Drawings of Louisiana Varmints, Artist's Life Stories Fill Hazel Gallery

Mar 4, 2014

Paducah and Nashville are home to many art galleries, but between the two cities sits a small folk art gallery where visitors are treated with stories of the Louisiana swamp land.

Cross the Kentucky-Tennessee state line in Hazel and a large white sculpture of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett’s first meeting greets you. Behind it sits a white and red house and a garage-turned-art-gallery. This is Glenn Earl Newman’s home and workspace, and has been since he moved there from Louisiana in 2007.

The small metal building houses more than 15-hundred pieces of original art all made with supplies an elementary school student has on hand. For his large pieces, Newman starts with a piece of white poster board.

“I turn it over. That’s the best side to use, and then you use a regular lead pencil, you use a regular ink pen and then a regular Crayola colored pencil,” the artist said.

Newman’s smaller works are completed on lined steno pad paper. Despite his modest supplies, he makes incredibly detailed pictures showing day-to-day life in Louisiana in addition to his own stories. They’re filled with greens and blues and some even feature what Newman call varmints – animals like raccoons and armadillos. He also has some beautiful but haunting images of houses on fire or sitting in purple-tinged darkness.

But 71-year-old Newman hasn’t always been aware of his talent. He grew up on a strawberry farm in Hammond, Louisiana, and worked for the state’s highway department. It wasn’t until his father fell ill that he discovered he could draw.

“1997 I started, and my dad was in the hospital,” he recalled. “So he was telling me about his life. Well, all I know about my dad is when I was with him or what he tells me. So I went to the restroom that night, and I got three paper towels, and I drew three pictures on those, and I wrote three stories.”

For Newman, storytelling and art are one and the same. He flips through binders full of pictures, all accompanied with stories handwritten in cursive.

And it’s telling those stories that have gotten Newman and his family through some hard times. His son James Paul Newman was a war hero, and he’s not shy about sharing that his son was mentioned more than a dozen times in Linda Robinson’s book “Masters of Chaos.”

But sadly Newman’s son died in 2003 shortly after coming home from Iraq.

“He came back one week and he went to get his wife a cup of coffee at the store, and on the way back he had a heart attack and died,” Newman said.

After his son’s death, Newman decided to come to Hazel so he could help care for his grandchildren in Stewart County, Tenn.

Hazel’s been a good fit for Newman with its many antique stores bringing in tourists from all over.

Newman goes through his guestbook noting highlighted lines for people from faraway places like England and Poland. He just wishes the people of Hazel would stop by his little gallery.

In the winter before visitors arrive, Newman goes the few feet from his house to heat the corrugated metal building filled with drawings, decorated gourds and other small works of art.

Newman takes care of his son Jules who helps around the small, packed gallery and adds his own details to his father’s stories. While a black cat named Blacky for short, slinks under and on top of the art-laden tables, glad to have extra attention from visitors.

It’s in this little building crammed with his life’s stories that Newman waits hoping someone will stop in so he can share tales of the swamp land.