Drawn back in: Mother, grandmother rediscover art through child’s creations

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Jemerit Bryant, center, his mother, Toccara Bellamy, left, and grandmother Elma Cosley are featured in a multi-generational art exhibit. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Jemerit Bryant, center, his mother, Toccara Bellamy, left, and grandmother Elma Cosley are featured in a multi-generational art exhibit. Photos by Hilary Snow.

For Elma Cosley, art is not something you pursue. It’s something that finds you.

“It’s like a magnet,” she said.

So, it’s no surprise that, although Cosley has put her talent to the side many times throughout her life, it always finds its way back.

Most recently, it was thanks to her 12-year-old grandson, Jemerit Bryant.

Jemerit's work includes this pencil and ink rendering of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jemerit’s work includes this pencil and ink rendering of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jemerit–a longtime art student at Dreams of Wilmington–along with his grandmother and his mother, Toccara Bellamy, are all featured in the exhibit, “A Family of Dreams,” now on display at the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County’s ACES Gallery.

“He really encouraged me to get back on it,” Cosley said of Jemerit. “You know, I had put my pencil down for a little bit.”

The multi-generational exhibit came about when Dreams of Wilmington–which offers free arts courses to area youth in need– approached Bellamy’s husband, Jarrell, about featuring Jemerit in an upcoming exhibit. The rising eighth-grader at Myrtle Grove Middle School has been taking comic art, drawing, painting, pottery and printmaking classes through Dreams for four years.

“My husband said, ‘you know, my wife and her mother can draw, too,'” Bellamy recalled. “So, he kind of put the idea out there.”

Like her mother before her, Bellamy discovered her own skills in high school. But, as often happens, life and motherhood pushed artwork to the backburner for many years.

Bellamy works primarily with colored pencils, creating vivid family portraits.
Bellamy works primarily with colored pencils, creating vivid family portraits.

Still, seeing a bit of herself in Jemerit–who said he “always knew” he was an artist–Bellamy has always encouraged her son to explore and improve on his abilities.

“I have all his work in preschool still–he was drawing pictures of Barney and things like that. I was amazed,” Bellamy said.

And both Bellamy and Cosley have been amazed by the passion for art Jemerit–and the exhibit–have reignited in them.

“A Family of Dreams” highlights Jemerit’s knack for creative takes on some famous faces–Martin Luther King, Jr. and NBA star Kevin Durant, among them–some sketched with his signature style of licking a finger and smudging the pencil lead to create shading.

For their parts, Bellamy mostly picked older work, Bellamy showcasing her ultra-vivid, almost watercolor-like colored pencil drawings of family, with a hip homage to R&B singer Mary J. Blige thrown in the mix.

A prolific Cosley churned out new pieces focused on black history that run the gamut from poet Maya Angelou to rapper Biggie Smalls.

“I whipped these up real quick. I wish I could do what she does with colored pencil,” Cosley said of her daughter. “But I seem to do better with charcoal for some reason.”

Rapper Biggie Smalls is among the subjects Cosley chose, under the theme of black history, for her charcoal installation.
Rapper Biggie Smalls is among the subjects Cosley chose, under the theme of black history, for her charcoal installation.

While Bellamy’s work in the exhibit is years old, sorting through her past creations has gotten her wanting to finish up unfinished old projects and get started on some new ones. It’s gotten Cosley motivated, too, to keep at it.

“I didn’t think I could jump back to where I used to be, but I did–like riding a bike, one foot at a time,” Cosley noted.

Although he also has aspirations of being an athlete, Jemerit said has no plans of slowing down, artistically speaking.

And as he keeps sketching, his mother and grandmother–whom he has thanked for his talent–will be right there beside him.

“Art is something that is always drawing you in,” she said. “I’m not going to stop. But I am more excited for Jemerit than I am for me.”

“A Family of Dreams” runs until Aug. 25 at ACES Gallery, 221 N. Front St., Suite 101. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Monday through Friday. Admission to the exhibit is free.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.