There was never any doubt that Tarleton Blackwell would grow up to be an artist. He grew up the youngest child in a family of artists.
Mr. Blackwell, who was recently named the Martha Beach Endowed Chair in Art at UNC Pembroke, said he and his three siblings were inspired by a father who was a master bricklayer and an uncle who is revered for his work as an embalmer.
To some, these may be unusual sources of artistic inspiration, but not so for a youngster growing up in rural South Carolina.
"I grew up in a pretty small place, but I have come to realize that it is a wonderful place to live and create art," Mr. Blackwell said. "It took me quite some time to see the beauty that was all around me."
Mr. Blackwell grew up in Manning, S.C., which he says is centrally located about an hour from everywhere.
As for his uncle, the mortician, Mr. Blackwell, the painter, has nothing but admiration.
"He was well known for his restorative art techniques," Mr. Blackwell said. "He took it to the level of an art form, just as my father did with brick masonry."
And Mr. Blackwell knows something about both art and embalming. He is a master painter and a licensed embalmer.
Members of the UNCP Art Department courted Mr. Blackwell over a several year period.
"Last fall, I had my second show (fall 2001) at the university," he said. "Professor Ralph Steeds saw my work several years ago in a Charlotte gallery show, and after a second show in Pembroke, I was invited to apply for the Martha Beach Chair."
Art Department Chair Paul Van Zandt said Mr. Blackwell is a great asset to his department and its students.
"Tarleton Blackwell is a very talented painter and a great teacher with a genuine concern for the artistic development of our students," Mr. Van Zandt said. "I am very excited to have him join the faculty of the Art Department."
He is a 1978 graduate of Benedict College and received both the Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from the University of South Carolina.
In 1990, he received his Associate of Science degree in Funeral Service from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta. He serves as funeral director and embalmer for Blackwell and Jenkins Funeral Home in Manning.
Mr. Blackwell is a former art instructor for Clarendon County School District Two, South Carolina State University, Williamsburg County Schools, the Columbia Museum of Art and the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts.
He has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 1994 Southern Arts Federation/ National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellowship in Painting. Mr. Blackwell has been named an "Outstanding Young Man of America" and an "Outstanding Professional South Carolinian in the Field of Art".
Mr. Blackwell's work has been displayed in over one 170 solo and group exhibitions including the Horwitch Lew Allen Gallery, Santa Fe, N.M.; College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, N.M.; Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Va.; Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, N.Y. City; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Albany Museum of Art, Albany, Ga.
His art works are represented in numerous corporate and private collections including the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, GA; and the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC.
He had a show, Jan. 17- March 9, at the City Art Gallery in Columbia, S.C. Recently, one of his large-scale works was hung in the U.S. ambassador's residence in Lagos, Nigeria. Another is in the South Carolina Statehouse.
Mr. Blackwell draws inspiration from his rural surroundings for subjects of his painting. Family portraits, hogs, dogs, historical images and other animals and objects inhabit his work.
His "Hog Series" is now over 20-years old and contains 250 pieces. Just as the hog was once the staple of rural Southern diet, it forms the core of Mr. Blackwell's work.
"My fascination with hogs goes back to the time when my family raised them commercially," he said.
An advertisement for his show at City Art Gallery calls him, "the celebrated interpreter of the myth of the rural South."
"My own visual language expresses the cultural of rural South Carolina," he said. "I employ an impressionistic style with Baroque composition."
He said his major influences are Spanish painter Diego Velasquez and American portrait artist John Singer Sargent. He admits to a twist of surrealist Salvador Dali and some other influences as well.
Primarily, work in art should be self-satisfying, he said.
"I never look at art as work," Mr. Blackwell said. "It is a pleasure."
His joy of expression will be passed along to UNCP art students in his beginning and advanced painting classes in the spring semester.