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Work by Pam Cobb

Work by Pam Cobb.

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Pam Cobb's husband gave her a table saw for Christmas one year. He gave her a miter saw another year.

"I have this arsenal of tools you would not believe," Cobb says.

She goes to Home Depot and buys doors and drill bits, but she's not making home repairs. She's making art.

Work by Cobb, who is exhibiting her paintings and sculptures at Jay Etkin Gallery, is included in corporate commissions in offices, banks, and lobbies, including the Westin Memphis Beale Street, and in public art projects, including her UrbanArt Commission sculptures at Cordova Library.

A Memphis native, Cobb took art class in grade school. "All they did was give us a piece of manila paper, and we had some crumbly crayons. I mean, that was the extent of the art."

But she says, "I guess I realized early on that my pictures looked better than other people's."

Art was "just something I did with zero training."

Her father "was a carpenter. Not by trade. But he built a room on the back of our house. He built a carport, patio. And he didn't have power tools. He cut the joists with a handsaw."

Cobb helped. "I was handing him bricks when he was laying our patio. And I just figured that's what you did. You grew up with your father building things. I have always felt extremely comfortable around tools."

She met her husband when they were in college, where she was more interested in Alpha Gamma than acyclic oil. "I was sort of a proper sorority girl."

Cobb majored in English, so she could teach school and put her husband through law school.

She began teaching in Fayette County after they were married. She taught art after her principal saw her do a giant frieze of a snow scene on butcher paper for her classroom. Her principal and some teachers also had her do portraits of their children. After school, she would "stay up at night and paint."

Cobb began learning to paint from the owner of a Germantown art gallery after her husband graduated. She began showing and selling her work — and winning awards — at outdoor festivals around the country. "I was painting the obligatory wagon wheels and rustic things."

Her work became more semi-abstract after she joined the Germantown Art League, where she remained until she went back to school at Memphis State University and got her master's degree.

She sculpted and painted at MSU. "Most of it was fairly abstract, and most of it had to do with water."

Over the years, Cobb taught at MSU, Shelby State Community College, and she founded the art department at Christian Brothers University.

Her first of many Jay Etkin shows was in 1991.

She likes wooden doors. "I liked being able to mutilate the surface and dig into it and carve into it and everything. To this day, I paint on hollow-core doors that I get over at Home Depot. It's not like a solid wood door. The door is like $25, and you can get more than one painting out of a door."

She also did huge botanicals — like a painting of a geranium over gold leaf — and giant fruit.

Among the works in her new show are carvings made from 100-year-old wood. Most of the show is about "random vegetation. The carvings are about trees and water. Trees reflecting in the water, but you don't even really see that."

The show is "about the bayou. Out in the shallow areas around our little place at Pickwick, there's all this random vegetation, and it just pops up here and there and I love it."

Cobb found her mantra on TV. "My kids were watching The Jeffersons one morning in their pajamas in our den. I was walking through the den and George Jefferson said something that has stayed with me most of my life. He said, 'If you're not going to leave your mark on the world, why show up in the first place?' I have lived by that."

Her legacy? "I want them to know that I want to wring out everything that is in me. I never want to stop."

"Divisions" is on view through December 11th at Jay Etkin Gallery.

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