When painter Suellen McCrary moved her studio to Greensboro’s Revolution Mill two years ago, curious walk-ins included folks who remembered the workspace from another era when the mill turned out flannel from 1898 to 1982.
“They had all kind of stories to tell,” says McCrary, who specializes in portraits. “Some of them said they’d worked there, or their grandparents had worked there.”
To honor that history, McCrary pitched a project to the mill’s current owner, Durham-based Self-Help Ventures Fund, which acquired the complex in 2012.
In return for a monthly stipend, McCrary would spend two years painting oil-on-panel portraits of 25 people connected to the mill, whether they’d worked on machines bolted to the maple floor, handled clerical duties, or lived in the mill village.
At the end of the project, the portraits would join the permanent historical collection at the mill, now a hive of live-work-play development.
The portrait subjects would receive free prints of their likenesses, making possible an otherwise costly keepsake. The price of an original oil portrait can range from $3,000 to six figures.
“I was looking for a way to democratize portraiture,” says McCrary, who solicited subjects on a Facebook page called Cone Mills Villages — My Family’s History.
A dozen former Revolution employees have reached out to her, and she has completed a few portraits, but she wants to round up more applicants.
“I would love to get a cross section,” says McCrary, 60, who grew up in Greensboro and attended Page High School with the children of mill families, though she didn’t personally know them at the time.
Now living in High Point, McCrary hopes to capture the faces and stories of her schoolmates’ families while there’s still time. She recently painted 101-year-old Dorothy Sheppard Davis Brewer, a former mill inspector.
“This is a generation that’s passing, so I’ve got to get moving,” says McCrary. — Maria Johnson OH
Contact Suellen McCrary at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 848-3900. She’ll post progress shots of the project on her Instagram account, @suellenmccraryart.