The following is a transcript of excerpts from ‘The Listening Tide’, a podcast hosted by Huib Haye van der Werf recorded August 2023. For the full episode click here
Joe Minter: Now let me tell you about a touch of heart and my mama’s favorite tool. She used to cut it out anywhere she found it and she put them together, heart to heart.
You know how you find them old things in the newspaper you find those two things that fit together and you put them heart to heart?
Alexandra Phillips: Yeah
JM: Sweetest thing could ever touch a baby and treating the world like everything in it was a baby. See I can’t explain it, but this (?) , the only thing that love a Black man, the African male is that mother. And she would go all the way to the end of the earth for you. And the thing about it, you got to always remember, what can you do to give back to the earth?
JM: You give your heart to the earth. Cause the earth has gave you, its heart.
JM: There ain’t too much work that you can’t do to appreciate that God gave you a chance to be able to express yourself in a way where somebody can understand that, you got something to say. And the best way to have something to say is to make something, to produce something and stand back and watch them look at it.
JM: Don’t let them know your in there now. Hey. You get way back in the back, look at them wondering there.
AP: I always say that I always say that! I sit there and spy. I always say that! That is my favorite thing. And sometimes, if I am brave I say, what do you think?
AP: And just let them tell me and never tell them at all. Never say I made it or anything.
What do you think?
JM: In the crowd.
Now the thing about it, everything I’ve built been, I’m using what Jesus use, I call Jesus the street walker. :::: Hey, every time you saw him he was in the street healing then he took a crowd to the mount. It’s something about outside.
JM: It’s a picture that have never been drawn to understand, to be able where everybody can walk up and have a feeling that when I walk away from it, I’ve been changed and I am changed for the better because what it has done to me is give me the feeling that, somebody on the earth care(s). I like to see you standing behind them when they come in and look at a piece of art, and you stand back there and look at them, I’d like to see that.
Hey look, and you walk up and say,
And you walk up like this, with you hand on your chin, whatcha think about it? I’d like to see that. But look
AP: Awww man! If I every have a show around here you can come and see for yourself. But I mean, I’m sure you’ve got people coming up to look all the time. You got a lot of visitors, or not? You don’t have people coming to visit you?
JM: From all over the world, I ain’t gonna lie about it. It took up until then to get to where I’m at.
AP: Yeah, so. When did people start coming to visit you?
JM: Okay, Bill Arnet started dealing in quilts. Right? Start down there, with Bill Arnet is he’s a walking historian collector.
AP: Yeah, yeah
JM: Cause he writes history and you know collects. He went to Europe but he’s from somewhere around here, I think his family had an old store or something somewhere around he. I think he got in school and went on to Europe and studied every kind of art there was, went to the origins. You know studied different religions and stuff. Then he came to pitch his tent in his neck of the woods. He came across a quilt or something in a magazine, said what is this and headed there to Gees Bend.
AP: Thats the 90s then.
JM: I gave him the name of Trailblazer because he sacrificed his wife to put on the map that that was left out of museums. See he gave the museum lots of artwork. People talking about he was a thief. But to me he was a trailblazer.
AP: Alright thats good to know, to set that. But people always think that, thats cause, yeah because people think, you know, I am from down here, people think that people down here aren’t smart enough to know where to put their stuff. So they assume somebody is stealing. You know what I am saying? Its a..You have the right to give your stuff if you want to give it. It’s your stuff, you can give it.
JM: Let me tell you something. You get water from a well you’re priming it*. Bill primed the United States by dragging and selling to the back of museum and to the side of museums. But see, the African himself has a hold over history. Let me tell you how we is as a people.
*Priming well pumps is the process of manually creating a pressure vacuum through which water can be pulled from the well and directed through your water lines.
See they thought we didn’t know. We used to take and make old paste out of flour. Get those old newspapers and start pasting them up all in the walls and cracks and stuff inside the house to keep up with what was going on and then everything that we had used. In the back was a pile of history. Come by your house and say, look at all that old junk piled up over there.
See attachment to things that made us get to where we got has a stirring feel about it cause you know how to use it. You see all that piled up back there but Grandma could walk out there with that cane and say pull that piece out boy let me tell you about that piece of history with that piece there.
