Feeling the groove
S. Chuck McCarter has always felt our neighborhood’s artistic energy. He uses meditation to tap that energy like a keg, letting the creativity flow with a series of abstract birds and snakes who serve as messengers.
For decades, McCarter enjoyed a meandering artist’s life, exhibiting his colorful abstract work, teaching around the country and curating shows. But when it came time to retire, he wanted nothing more than to head back to East Dallas, where his roots run deep.
McCarter grew up in the Urbandale/Pleasant Grove area, a “safe and close knit” area where he walked to school and roamed the neighborhood on his bike. Though he describes his childhood as “lovely,” his was not the easiest of beginnings. Given up for adoption at birth, he spent his first year at Hope Cottage, a nonprofit adoption center on Texas Street, and was nearly transferred to an orphanage where adoptions were rare.
Then came Dorothy and Charlie McCarter, who tragically lost their daughter to scarlet fever. Seeking to adopt, Dorothy visited Hope Cottage where she was told about all the children in need of homes, including a certain 13-month-old boy. McCarter’s eyes well with tears as he tells of Dorothy’s immediate response.
“I’ll take him,” she said. “He’s the one we want.”
Sight unseen, the McCarters gained a son, and the future artist had a family. His father toiled at a steel factory, his mother stayed home (“like June Cleaver”), and McCarter grew up feeling safe and loved.
The Sunday newspaper meant the comics section, which McCarter studied intently, noting lines and shades, subtle differences apparent only to an artist’s eye. On weekends and summer days, McCarter went to the library where he could spend hours browsing through books. He was first drawn to ancient history and archaeology books, intrigued by cave drawings with their simple lines and techniques. Eventually, McCarter picked up art history books, and found himself at home in the world of Matisse and Picasso.
A typical teen, art played second fiddle to baseball, track and girls. During his years at Dallas ISD’s Samuell High School, he spent a fair amount of time “cruising” around White Rock Lake and down Buckner, maybe with a stop at The Pig Stand for a sandwich. McCarter laughs as he remembers using the ghostly “Lady of the Lake” story on dates — perhaps to encourage a bit of protective snuggling.
It was while he was at Samuell that he joined the newspaper staff as artist/cartoonist and had his very own “McCarter’s Corner” space in the paper where no topic was immune from his editorial jabs.
“I was pretty brutal with my images,” he chuckles. Peers, faculty, staff – all got the McCarter treatment, be they bullies, teachers who were detention-happy, or administrators (a.k.a. “The Man”). Despite the levity, the serious artist within him was learning: “It was a real source of style and technique for me.”
After graduation, McCarter served in the U.S. Air Force, and the GI Bill, allowed him to become the first in his family to attend college, beginning at El Centro. He would eventually transfer to University of North Texas where he earned a graduate degree in studio drawing and painting. “UNT was pretty radical and a real eye opener as far as creativity,” he says.
Soon after, McCarter was offered the plum position of art professor at Anderson University in South Carolina. For 10 years, he built the program there, then moved on to educator positions in Virginia, Michigan and Mississippi. During his decades teaching, he also curated exhibits for such luminaries as Milton Avery and Jasper Johns; studied nationally and in Italy and Greece; and exhibited his own abstract work. Busy as he was in the classroom, the brush always beckoned.
A few years ago, McCarter left academia to do what he loves most, and he became a full-time studio artist. Where to retire was not a difficult decision. He wanted to come home to East Dallas.
“The space, the culture and the energy are all here,” he says, sitting in his modest home near White Rock Lake. “The community is a perfect blend of older citizens and young couples with young children. The neighborhood isn’t dying out, it’s being reborn, almost a renaissance. There’s a thirst for the creative here.”
He laughs as he adds, “It’s like the 1960s — a hotbed for social and aesthetic culture.”
He couldn’t stay out of the classroom, accepting teaching positions at the Creative Arts Center and Bath House Cultural Center. He recently led CAC students in a course on using meditation as a pathway to creating abstract art.
As he’d hoped, he’s spending much of his time creating new works, many of which have been displayed around Dallas.
He continues adding to his art series entitled “Whimsical,” abstractions filled with the aforementioned birds, snakes and all manner of animals as messengers. His art process always begins with meditation.
“It relaxes me and helps me find my deepest soul,” he says, “letting the piece tell me what it wants to become.”
Patti Vinson is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for over 15 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine, and has taught college writing.
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