Arts | September 2016
Sally Busby is quick to admit that she chose her alma mater because of William Faulkner.
Then, a Master’s degree in Southern studiesfrom Ole’ Miss put Busby, a Memphis native, on a path to teaching 7th-grade English in Memphis’ intellectually gifted program. Now, in her spare time — as if such a thing existed for teachers — she operates East Grove Studio (eastgrovestudio.com), selling a line of handmade linocut prints of authors who have particularly inspired her, including Faulkner.
“I think O'Connor explains Southern writers best,” says Busby, using a black sharpie to draw in reverse on a 1/8-inch-thick linoleum block. While preparing her Southern Author collection, due out in September, she quotes Flannery O’Conner as her inspiration for this particular group of linocuts: “from thestandpoint of the writer, the South is hardly Christ-centered but it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
Along with O’Connor’s exploration of the South’s literary penchant for ghosts and freaks — because, according to her, the South still recognizes both — other literary greats featured in East Grove Studio’s upcoming Southern Author Collection include Capote, Welty, Harper Lee, and Tennessee Williams. “I’m waiting to add Flannery O'Connor, Toole and Walker Percy,” Busby says.
In the process of making her current line of linocut prints, bookmarks, notecards, and watercolor wall art, Busby notes that the process is exciting for her because it allows her to re-explore a fascination she had while in college — darkroom photography development.
“In a darkroom, the negative film image shows everything in reverse,” explains Busby. “Items that should be white are black and vice versa. Once you've gotten accustomed to viewing it that way, you often don't rely on contact sheets to show you images. It's almost as if you can see the image in reverse.”
“The same is true when carving a print,” she continues, “you have to see the image you want to create in reverse, while carving away the white and leaving the black. Of course the added challenge is that everything is also on the opposite side. If you want something to appear on the right side of the print, you need to carve it on the left.”
Busby also notes that the solitude andmethodical movement in the process of making linocuts and prints are very similar to mindfulness or meditation. “It’s something tofocus on and hang a thought hook on when something else is spinning out of control.”
Busby has also found the process to be the best creative outlet to connect three of her favorite things — photography, authors, and knitting. She admits the knitting connection is really vague, but as is often the case with literature folks, the metaphor is obvious to her. “With each cut into linoleum, inked linoleum print and brush stroke,” she says, “I feel I'm knitting connections betweenauthor and reader.”
Those connections are not limited to Southernauthors, either. Included in East GroveStudio’s current Classic Authors collection are literary greats such as Shakespeare, Dickinson, Poe, Whitman, Melville — and of course, the satirical riverboat captain who saw the South as an eternal muse, Mark Twain.
“Once I'm thinking about an author, he or she just rolls around in my head,” she says. “When I'm carving a print, I have a way to visually focus on that author. It might be I'm thinking of [Harper Lee] because I've just taught To Kill a Mockingbird, and so Harper Lee's just stuck. Or a conversation about Poe comes up and then it's time to focus on him.
Busby smiles. “It's fun to find a reason to think about a certain author.”
According to the artist, teaching 7th grade English allows her to remember the awe she felt when first introduced to classic literature and authors as a child. She then uses that memory to produce her linocuts and prints. “Each year I find new favorite lines in these books from the classic canon,” she says. “These lines and characters support me at my lowest, add joy to my life, and give richness and depth to my life. These authors give us so much.”
Sally Busby shares East Grove Studio’s
new collection of Southern-inspired literary art
Story by Tonya Thompson