Artist Carroll Cloar was born in Earle, Arkansas, on January 18, 1913. His childhood memories of his birthplace defined his art during the latter part of his career and gained him national recognition. Flat color forms and decorative patterning are elements of his distinctive style.
Cloar came to Tennessee in 1930 and attended Southwestern University at Memphis as an English major. After a trip to Europe he returned to Memphis and enrolled at the Memphis Academy of Art, studying with George Oberteuffer. From 1936 to 1940 he attended the Art Students League in New York, studying under Arnold Blanch, William McNutty, Harry Sternberg, and Ernest Feine. During this period he produced a series of lithographs based upon the landscape and community of Earle, Arkansas, which gained him the McDowell Traveling Fellowship in 1940. Cloar spent this time journeying through the western United States and Mexico before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II.
After the war Cloar revisited Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he received in 1946. He continued to travel extensively throughout Central and South America until 1950. In 1955, after he had clearly determined the direction of his art, Cloar established a permanent residence in Memphis in order to remain closer to his southern roots. The year of his return, Cloar produced fourteen works, among them his well-known My Father Was Big as a Tree. He held his first one-man show in Memphis in 1953; this was followed by a New York showing in 1956 which firmly established his career and gave him national exposure. In the ensuing years he had more than ten exhibitions at Tennessee museums in addition to his New York showings. Museums across the country and private collectors acquired his works.
Cloar drew images of churches, graveyards, schoolhouses, and individuals from old Kodak photographs found in his family albums. He also obtained photographs from the estate of an African American photographer in Arkansas and transformed them into paintings such as The Wedding Party (1971) and The Pastor (1970). Termed “a poetic expression of a child's vision and memory,” his interpretation of these people, places, and incidents represents a distillation of his personal Arkansas boyhood experiences in the early twentieth century. (1) Cloar described these images as “American faces, timeless dress and timeless customs . . . the last of old America that isn't long for this earth.” (2) Cloar died in Memphis in 1993.