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Memories of Mom, others are revealed at artist Q&A
'Foils,' a self-portrait by artist Nancy Dusenberry. - photo by For The Times

Art, Hats, Tea and Cupcakes
When: 11 a.m.-noon Saturday
Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville
How much: $5, includes Q&A with artist Nancy Dusenberry, tea and cupcakes and a craft project for children 5-12
More info: 770-536-2575; wear your fanciest hat!

Atlanta artist Nancy Dusenberry holds on to more than memories.

In her closets and stuffed away in trunks in her basement are clothes she’s gathered throughout the years, all connected to a specific memory or time in her life. And these memories, which come to life once they are placed on a model, live on in Dusenberry’s paintings.

The portrait artist, whose exhibition "The Fabric of Women" is now on display at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, will talk about her work during a special Mother’s Day event on Saturday. The event will be bittersweet for Dusenberry — her mother recently died at age 94 — but her mother will be there in spirit and on the wall, depicted in oil as part of the exhibit.

"She’s the one with the white gloves. I did that as a gift for her 90th birthday," said Dusenberry in a phone interview with The Times. "It was our favorite photograph of her. It was a blackwatch plaid suit and she had suede pumps on, and Daddy took the picture from the front porch. She was darling and happy."

Many of Dusenberry’s memories are like that — filled with tactile descriptions of the clothing as part of the scenery or mood of the event she’s remembering. In the case of her mother’s portrait, it brings her even closer to her mother.

"So I’ve lost my mother, but not really," she said.

Amanda Kroll, executive director of the Quinlan, said the idea to bring Dusenberry to town for a Mother’s Day event seemed like a perfect fit with her "Fabric of Women" exhibit.

And the paintings show a range of women, some mothers, some daughters. Along with her mother, Dusenberry’s portraits depict her cousin, her great-niece, her granddaughter and her daughter.

Many of her paintings are done as part of a series, she said. Sometimes she’s inspired by the way the light hits a model’s face, other times it’s a particular piece of clothing that inspires the image around it.

For example, a series at the Quinlan about women traveling includes coats and an old suitcase kept by Dusenberry from years ago.

"So with all these coats and clothes, how do I use them in the paintings?" she asked herself. "I did women traveling and made up my own narrative. I went down to the train station in Atlanta and I asked if I could take photos there."

But even while taking the photographs as studies for the final pieces, Dusenberry said it often comes down to the memories.

"One red velvet coat I saved, because I went to a boarding school in Milwaukee, and my Daddy came to visit me and I missed home terribly," she said. "We’re driving down Wisconsin Avenue and we passed a dress shop, and in the window was a red velveteen coat with a faux fur lining.

"I gasped and Daddy said, ‘What, that coat? You like it?’" ... He double parked and ran in and came out with the coat in his arms."

That was a hard coat to throw out, she said, so she kept it. And years later, it found a place in a painting that has since sold.

Dusenberry also paints portraits on commission, and blends her style between the realistic images of photographs and the free and loose plein air style.

"The paintings from photographs I try not to get too tight, because that’s the killer," she said. "And it’s just boring. And that’s the worst thing to do to a viewer is to just bore them."

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