Cher Shaffer saw the future when her son got married.
I somehow knew they were not going to be together very long, Shaffer said.
One of her favorite pieces in her new exhibit at Durhams Outsiders Art & Collectibles, 718 Iredell St., is a large watercolor of her now famous artist son Gabriel and his former wife.
They look almost like Punch and Judy. As I was doing that piece I was thinking about the dynamics of that relationship when they were first together. Shaffer said. You can see they are parting from each other even though they are standing together.
Relationships fascinate Shaffer, as does the spirit world, nature, animals, children, kindness and sometimes death. Very little that happens around her doesnt somehow affect her work.
Death sparked her 34-year long career.
When my mother died I started to do memory paintings of things that I saw in my childhood, to keep her alive in my memory, Shaffer said.
Ruby Luther, Shaffers mother, came from Mississippi. I painted a lot of the sharecropper families in Mississippi, recording their homes and lifestyles, like washing clothes outside in a black iron pot like my mom did when I was a child. My mom even made the soap, she said. I had not been aware of how important it was and how it shaped me. But when she passed, the more I painted the more important the memories were to me.
I think that when I painted, I was creating a world where my mothers background was, so that I could still touch her, feel her, and talk to her. I was making a world where she still existed, where she had dimension.Best in show
Shaffer grew up in Georgia but was living in West Virginia when her mother died. Never intending to become a painter known to the world, she never displayed her paintings outside her home until one day she entered one in an art show and, busy raising her first child, forgot all about it.
Then someone called me from the art center asking when I was going to see the exhibit because I had won best in show. I had to ask them what that meant since I didnt know, Shaffer said. It didnt take long for her to realize that her pathway in life was to be an artist.
I didnt take that lightly, she said. Both my parents influenced me early on with their work ethic. I went full force into painting.
Shaffers work is in public and private collections nationwide and has been featured in many magazines and in the book O, Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountains.
Cher was one of the first artists in the Outsiders Art & Collectibles gallery, said owner Pamela Gutlon. I discovered her work at the Fearrington Folk Art Show and loved her art immediately but loved her even more, if that is possible. There is something so pure and kind about her and a mysticalness about her work that I love.
Many of the pieces in the exhibit are tiny. Gutlon said they may be small but they tell big stories. Outsider art
There is no exact definition of outsider art. Essays have been penned and debates conducted over how to explain it. But usually people agree that outsider artists are self-taught artists who think outside the box.
I would say that they are people who use art to tell their story, Gutlon said. Some have art training, but a lot of them only have art to tell their story as they dont have the education or the writing skills to put into words the story they are trying to tell.
Creating this art is how they capture and remember their lives. said Gutlon,
Gutlon, who recently opened an annex to her gallery at 721 Broad St., in the American Dance Festival building, invited Shaffer to be the gallerys first artist in community resident. Shaffer spent the week before the show opened Nov. 8 offering five workshops in conjunction with Durhams happymess Art Studios.
There are a lot of people who cant get to studios and we want to bring the art to them, Gutlon explained. Shaffer went to a rehab center for elderly people, a school, and worked with mentally challenged people.
People who knew Shaffer as she began and flourished in her career appreciated her primitive, narrative paintings.
You go along and develop a particular way in how you see and create. Sometimes an artist will get locked into their own style and feel she cant depart from it since it is successful and people expect it. I had gotten to that point, Shaffer said.
Then Shaffer died.
I had an illness in 1985 where my heart stopped for three and a half minutes. So one day my art was this way and the next it was completely different, Shaffer said.
Mythical creatures began to dominate her paintings.
Someone important to her told her she had to stop since her audience would not be able to follow her.
It made me more determined to do what I was seeing or doing. It would have made me sad, unfulfilled, and stunted in my growth as an artist, said Shaffer, whose art star never dimmed and has just gotten brighter over the years.
The exhibit ends Dec. 1.
Now living outside of Asheville, Shaffer said she is very grateful to have found Gutlon.
She deeply understands the artists she works with, Shaffer said. We are not just a commodity to her. A lot of dealers promote our weirdness. Pamela has taken this whole group of people that are very different in their views of life and our stories and she has made this a cohesive space for people to be able to view us as truly who we are creative, expressive human beings with a unique vision in life.