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The Voice of the Black Community

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McColl Center artist-in-residence feels the embrace of settings
Stephanie J. Woods a Charlotte native
Published Sunday, July 8, 2018 5:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Stephanie J. Woods creates with what surrounds her.

Woods may be a native Charlottean and Myers Park High School alumnus, but she has been away from the Queen City for nearly a decade.
An artist-in-residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, she’ll depart just before the end of her summer residency on Aug. 5 for two more residencies: ACRE Residency in Wisconsin, which begins on Aug. 6, followed by a seven-month residency through the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

She spent the last year teaching Space Research (Introduction to Sculpture) at Virginia Commonwealth University, after earning an undergraduate degree in sculpture and graduate degree in sculpture and new media at UNC Greensboro.

“This is really my first time back since 2008,” Woods said. “When I was here, I wasn’t really invested in the arts scene. I was kind of rebellious about being an artist. In high school, I was doing everything but fine arts. I was doing culinary, orchestra, theater — all the other arts. It was really just limited to school, and when I left school, I would just go to work.”

Her journey to UNCG initially included pursuit of a degree in marketing. It did not last long, as she returned to Charlotte to attend Central Piedmont Community College, followed by UNC Charlotte, and eventually returning to UNCG.

“I was majoring in marketing, and I sucked at it,” Woods said. “I transferred to so many different schools, and then finally took a ceramics class, and it all clicked, that this is what I was supposed to be doing, when I kept trying to kind of deny it. That’s when I got a degree in sculpture—after a I took that ceramics class, and I realized that I really love doing stuff with my hands.”

It became an obsession for Woods.

“I would get to school at like seven o’clock in the morning before classes started, and I would be there in the studio,” Woods said. “I would stay there the entire day — until the evening, and then go home.”

One creative expression prior to her light bulb experience presented itself in the form of sewing, taking individual sewing classes. She took a course called “Variable Topics in Drawing” at UNCG, which brought her back to her favorite part of creating.

“Our professor introduced us to using the materials that are around us — every day that’s available,” Woods said. “That’s when it began to fall back into the original source of what I love about art, which is using things around me, and sewing.”

Woods’ current project is a love letter to black women entitled “A Radiant Revolution,” which has pieces from its first phase on view at the McColl.

“I went to predominantly African American neighborhoods, specifically in Richmond, Virginia,” Woods said. “I went into a department store, and there were all these T-shirts that had these affirmations that were supposed to represent resilience, and uplifting one’s self-esteem.”

There she saw shirts that read: “My Black is Beautiful,” “Strong Black Girl,” “Black Girl Magic,” “I’m Black Every Month.”

“When I found those shirts, I thought it was really inspiring to know that someone was confident enough to wear those shirts, and walk around in a public sphere with these phrases on them. I took those shirts and transformed into a photography series that is in reference to the past and the present. The shirts are reinterpreted to head wraps.”

Woods weaves contemporary cultural context with African history, as well as Colonial America’s institutionalized oppression of black women.

“It’s also referencing what head wraps represent to the African American community — specifically with women,” Woods said. “There was a time when black women were actually forced to cover their heads during slavery. The part about it that’s just kind of bittersweet is those head wraps actually originated from West Africa, which were supposed to represent pride. It was taking something that was really important, and something to be proud of, and turning it into something shameful.”

However, head wraps remain part of modern culture.

“What I really liked about the head wraps is that you still see black women walking around today wearing them,” Woods said. “It’s kind of this symbol that has gone through time, and it is still present with us in 2018. That’s why I thought it was important to represent those phrases in that form.”

Phase two of the project is a photography piece.

“It also will be interpreted into a play that I’m writing, where I am interviewing black women in the community,” Woods said. “Specifically women who I grew up with, and asking them what do those phrases mean to them, and telling them to tell their story to me.”

Woods has taken quotes from those interviews and turned them into gowns, which they will be photographed in.

“The gowns are inspired by bonnets, which are basically a head scarf that you wear to sleep to protect your natural hair,” Woods said. “They’re made out of satin. Each one of them has this bib that goes on it that has a specific phrase that they wanted to use to represent who they are, which is representative of rebirth, and swaddling them—bringing them back to this beginning place of loving ourselves.”  
Where you can catch her work:

“Black Blooded” at The New Gallery of Modern Art
In September:

Mary S. Byrd Gallery, A Radiant Revolution, Solo Exhibition, Augusta, Ga.

Waterworks Visual Art Center, A Radiant Revolution II, Solo Exhibition, Salisbury

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