Those closest to the late Lemuel Moore Nolen, “Mr.Lem,” knew him first as a father, hairstylist and over-all nice guy; another title would come later on in his life — artist.
Starting today and lasting through Aug. 29, Nolen’s life and artwork will be showcased at the Cultural Center — the first time since the 1970s his work has been shown here.
The Crouse folk artist began his career as the first male beautician in the area in the 1920s and opened a hair salon, where he worked until his 70s. After retiring from hair-styling, Nolen decided he wanted to sell chickens; he would soon learn that the rest of his life was headed in a completely different direction.
While putting together a sign for his new venture, Nolen started painting a picture of a chicken, and the rest is history, said Ramona Ramsey of the Crouse Community History and Photo Project, which is partnering with the Lincoln Historical Association to bring this exhibit to the area.
The retired beautician started painting rural scenes of places he saw around town, homes he had been to and settings he had passed on his day-to-day travels.
Those close to him recall laughing at the idea of his new hobby, at first, and remember his unorthodox way of doing things, throwing completed paintings on his front lawn to dry, “like a Frisbee,” or refusing to read scripts for plays and instead “saying whatever popped into his head” weren’t out of the ordinary occurrences for him.
Nolen loved the youth in his town and took them out for Monday-night movies in Cherryville and high-speed car rides through the country on the weekends.
His neighbor and close family friend Katherine Happenfield, now 86 years old, remembers the times she had with the then-tallest man in Lincoln County, and his many quirks. An egg a day kept you healthy, and if there was a half-empty Coca-Cola bottle around no one was to touch it, Mr. Lem would be back for it later, Happenfield laughed.
She worked at his salon as a teenager, and was a neighbor to Nolen until she was 14, and then only moved a street or so away from her father’s good friend.
“He’d come over about every night after dinner to play games with my dad,” Happenfield said. “He had this way about him — he could talk my dad into losing just by things he said. He was loving and caring, though. I don’t think there is or has been another man who cared more for local teenagers than Mr. Lem.”
Aside from working at his beauty shop and his array of other hobbies, he also acted in several local plays until he passed away in 1977.
The exhibit will feature 60 paintings that have been gathered mostly from family members from various parts of the Carolinas.
“I think folks are aware of the current slate of artists we have in the county, but there are a lot of artists who were in the community years ago, too,” said Jason Harpe, executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Association.
“I hope this helps educate them more about the artistic community that has been in Lincoln County for a number of years.”