JM: Thats a pile of junk they say its a pile of junk. But every society that had something buried some of what they had so it could be found. Now, the art world, let me tell you how Bill made that old big book Souls Grown Deep, I’m a little bit in that. Then he made that number two book Souls Grown Deep, Jane Fonda put a million dollars.
AP: Yep I seen her with Lonnie Holly up there. They are friends.
AP: Can you imagine?
JM: She come through there, hey she came through with a tour.
AP: Not ah, here?
JM: Lonnie come and said hey…
AP: Did you put on a suit Joe? Did you dress out?
JM: I got on the bus when they come through on one of them…I don’t know.
For more information on Bill Arnett, Gees Bend Quilts and Souls Grown Deep Foundation see www.soulsgrowndeep.org
Joe Minter: Art is one. It is the gift that God gave you to be able to express that part of him that is a mystery. See art is some of God’s mystery. He give people lots of mysteries, the ones that he know are gonna use them for the good.
Alexandra Phillips: This is a nice thing you made here, thats complicated.
JM: I’m telling you it is. How do I remember this? I am 80 years old. How do I remember this?
AP: Are you 89 or 80?
JM: 80, I was born in 43
AP: Oh ok, I thought you were 89. I’ve been out here spreading, I’ve been making it even bigger. I said he’s 89 years old…
JM: You put some age to it here. Age I don’t deserve yet. I just crossed the line to be a elder, an African elder really.
AP: How old do you think I am?
JM: Thirty what?
AP: I’m 34.
JM: Did I get you?
JM: I know I got you. I didn’t have to look long either. Didn’t I tell you your face tell you your whole story?
JM: I bet you went to the house and didn’t even do what I told you. *
*The day before Joe gave me an assignment, to go home and look in the mirror, just at the top half of my face, he said to look into my eyes and see what change had come from the journey I had taken.
AP: I did! I did do it.
JM: What did you get out of it?
JM: Do you get more pleasure out of smiling or do you get more pleasure out of frowning up?
AP: I get more pleasure out of smiling.
JM: See that? Watch what I do.
AP: Whats gonna happen here?
JM: What part I got there?
AP: This is, I think this is, wait a second, this we got, what I thought is, you got the middle part here.
JM: Mmhmm. Hold on now.
AP: Believe me, I’m not rushing you. Take your time.
JM: Did I do this right? I’m not supposed to be wrong now.
AP: Mmm! What have we got here? Some legs?
JM: Thats wide there, see that?
AP: Oh that’s smart, Joe that’s smart.
JM: You need a piece of scotch tape or something with…
AP: I got a piece of tape in the car. I got masking tape.
JM: When you got time, I’m just gonna give it to you like this here.
AP: Oh you don’t want me to tape it up now?
JM: You can do it later because no use in making no trip. But you can put a head or anything you want to put on it.
AP: That’s a nice outfit too!
JM: You can take and put a head or anything you want on it.
AP: That looks pretty good!
JM: Didn’t I tell you a man could make a man? Did you see how many folds and twisting and tearing?
AP: I thought, I didn’t know where we were going actually. But I trusted you.
JM: Joe gonna ride with you from now on, because that’s Joe. Not Joe but that’s the peace maker.
AP: Yeah that looks pretty good.
JM: Thats the peacemaker.
AP: That looks pretty good Joe. And I like that pinstriped suit don’t you?
JM: That had to be something that the teachers taught us just with what they had around. Think about it, you could get a sheet of paper anywhere.
JM: So, making your own art supplies.
AP: And books and things like this? You had the old books or you had good books?
JM: Wrote through with all kind of names and half of the pages ripped out. State books, we didn’t have a chance.
JM: But the teacher, the scheme of the teacher, write up on that board. First thing you gonna see is ‘character development’ then you gonna have what you call ‘do unto other as you would have them do unto you’ 23rd psalm and have what it takes to bring you together in harmony to be able to say I love everything in here.
I’m gonna show you on that porch over there.
AP: Alright lets go look.
JM: Cause its kind of getting in the darkness now. Tipping into darkness now.
AP: Alright lets go over there, We better go over there. Look at all my things!
JM: When you get time put you a piece of
AP: I will. But I’m gonna keep this out, otherwise
JM: You want me to tote this for you? That what you’re gonna have to make to it?*
AP: I got lots of assignments now, you gave me lots.
JM: Isn’t that what you come here for?
AP: Yes, actually
video below captures Joe folding the Peace Maker