Marie Walker and the Gift of Art

Can NoDa be the arts district without galleries? If NoDa is Charlotte’s arts district, then where are all the artists?

You only have to scratch the surface to find creativity and freedom of expression alive and well here, and Marie Walker is a gateway to the flourishing local arts culture just beneath the obvious. She inspires collaboration, has decorated many a co-worker’s or neighbor’s wall with freely gifted art, and connects people who share the creative spirit. And before she moved here, she was doing this all over the east coast.

“The Big Hair Girls of Jersey City told me, ‘Marie, do you know what you are? You are a muse,’” Marie told me during our long, convoluted, and truly fascinating interview. And those girls from Jersey were right, because you can’t help feeling inspired after a real heart-to-heart with Marie.

But Marie was not born with a paintbrush in hand. Marie was born and raised in Brooklyn. She served as an attorney for 35 years, first in New York and then in Vermont. Not too long before retiring, Marie went to see a play about abstract artist Mark Rothko at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier. On a whim that same day, she had purchased discounted paintbrushes and sketch pads at a local art supply shop. She began painting for the first time the following morning.

After retiring, she took about a year off and rented a second home in Jersey City to be close to her family and some friends from Pace University. Her apartment was across from high-end realtor Mark Finne, who is also a well-known abstract artist specializing in painting images that “pop” with 3D glasses, as well as applying his art to shoes and especially guitars. Mark and she became close friends, and he was key in encouraging her to continue creating art.

Years later, Marie says she didn’t realize she was painting 3D art herself until her NoDa neighbors Matt Alvis and Delphine Koustmer put on glasses—as a lark—and exclaimed, “Marie! This art is 3D!”

It may seem far-fetched, but she explained to me that if your art uses primary colors, it’s probably 3D. The yellow is important, she continued, “I have never seen any artist paint yellow the way Mark Finne does,” and since his art was such a big influence on her, she paints in bold yellow also.

During this first year of her retirement, she met Linnie Anania and they became immediate friends. Linnie happens to be the heiress to Pepsi Cola, and her family has a condo on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (As an aside, Mark Finne also stays on Paradise Island regularly.) Linnie asked Marie to travel with her, and they had such a great time that Marie returned eight more times in two years. “I’ve been to seven of the 700 islands of the Bahamas,” she jokes, “but I never went there as a tourist.”

Now, she has what she considers to be a second family in the Bahamas, including her good friend Javon “Giovanni” Rahming, a Rastafarian who does authentic Bahamian art, which involves climbing palm trees, cutting the fronds down, and weaving them in intricate designs. He had never left the Bahamas before but visited Vermont twice after meeting her.

Back in the States, she and Linnie began following Lavender Steel from show to show. “We started following this band around because, why not, right?” Marie tried to clarify. But after nine months, this retired-lawyer-turned-music-following-art-inspiring-Caribbean-escaping-muse decided she needed to be a bit more grounded. Her sister lives in NC, so she chose to move to Charlotte.

Marie was already familiar with NoDa and knew it was where she would live. A friend had taken her to Amelie’s in 2016, which happened to be next to Bernie Sanders’ NC campaign headquarters. She popped in and was an instant hit because of her Vermont connection. She remembers two huge eight-foot “Bernies” on wood that had been painted by Joseph Kelly. She still has an ear from the Bernie that blew off the back of the van and broke up all over the street.

Joseph Kelly is an artist, massage therapist, energy healer, and author. He had his first art show after Marie moved here. She proudly told me that she purchased all of his first rollout—twelve pieces—“because I was very drawn to it.” She has a wall full of his paintings, including a portrait of her that he painted later from a photo taken by Mark Finne.

You see, everything in Marie’s world is connected. And you become a part of that network as soon as you step inside her realm. After our interview, I was admiring a woven bowl in Marie’s home. “You really like it? Well, here!” she said, handing it to me. So, now I own an authentic Bahamian piece made, of course, by Giovanni Rahming.

She moved into the Mercury last November. In addition to the Joseph Kelly wall, the entire space is covered with her artwork, her friends’ artwork, and art that has been gifted to her. Other pieces arose as spontaneous collaborations with creative friends who were just hanging out in her apartment.

She lets visitors “move the pieces around as they see fit, so it’s a reflection of the people I care for.” Because art isn’t just to be appreciated individually, it’s an ongoing conversation to Marie, each piece part of a continuously evolving life. She showed me where paintings have a “sweet spot.” You have to feel around for it, but it is there. And though we are always told not to touch art, all of Marie’s paintings are meant to be touched and encountered.

There is much more to Marie’s stories, experiences, and talents. She writes inspirational works, like spoken word, and when I asked what she’d like to do next, she said she’d like to try some sculpture. She is deeply spiritual yet completely open-minded. She is a wealth of information about neuroplasticity. I encourage you to experience art and life with her should your paths ever cross.

Marie works at the window at Reigning Donuts. She happened to be looking for a job right before they opened, so has been there from the start. Her art can be found around the neighborhood at Salud (find the painted guitar), NoDa Bodega, Mango’s, NoDa Barber, and sometimes at the Mercury Gallery.