Louise Thornton Hollowell
Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell: Educator and Activist.
oil on canvas, 25" x 20", by Brian Owens, 2011
Cut From the Same Cloth
by Brian R. Owens

March 30, 2012

Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell, a retired professor, is the widow of Mr. Donald L. Hollowell, who was known as Georgia's foremost civil rights attorney and one of the best in the south in the 1950's and 1960's. They were a team until his death in 2004.

I met Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell and some of her family at her home in Atlanta in January 2011. She was 103 years of age. She gave me an "executive summary" of her life and times, recounting a few of the formative events and dates with precision - less so for recent events - as I sipped orange juice in her living room.

Time was a critical factor because of her limited energy. Also, she was accustomed to eating and resting at specific times so there was none to waste. I rearranged the furniture in her living room and sat her close enough to a large window to use cool natural light and far enough from it to avoid her catching cold from the draft. I concentrated on taking a lot of photographs first, then commenced the painting back at my studio in Florida. The size and composition of the portrait was approved by a member of the Trust that looks after her before I left Atlanta. The oil portrait of Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell was completed from a combination of photographs and sittings over a period of several months. I did not feel the need to accurately portray every wrinke - every betrayal of the human face - and turned back the clock a bit as I painted. I figured she would not mind. This involved reinventing her eyes, or imagining the eyes as she may have appeared at 80 and adding color to the skin. She had told me about her experience as a professor: How some of her students had succeeded in politics and held high, unelected positions in the Executive branch under more than one President. She had been invited by her former students to visit the White House twice. There was pride in her voice and sometimes it played on her face. I tried to include this in the portrait.

When I began my career as an artist I thought I was fairly well informed on the subject of the civil rights movement. This was not the case. As it happened, I learned about the movement as I did commissions like this one, remembering just enough to recall the key points later over cocktails with my friends and sound like an oracle of knowledge. I am not a proper historian, but I have been impressed with the role women played in the civil rights movement. After Rosa Parks, history records the prime movers as men. Speaking for myself, it is the men in their prominent positions that dominated my imagination until recently. I can't help but wonder if the patriarchal system into which we were born has overshadowed the contributions of Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell and a legion of women like her, without whom the movement may not have been possible.

I haven't done any research but I've met a number of women like Mrs. Louise Thornton Hollowell who - during the movement - were often highly educated, beyond the obligations of motherhood, who moved ceaselessly in an unseen sysytem of human gears that delivered power to the slowly turning wheels of social change. I suspect that many of them were cut from the same cloth as such historic figures as Cary Steele Logan. I spoke about Logan during a recent podcast asking "how shall we measure the lives ... of those like her; these giants who rest in unvisited tombs, whose names are seldom spoken, upon whose shoulders we stand?".
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