JOPLIN, Mo. —
Alice Lynn Greenwood would like to introduce you to her friends.
She saw these men and women for years, as early as 3 or 4 years old growing up in Little Rock, Ark., during the days of segregation and integration. Greenwood said she had imaginary friends who were dark-skinned grownups. They would visit her, talk to her, play with her and help her make imaginary art. They told her their names, and they had wonderfully fun times together in the forest.
"It was a little perplexing and confusing as a kid," Greenwood said. "I had a repertoire of imaginary friends of color, but when I rode the bus, those people had to sit in the back. I couldn't figure it out."
Those friends can now be seen by everyone. They are featured in an exhibit called "Les Morts et Les Mysteres," on display until Saturday at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company.
The exhibit, which includes works that Greenwood has created over about a decade, is a mix of some 2-D and mostly 3-D wall hangings that feature a mix of bright colors; whimsical, peaceful figures; and adornments from beads to a small, heart-shaped cage.
Though her portfolio is large and features many of the same vivid styles and interpretations of words, the exhibit is the most connected to her history and personality.
"This is the one that most directly relates to that childhood," Greenwood said. "For all the different experiences that I've had, this one opened me up to another dimension."
Greenwood has been a lifelong artist, from her college days earning a bachelor of arts degree in studio art from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., to a career as a commercial artist that started in high school and led to a job in New York City. She also worked on earning a master's degree in theology from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in Manhattan, designed for a small fashion house and raised two children.
Her work features bright, vivid colors and strong lines -- two things that energize her creativity, she said.
The two also led her to a strong love of artistic depictions of words. Many of her works feature written messages, a habit inspired by gifts from her father.
"My father traveled a lot and always brought back Little Golden Books," Greenwood said. "I loved those books. I learned to read and write by tracing the letters. It was very tactile for me."
She never lost the desire to touch those letters -- she said she's smudged paint more than once tracing the letters of a project in progress.
But with her career and studies, there wasn't much time for painting, she said. She got a chance to draw a little bit here and there, but for the most part, her paints and brushes remained in cardboard boxes. After her children moved out, she was ready to take up painting again, she said, but another part of her family called.
"I was in Vermont on a painting fellowship," Greenwood said. "It was cold up there. During one of the colder days, I had this increased awareness of my parents and felt like they needed me."
She left the fellowship early, packed up her belongings from her Brooklyn apartment and moved back home to Little Rock in the early '90s, ready to live for a decade with her aging parents, but they died a few years later.
Not ready to return to New York City, Greenwood said she moved to a remote location in Newton County, Ark., by the Little Buffalo River. She lived there with her two dogs, two cats and three hens for about four years around the the turn of the millenium.
And that's when her imaginary friends came back.