Artist documents local sites
By Susan Shinn
For The Salisbury Post
Marshall Stokes may be modest and unassuming, but he knows exactly what he wants when it comes to art.
“You just know it when you see it,” he says of the ideas he gets for his oil paintings.
Since he retired four years ago, he’s created nearly two dozen paintings of scenes around Salisbury and Rowan County. They might be local architecture, such as the Depot or the Bell Tower. They might be of churches, such as St. John’s Lutheran or St. Luke’s Episcopal. Or they might be of the backwaters of the Yadkin River.
Marshall knows it when he sees it.
His biggest fan and promoter is Betty Black, who owns The Emporium with husband Mickey.
“I tell him all the time how great he is,” says the ever-enthusiastic Betty. “He’s too modest.”
“We have exclusive rights,” her husband adds.
Marshall, 68, and his wife, Hazel, enjoyed visiting The Emporium from their home in Rockwell, and one day, Stokes asked Mickey if he could bring some paintings to show.
Of course, the business owner gets requests like that all the time, but once he saw them, he asked Marshall to leave them so Betty could see them.
When she called him that evening, Marshall was out mowing the grass.
Betty told him, “You need to hire someone to mow your yard and get a paint brush in your hand.”
Now, Marshall has a space just inside The Emporium’s front door — and he’s become friends with Mickey and Betty.
“She really promotes my art,” he says. “She’s really helped me out. It keeps me painting. I know she’s waiting on me to bring her something.”
Marshall has been painting since the 1970s.
“I bought my children a paint set because my son showed interest in art,” he says. “He didn’t use it and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I started and went from there.”
The Stokeses have three children and two grandsons.
Marshall likes painting with oil because he gets more time to work with it. He’s tried acrylic, he says, but it dries too quickly for him.
Marshall painted during the 24 years he worked for Wickes Lumber, in inventory control and sales. After Wickes closed, he went to work for his son, doing carpentry work for the next 15 years. He still does work for folks from time to time, because he doesn’t like to say no to requests.
Still, he says, he likes to paint every day. He spends a great deal of time, too, looking after his wife, who uses a wheelchair.
He decided when he retired that painting was going to be his job.
He often walks around downtown, shooting pictures with his Canon camera, until he finds just the angle he wants to create on canvas — well, in his case, masonite board.
“It’s just the artist’s eye,” he says. “You see something and you can see the painting.”
That was the case when he was walking near the Yadkin Hotel and found exactly the right angle for a painting he wanted to do of the Depot.
“All of a sudden,” he says, “there it was.”
Then he had to take into the account the right time of day and consider the shadows, the color balances.
It’s interesting to note that Marshall is completely self-taught.
“It’s trial and error,” he admits. “You study other art and books.”
Betty says his work just blows her away.
The brickwork detail on the Depot painting is truly unbelievable. From a distance, it does look like a photograph.
But as any realist painter will tell you, Marshall wants it to do more than mimic a photo. He wants it to be better.
“Hopefully, you beat the camera as far as aesthetics,” he says.
The painting of the Depot is one of Marshall’s favorites, but he was relieved when it was finished. After all, he’d painted it brick by brick.
“It takes patience,” he says. “A lot of patience.”
But, he adds, “Once you finish and see the finished painting, you say it’s worth it all.”
He’s painted Cartucci’s restaurant with patrons on the sidewalk during Friday Night Out, the storefront of Hot Junk on Main Street and a night scene of Downtown Salisbury looking north on Main Street with the Thread Shed in the right corner. He liked the artistic touch of the balcony with metal railing atop the storefront.
“That’s probably the best looking part of the painting, and what attracted me more than anything,” he says.
Marshall also painted Off Main gallery, owned by Clyde. This was during the time of the great underwear controversy, so the painting is complete with a set of giant underwear flying out front.
He points out, “You’ve got three different kinds of art in the painting: realism, abstract and Impressionism. You don’t see Clyde, but you know he’s lurking somewhere. Clyde liked the fact I had his mixer in there.”
His current project is a painting of the Empire Hotel, based on a Theo Buerbaum postcard. He worried about getting the domes just right, so he did that part first, painting form the top down.
As to what he’ll paint next, it will more than likely be another scene celebrating the architecture of Rowan County.
“That seems to be what people like,” Marshall says. “The purpose of doing it is to do what people like and enjoy.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.