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Mixed-media artist uses oral history for works on exhibit at Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum

TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALD'Sometimes at Dawn' by Delita Martin, 2015. Gelatin printing, Conte, acrylic, hand stitching.
TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALD'Sometimes at Dawn' by Delita Martin, 2015. Gelatin printing, Conte, acrylic, hand stitching.

The faces are compelling.

"I Come from Women Who Could Fly" is the exhibit of works by Delita Martin at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art's Beau Rivage Resort & Casino Gallery of African American Art through Nov. 29 in Biloxi. The Texas native uses a variety of media in her works, which tell a story based on family oral history.

The 22-piece exhibit includes 17 mixed-media works and five "stories," 3-D paper pieces shaped like houses (which Martin calls books) on which vignettes -- remembered stories, narratives or free-form verse -- are printed.

The mixed-media portraits are large-scale gelatin prints, as large as 7 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. They're not framed. Instead, they are on open paper, held up by magnets on the gallery's walls. As a result, museum patrons can better see the hand-stitching and appliqued fabric, pieced like quilts. Without frames, the pieces become more intimately connected to the viewer. The large portraits also draw the viewer toward their subjects.

"They're all singular faces, larger than life," Ohr Museum executive director Kevin O'Brien said. "They have a presence that really speaks to you."

It's her grandmother's stories that knit the exhibit together.

"When I was growing up, I was surrounded by very talented individuals," Martin said in her artist's statement. "They did many things but I remember them as storytellers and quilt-makers. It was not until much later in life that I understood these talents as forms of art and also appreciated their importance to me and the impact on my work.

"I always loved listening to my grandmother tell stories as she quilted. She referred to the process of quilting as 'piecing together.' She would skillfully stitch together pieces of old school clothes, baby blankets, work shirts and torn jeans into a patchwork of our family history. While she stitched, she told stories that were so intricately woven with the fantastic and passion that I would be left in awe and surprise. Each character was implanted in my mind to replay their role long after the story had been told."

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