An Interview with Cora Marshall

8-Count and the Portico present Cora Marshall‘s new exhibit, Silent Memory: Clan & Kin. This collection of work will be on display at the Portico Cafe gallery from January through March. Opening reception will be Fourth Friday on March 22nd between 6-9pm with open mic night performances. Get to know Cora and her artistic talents below.


What drives your creative process and motivates you to create?

Through art, I locate the places that form when ideas cross: ideas of self, home, and community. I have been making art for 50 years and the impulse to create is part of who I am. It centers me and informs how I move through the world.

Where did you train, what was your experience like, or how did you begin the style or direction you have now?

Growing up, I attended Catholic elementary and high school where the emphasis was strictly academic (no art classes). As a result, when I started at university and had to declare a major, I went with what I was good at in high school. I began in chemistry (not very interesting), then math (too tedious), and finally settled on elementary education (I love children, so this was a good fit). It wasn’t until the end of my Junior year at Howard that I decided to take a painting course to fulfill my fine arts requirement. Immediately, I knew I had found my vocation and my advocation. I literally got on my knees in thankful prayer. Up until then, like most folks, I had not identified my passion. I was truly grateful for locating the path by which I could express and explore who I am, how I feel, what I perceive, and where I fit into the larger world around me.

As for my career, I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art Education from Howard University. I taught in the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) for almost 20 years before returning to school to earn a Master of Science in Education from Bank Street College of Education with Parsons School of Design in 1993. Afterward, I became Curriculum and Staff Development Specialist for Fine Arts and Technology in the Alexandria City Public Schools. Once again, I returned to school and attended New York University. I was awarded my doctorate in Art in 1997. After, I accepted a position in the Art Department at Central Connecticut State University where I taught and, eventually, served as chairperson of the Department from 2006-2012. I am currently a Professor of Art Emeritus at CCSU and teach 2 courses in photography there online.

Describe your style, subject, or creative process.

My work is almost always figurative and often mixed media. I am intrigued with layers and textures.

Power of Yesterday: Poem and Artwork by Cora Marshall

Overview: Art by Cora Marshall


Are there any artists, art pieces, galleries, or locations that inspire you?

-Artists: There are too many to name. The top four would be: Renee Stout for her Nkisi works, Charlotte Ka for her use of color and forms, Lois Jones (She was one of my teachers at Howard) for her philosophy and technical influence, and Betye Saar for her storytelling and mixing of media.

-Museum: Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France for the concentration of impressionist paintings.

-Local: Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum for their connection to the community; Gallerie 909 for bringing artists of color works to the forefront; Studio@620 for variety of art traditions and youth connections, and Morean Art Center for their teaching and presentation of area artists.

Where do you create, and do you draw inspiration from your environment? Have you ever traveled or studied elsewhere?

I create in my home-studio located on Boca Ciega Bay. Living at the water’s edge restores my soul daily and provides a tranquil rhythm in my life that allows me to touch, reflect, and tap into my creative self. I’ve traveled to Paris, several times; Rome, several times; Venice; Florence; French Riviera; Barcelona; and Madrid.

What is the storyline for this exhibit?

For this exhibition, I choose work from 3 series that explore the silent memory of clan and kin: “In and Out of Time”, a mixed media painting series in which I consider the power of family memories to transport the viewer to another time and place and “Of Blood and Bones”, that explores not only family resemblances among my ancestors, but also painting techniques that combine the abstract serendipitous flow of poured paint with realistic portraits. Last, I am including “Ghosts” a traditional film large format photo process in which Colonial and African images were projected over my body and long exposures were used to capture movement.


In and Out of Time is a mixed media painting series that explores the power of family memories to transport the viewer to another time and place. Using copies of old family photographs, acrylic paint, and specialty papers, she creates textured spaces in which observers can be present in the past. By doing so, she invites the viewer to reminisce about their own experiences growing up back in the day. Fragments of Maya Angelou’s poem, of the same name, is embedded within the painting.


