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Tamela Stith never set out to be an artist and certainly didn’t plan to be a teacher. And yet, she is both, with plans to one day expand her role.
Stith’s work is currently featured in a gallery exhibit titled “Local Inspiration” that features work by six art teachers with Wilson County Schools. Because of COVID-19, the exhibition, which is displayed in the G.R. Hammond Gallery in the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, was also turned into a virtual exhibit on the Arts Council of Wilson’s website, www.wilsonarts.com/exhibitions. Organizers are hoping that state guidelines will allow for a “closing reception” in July.
“Tamela is an amazing abstract artist,” said Dee Dee Oliver, visual arts coordinator for the Arts Council of Wilson. “It’s clear that she is as passionate about her own artwork as she is teaching her students. We are thrilled to have her in this exhibition.”
“I drew a lot as a child but never thought I would go to school for art,” said Stith, who teaches K-5 art for Wilson County Schools. “I never really had guidance as to what I might want to do while I was in high school.”
Stith’s father was in the Army, so she spent her childhood moving from place to place. Born in Roanoke Rapids, Stith lived in Germany twice and several places in the United States. The family settled back in North Carolina, and Stith ended up attending Elizabeth City State University and thought she was headed for a degree in information technology.
“It turned out that I am more of a hands-on person,” Stith said. “While at Elizabeth City State I was taking an art appreciation class, and I liked the teacher, so I started asking him questions about art. I never liked the drawing classes but loved the painting classes.”
After college graduation, Stith thought her career path might lead her to working in museums, but that never worked out. She got a job as an art teacher in Harnett County schools, where she worked for almost two years. She left teaching, moved to Virginia and worked various jobs for a few years before getting back into teaching, working at a private school in Virginia.
Seven years later, Stith moved back to North Carolina to be closer to her parents and began working as an art teacher in Nash County and then in the Wilson County school system.
“I like to teach art and like working with the students and working with friends and family, but I also feel that school classes are too large,” Stith said. “At some point, I want to start working with smaller groups.”
Her dream is to open her own art therapy practice, helping people through art.
“I was involved in an event at the N.C. Art Institute, and I listened to how people were helped physically and mentally by doing art,” Stith said. “I heard people say that art had cured their IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other stress-related things.”
In fact, Stith often finds herself doodling and says it help her free her mind so that she can focus. But her real love is painting.
“I started out doing portraits and still do every once in a while, but now I’m into abstracts,” Stith said. “It’s more therapeutic, and you don’t have to have things a certain way. It kind of flows on its own. When I paint, it flows and goes along with my mood.”
Art has now become a family affair with Stith’s father now involved in painting, specializing in landscapes and seascapes. Stith said her father had been drawing for some time and then she introduced him to oils, and he loved it.
“I love acrylics, probably because I’m too impatient a painter for oils,” Stith said.
At press time, North Carolina was in Phase 2 of reopening, and gallery hours were 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. The closing reception is set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on July 9. Call 252-291-4329 for updated information.