Phong Hunyh at phunyh@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @phongphont. 

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