THE Art of Carroll Cloar

Angel Farm, the name given to the land frequented by Carroll Cloar and the subject of two of his paintings, lies just west of Memphis, Tennessee. The farm was originally owned by George Berry Washington, a former slave. The towering stone angel, a monument to the late Washington, not only marks the site of his burial, but also that of an even more ancient Indian mound. Today, the statue still peers over fields of cotton and corn, a continuation of the picturesque scene that so interested Cloar.   

Much like the fabled crossroads in Mooreshead, Mississippi (another location depicted by Cloar and the meeting place of the Southern Railroad and the Yazoo Delta Railroad), Angel Farm exemplifies the convergence of agriculture, art, business, and Southern culture. Cloar’s portrayal of the South and Southern Culture is exquisitely mythologized, at times full of light and growth, and in others skewing Southern Gothic. His work heralds the region, its history, and the magnificent wealth of the land.    

Several years ago, Farmland Advisors had the opportunity to be involved with the sale of this tract of land. This opportunity brought our team closer to the land's history and along with it, a first-hand look at some of Cloar’s inspiration and a deeper appreciation for his work.

Excerpt from The Crossroads of Memory: 

Carroll Cloar and the American South 

by Stanton Thomas, Ph.D., 

Curator of European & Decorative Art at the Brooks Museum in Memphis, TN:

Located adjacent Arkansas Highway 149, just a couple of miles north of Earle, is the so-called Angel Farm. It is immediately recognizable due to the beautiful marble statue of an angel that stands in a row-cropped field, atop a low Indian mound. Depending upon the season, and the planting, you will find the angel standing high above blooming cotton or only partially visible behind tall, rustling stalks of corn. During the winter months, the marble statue graces the otherwise barren fields—adding an unexpected note of melancholy, haunting beauty to the delta farmland.   

The angel monument (often called the “Angel in the Field”)—as well as the low wall, piers, and gateway in front of it—mark the burial site of George Berry Washington (1864-1928), a Black farmer and former slave. Born in Kentucky, Berry arrived in Crittenden County in the 1880s and slowly amassed an enormous acreage. Remarkably, in an area socially and politically dominated by White landowners, he eventually came to own not only an extensive farm of almost 1500 acres, but his own gin and store. His wife and daughters tried to continue the farming operation after his death, but lost the entire property in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression. Unfortunately his home, as well as the gin, store, and farm buildings, all have disappeared. These were located near the confluence of the Tyronza River and Gibson Bayou—just a stone’s throw from the monument itself. Fittingly, Berry’s family chose to bury him near his home and on the farm he fought so hard to establish.   

Although most traces of Berry’s life have disappeared, his monument—the carved marble angel in the field—has served as a landmark, and sometimes a source of inspiration, for decades. Of course, the statue probably had the greatest influence on Carroll Cloar, Arkansas’ most famous artist. Cloar (1913-1993) was born about a mile north of the Berry farm. His own parents had a very similar operation to that of Berry; they also farmed a huge number of acres, and owned a store and gin. Although Cloar spent his childhood on his parent’s farm, he often roamed the surrounding countryside with his friends. Here the future artist, who dreamed of becoming a cartoonist or writer, saw the angel standing solitary among the cotton or corn. Later, Cloar attended high school in Earle, and would have passed the angel in the field on his way to and home from school. The statue had an enormous impact upon him.   

Years later Cloar would produce two paintings of the monument. The first of these is The Angel in a Thorn Patch (1957). In this painting Cloar removed the low wall and gateway marking the burial ground, as well as three of the four piers that mark the plot. This allowed him to focus on the statue itself, and to contrast the solid form of that marble sculpture with the brambles covering the mound. The painting is also remarkable for its use of light. In particular, Cloar set the faintly luminous white marble statue against a deep blue sky while bathing the thorny bushes of the foreground in the red-gold light of the setting sun. 

Cloar’s use of light suggests something transitory and otherworldly—as befits a lone marble angel standing alone in the Arkansas Delta. If you are lucky enough to be in the area late on a winter’s day, it is worth going to watch the sun set on the Angel in the Field. Sometimes the effect of light and color is very close to what Cloar captured in his painting.   

Cloar’s other painting of the subject is titled Angel in the Field (1988). Instead of another haunting image of the marble statue standing in the fading light of a winter sunset, the artist depicted an autumnal scene of cotton picking. Throughout his long career Cloar rarely returned to the same subject. The existence of two works focusing upon the George Berry Washington monument suggests its immense importance to Cloar, both as a memento of his childhood and as a signifier of a quickly fading way of life. Writing of the Angel in the Field years later, the artist observed:   

“The Angel was erected over the grave of a Negro planter and ginner. After his death his heirs sold the place and the angel remains, alone and unattended. And the cotton gets closer and closer.”   

The Angel in the Field is also tied to Cloar’s fascination with the writings of the American Southern author Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938).  Throughout his career, Cloar remarked upon the way that great Southern writers—especially Wolfe and Faulker—had influenced his approach to subject matter more than any visual artists. In particular, the Berry monument recalls the stone angel that was a major symbolic element Wolfe’s masterpiece Look Homeward Angel (1929). This novel tells the story of a young man and his difficult childhood and youth in a small Southern Town. The book held particular appeal for Cloar, owing both to its parallels with his own life, but also to its visionary, dramatic language. One can sense this in an excerpt from the prologue to the novel:  

“O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? 

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” 

― Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel   

Like Thomas Wolfe, Carroll Cloar had the unique ability to capture the beauty—as well as the underlying sadness—of the South. The artist was also remarkable for focusing attention upon scenery, buildings, and monuments that might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked—such as the Angel Farm.   


Brooks Museum:

David Lusk Gallery:

More photos from the Angel Farm

Photos are property of Joey Bland of Farmland Advisors and use or reproduction is not permitted