Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Robeson County, NC
Melvin Morris, originally from Peoria, Illinois, is a painter who has made Robeson County his home. Morris initially moved to North Carolina to serve at Camp LeJeune and wound up marrying and settling down in Robeson County. Unlike most newcomers, though, Morris has made southeastern North Carolina his own by making paintings and found-object art that reflect his own experiences and chosen home.
After completing his service, Morris pursued his formal education at UNC Pembroke, where he studied art. He works in the painting studio on campus and finds much of the material for his found-object art either on campus or around town. “Anything that’s an object can be used in painting,”says Morris, including nails, metal pipe, ropes, and flora. There seems to be no part of his life that he does not draw on for his art work, even including engine parts and machines based on his experience working on automobiles in the Navy.
Morris’s art speaks to issues both personal and larger than himself. A large part of his work explores themes that he considers specifically central to the African-American experience: education, struggle, and progress. Others, he says, are more universal but are just as important in shaping Americans’ lives—war, the economy, and police-community relations.
Ultimately, Morris and his art can’t help but be influenced by the tri-racial (Black, White, and Native) history of Robeson County. “Everybody who’s in this county or community can relate to that history on some level,” he says, and his art does not fit neatly into one genre or community. Instead, he is influenced by art and culture from all racial and ethnic groups in the county and creates art that attempts to speak to different experiences.
Morris plans on staying in Robeson County, and is dedicated to growing the arts scene and helping other artists in the area succeed as well. Ultimately, he sees his gifts and training as a way of building community, teaching others, and passing on his passion for creating. “If I had my choice, I would do this all day long,” he explains. “You have to do what you love.”