Using precious photos of relatives from the family tree as reference, the artist explores not only family resemblances among her ancestors, but also painting techniques that combine the abstract serendipitous flow of poured paint with realistic portraits. The visual drift and movement creates a pensive place in which to reside as viewers meet the ancestors face to face. Selected for this exhibition are the Langston’s of Virginia from the artist’s maternal side. James Henry (Great-Great Grandfather), his wife Primmie and their two daughters Pearline and Maggie (Great Grandmother). Included also are James Henry’s brother, Jesse, who was captured by the Confederate army even though he was a “free man of color” 1 and Jesse’s son, the Reverend Robert Jackson Langston.

1 Letter written to Thomas Pratt Turner (1841–1900) as commander of Confederate military prisons in Richmond and includes a letter from Daniel Brinkley of Nansemond County requesting the release of Jesse Langston, a free Negro.


GHOSTS is a black and white photographic series inspired by my desire to connect to and summon up Colonial and African memories that happened in the past but still haunt the present. By visually conjuring ghosts from those bygone times, I invite viewers to contemplate the power of the past and how it still informs the here and now. To achieve this effect, Colonial and African images were projected over my body and long exposures were used to capture movement. The photos were then captured using a large format film camera and printed on velvet rag paper.

Do you have a favorite piece in this show or from your portfolio?

FIRST HOLY COMMUNION (18” x 24“) Mixed Media

In time of great sorrow, such as the passing of a child, often we turn to our faith and church for comfort and understanding. For Mama, this was especially true. She took us out of public school and enrolled us at Sacred Heart Catholic Grade School. I was in the third grade, Nickie in the fourth. I remember having to have to catch up because my classmates already knew how to write in cursive and do division. They also had their First Holy Communion. That meant that Nickie and I went through catechism classes together learning doctrine (Who made you? God made me/Why did God make you? /To know, love, and serve Him); memorizing prayers (I believe in God the Father Almighty creator of Heaven and Earth); and learning how to make a proper confession (Bless me Father for I have sinned.).

Who were your teachers and what were some of your greatest learning moments?

Lois Maelou Jones: Lois Jones taught me the fine art of seeing beyond the first glance.(Howard University, 1969-71) Lois Mailou Jones (1905 Boston, MA. – 1998 Washington, D.C.) Her life spanned almost all the twentieth century—a time of unprecedented changes in American history—and she was an active participant in the development of African-American influence in the arts.  She was a trailblazer, a respected college professor, an artist ambassador, and an international expert on culture who documented everything she saw and did as a painter in the Harlem Renaissance, as an illustrator for Carter Woodson, a colleague of Alain Locke and Langston Hughes, an educator and mentor, and a champion of black artists in Africa and the Caribbean. Lois was fond of saying, "At 90, I arrived!" Lois was invited to the White House eight times, she visited and spoke at 15 foreign embassies, many dozens of college campuses and international events. She was one of the longest living artists of the Harlem Renaissance, but is only now being recognized and studied as a trailblazer in the Civil Rights movement. She knew many heads of state personally, painted their official portraits, and received their awards and citations. Today her work is in public buildings, museums and private homes all over the world.

Hughie Lee Smith: Lee-Smith taught me the importance of locating and listing to my inner voice and making the invisible perceivable. Hughie Lee-Smith was best known for his depictions of figures in desolate or surreal landscapes, rendered in a manner similar to Giorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper. His works appear to be frozen moments from a film, pregnant with meaning but within an indiscernible narrative. “I think my paintings have to do with an invisible life—a reality on a different level,”

Leo Robinson: Leo Robinson was my first art teacher. To this day whenever I paint I remember is advice: “Treat the last ¼ inch of the painting with the same care as you do the center.”

Stephanie Rose: After a 20-year hiatus from academia, when I returned to school to pursue my master’s degree, Stephanie was my instructor at Parsons School of Design. She taught me to be fearless and intuitive when approaching my paintings. Her favorite saying: “Get over yourself!” Under her tutorage, I moved from a neutral palette to one that enthused color as a central component in my work.

Outside of creating, what else brings you joy? What are some of your hobbies or do you work in addition to being an artist?

  • Riding on my three-wheel bike.
  • Water Aerobics with my sister
  • Teaching online

Describe your family or your tribe. Who has been your greatest support from family, friends, your chosen tribe, to any part of the community?

My husband for the last 42 years; my sister Teresa Suter all my life; and my best friend for the last 50 years, artist Bridget Marshall. Since the show is all about family, please see the exhibition notes for details and family stories.

View more of her work here

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