© 2024 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

'She has a voice that needs to be heard.' Artist celebrates Black hair, explores mental health

Erin Smith Glenn stands with James Pate of the Black Palette Art Gallery next to two paintings on the wall of her children in yoga poses.
Susan Byrnes
Erin Smith Glenn stands with James Pate of the Black Palette Art Gallery next to two of her paintings.

In new art exhibitions in Dayton and Cincinnati, artist Erin Smith Glenn brings two connected shows, with work ranging from celebrations of Black hair culture to explorations of Black mental health. Culture Couch producer Susan Byrnes takes a closer look.

When I first saw painter Erin Smith Glenn’s work, I was struck by her vibrant, realistic portraits and her inventive use of crochet to add a sculptural element onto her paintings.

She learned to paint as an undergrad at Central State University, where she’s now associate professor. She’s also a mom and an entrepreneur with an Etsy business called “The Scarvin’ Artist," in addition to creating artwork for shows and commissions.

“Yes, I'm an artist, but I'm also an advocate, and an activist through my work. I just want to be an agent for change, and that's really what I want people to remember me by most of all,” Erin Smith Glenn said.

One unforgettable piece is her “Hair Hut” installation that’s part of her show at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in Cincinnati, with a large patio umbrella completely draped with strands of dark brown hair.

The Hair Hut is intended as a sacred space for getting your hair styled, and it calls attention to the respect and ritual that surrounds the topic of Black hair.

Artist Erin Smith Glenn stands next to a large patio umbrella completely draped with strands of dark brown hair.
Susan Byrnes
Susan Byrnes
Artist Erin Smith Glenn stands next her “Hair Hut” installation that’s part of her show at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Smith Glenn’s show is fittingly called HAIRitage. It fills two floors with painted and drawn portraits showing a wide array of hairstyles, with detailed labels.

“To hear Erin talk about it, the amount of research that she has done on Black hair and Black hair culture, and the history of that that then comes across in this exhibition, is really it's just incredible," Clifton Cultural Art Center Director Leslie Mooney said.

The HAIRitage show is the first gallery exhibition in the Arts Center’s brand-new building.

She’s also the first artist to win the center’s inaugural “New Woman” award, named for late 19th century Cincinnati-born artist Elizabeth Nourse. The award includes a stipend and residency, as well as this solo show.

But that isn’t all Smith Glenn has been up to. Right after setting up in Cincinnati, she installed a show of new paintings at the Black Palette Gallery in Dayton.

It’s called “From the Inside Out" and is about mental health. Some of the most prominent pieces depicting the practice of yoga and include her children in three different poses: the Sirsasana pose, which is considered the king of the yoga poses, the upside down one; her middle child in a meditative pose; and her youngest child in the warrior two pose.

"And so each of these poses affects the body, mind, spirit, heart uniquely," Smith Glenn said. "In dealing with healing trauma and healing the mind also means that you have to activate the body. And when we're exercising our body, especially in specific ways, then we are in fact healing the brain.”

She said the Cincinnati and Dayton shows are connected.

“The idea of dealing with the issues that heavily affect people of color, things that we just kind of are born into, issues we inherit, those are the issues that I'm dealing with in both of the exhibits," Smith Glenn said.

With the HAIRitage exhibit in Cincinnati, she said that one "also deals very much with mental health, because it's addressing not just the joy of Black hair, but also the discrimination of it, the misinterpretations of it, how it's seen as a weapon, often even Black hair, how it's been weaponized. But I want everyone to be able to understand, even if they can't directly relate.”

This message is what attracted Black Palette Gallery curator and artist James Pate.

“She has a voice that needs to be heard. It's a very concerned voice. And her themes, and her approach is very layered. And, I'd like to just be a part of sharing her work with the public," Pate said.

A viewer looks at a mixed media piece with draping fibers in an exhibit exploring Black hair and celebrating culture.
Susan Byrnes

The creative voice of Erin Smith Glenn is loud and clear in these two new exhibitions. Her contemplative and colorful figures display a depth of consciousness beyond the visible surface, inspiring viewers to look, and think, and look again.

The work of artist Erin Smith Glenn will be on display at theBlack Palette Galleryin Dayton through April 20, with an artist talk on March 31.

Her show at the Clifton Cultural Arts Centerin Cincinnati will be up through March 29.

Susan works as visual artist, arts writer, teaching artist, and audio producer. She lives in Cincinnati now but loves, misses, and often visits the Miami Valley. You can find her visual and audio works on her website www.susanbstudio.com.