7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Revival by author Frances O'Roark Dowell

An enchanting 7:30 BELLS Guest Post is by the perceptive and evocative Frances O'Roark Dowell, author of award-winning novels for middle grade readers.

On those occasions when my spirit needs reviving, I like to go out and look at art.

On Friday I went to Duke’s Nasher Museum, five minutes down the road from my house, to see the paintings of Archibald Motley. Most of the paintings on exhibit were from his time spent in the bars and clubs of southside Chicago in the 1930s and ‘40s, the Bronzeville many of us know from the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks.

Motley’s palette is electric, pulsing reds and blues, and ecstatic faces and serpentine bodies crowd his canvases. These are characters that will not be spending Sunday morning in church because they’re spending Saturday night at the Sunset Café.

They are looking for ways to celebrate after a great migration and a long week of work, and their faces say, I have wiped the dust of Birmingham/Greenville/Little Rock/Macon off my feet, and now I’m going to drink and dance all night.

The paintings, like the people in them, practically leap from the walls. The vibrant blues that Motley employs vibrate on the canvas. I like how noisy the paintings are, how you can almost hear the trumpets and trombones. 

To witness someone else’s imagination at work feeds my own imagination. To receive stories without words (sometimes my mind is too weary for words) ignites the storyteller in me. What happens next, I wonder as I gaze upon a crowd of Motley’s people pushing past each other on the street? The woman in the blue dress, what’s going on with her? What’s her apartment like? What did she leave behind when she shut the door on Fayetteville or Baton Rouge?

I am fed by the images and fed by being in the presence of creative genius. “Look at this!” Archibald Motley calls to me from across the room. “It’s important! It means something!”

Look at this, I remind myself as I walk to my car, the bells ringing. Look at that. Look at all of it.

And arrive home revived.

Great works of imagination
make the bells ring

Archibald Motley video documentary

Frances O’Roark Dowell is the bestselling author of over a dozen books for young readers, including Dovey Coe (winner of a 2001 Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award); Where I’d Like to Be; The Secret Language of Girls, Chicken Boy (an ALA Notable Book and an NCTE Notable Book), Shooting the Moon (winner of the Christopher Award and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award honor book), The Second Life of Abigail Walker, which was named a 2012 PW Best Book of the Year, and most recently, The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away, a Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books 2013 Blue Ribbon Book. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband, two sons, and their dog.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me in April for a guest post with author Janet Lee Carey, author of Dragonswood. 

Regular 7:30 BELLS Posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.