RED SPRINGS — When Terrence Hill received word that the incomparable Maya Angelou had passed away on May 28, the Red Springs artist was moved to pay tribute.
Three weeks later, Hill emerged from his studio with a painstakingly detailed portrait of the late author and civil rights crusader, made using his signature leather-sculpting technique.
“I was certainly inspired. She was a very inspiring woman,” Hill said. “Maya Angelou was a very special woman and a very intelligent woman. She stood for freedom, women’s rights and civil rights. Something told me that I had to do it.”
Born in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou is perhaps best known for her bestselling 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the first in a series of autobiographies detailing her tumultuous upbringing in the Jim Crow South.
Angelou worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other icons of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and in 2011 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian award.
“I reflect on her work and see a person who proved that you can do what you want to do,” Hill said. “She didn’t let anyone hold her back and I equate myself with that. I’ve never let anything stop me from what I want to do.”
Angelou isn’t the only woman who has served as a muse to Terrence. Today marks the 14th anniversary of his marriage to Nicole Hill.
“She is my foundation, heart and the love of my life,” Terrence said of his wife, who acts as CEO of their company, T. Hill Classics.
The couple met when Terrence was an unknown artist struggling to gain exposure in New York City’s crowded arts scene. They married in 2001 and Terrence’s career took off a couple of months later after he was inspired to develop a series of portraits based on the victims of 9/11.
“That was the same year he was discovered,” Nicole said. “The next thing we knew, the whole street was lined up with people. Everybody was just amazed.”
Terrence’s leather-based depictions of celebrities and politicians have since garnered a sizable following. Some of the more notable fans of his work have included Tiger Woods, Mo’Nique and Ray Charles.
The couple eventually put down roots in Red Springs, a move that Terrence said was sparked by his desire to get away from big city living.
“I’m not a phony person and I wanted to be among people who understand the meaning of being real,” he said.
Terrence attributes much of his success to the unwavering support of his wife.
“She works tirelessly,” he said “She’ll be up until 3 a.m. arranging interviews for me.”
Despite the long hours she puts into promoting Terrence’s work, Nicole said that being married to an artist has its advantages.
“It just keeps getting better with time, like vintage wine,” she said.
To view examples of Terrence’s art, visit www.art3dleather.com. To make an appointment to visit the couple’s gallery in Red Springs, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-272-6146, or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley.