A Mother’s Inspiration: Understanding the Artwork of Floy Ealy Edjole

For the abstract artist Floy Ealy Edjole, the greatest inspiration in her life was her mother, Ora Coppage. It was her mother who inspired her to paint and not shy away from sharing her artistic gift with others. Whenever Floy Ealy Edjole painted a new piece, she couldn’t wait to show her mother. In turn, Ora Coppage loved each painting and made Floy Ealy Edjole promise to pursue painting and not squander this talent.

This April marks one year since her mother’s transition to heaven, and for Floy Ealy Edjole, that period has been one of the most important of her life. She began to channel her complex emotions and feelings into her paintings and look for new ways to share the enormous impact that her mother had on her life and art. By understanding the full story of Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother, it’s possible to recognize how deeply and profoundly she influenced Floy Ealy Edjole’s abstract artwork.

Humble beginnings

Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother came from humble beginnings, and that has always provided a sense of perspective for Floy Ealy Edjole. Her mother, Ora Coppage, was born in Atoka, Tennessee, the fourth of seven siblings on March 10, 1923 to George and Emma Coppage. Her father, George, was a sharecropper for Arthur Smith. George Coppage had spent his childhood on the Smith property and continued to reside there with his family after his marriage to Dinah.

George and Dinah Coppage raised their children solidly grounded in the church. A generation later, that became a source of inspiration for Floy Ealy Edjole, who saw that her mother never wavered from her deep spirituality. That belief in the simple life and the church influenced how Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother was raised throughout her childhood, and that, in turn, influenced Floy Ealy Edjole.

The daily lives of the family followed the pattern common to sharecropping families: it was all about the cotton. Ora Coppage, together with her siblings and parents, worked the fields in the spring planting cotton; in summer chopping cotton; and the fall picking cotton.

We children could not have asked for better parents.

Love and family

Despite the humble beginnings, these were lives filled with love, admiration and respect. Ora married Hubert Ealy in 1944 after the two eloped to Arkansas. Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother and father had 7 children and raised one of their cousins as well. That led to a warm, nurturing home environment for Floy Ealy Edjole.

As Floy Ealy Edjole points out, “We children could not have asked for better parents. Having been raised by two such wonderful people, we count ourselves among the most blessed and fortunate of people.” It was all the little touches that mattered when she was growing up, “Whether it was Daddy’s home remedies for all kinds of ailments or his hunting, fishing and gardening to feed the family or Momma making dresses from flour sacks or working tirelessly cleaning homes to bring home a little money, we were shown in so many ways that we were loved and valued.”

Momma taught us that if you are going to do something, do it right the first time.”

It was this loving family environment that helped shape Floy Ealy Edjole’s outlook on life, including perhaps the most important lesson of all: that giving is the best part of living. This strong family influence is something that the artist always cherished, “They gave us the life tools to accomplish whatever we desired. Daddy taught us to think for ourselves and to live up to our responsibilities. Momma taught us that if you are going to do something, do it right the first time.”

Dedication and devotion

Caring for others was drilled into Floy Ealy Edjole at an early age. There were many times growing up that she was sent out to chop wood or carry water for the sick or elderly. However humble the food at home, there was always enough to share with the neighbors. No one was turned away. And if a neighbor became sick, her mother would send her out to deliver food to them.

Although Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother eventually slowed down and could not cook anymore, her favorite room was still the kitchen. She continued to advise on the preparation of any meal and did not hesitate to ask, “Why are you are adding that?” or point out, “You forgot to add this.” Her love and food was one of her many gifts that she bestowed on everyone in her life. She loved life and wanted everyone to share in that love, she always had a kind word when you were down and joke if you were sad.

But, most importantly, Floy Ealy Edjole’s mother had everyone in her prayers. She wanted nothing but the best for her children, family and friends and no one was a stranger. That dedication and devotion to others had a profound influence on Floy Ealy Edjole, “She was a special woman, she is no longer with us in the flesh; however, her legacy of love will live forever through everyone she ever met. She was a God fearing woman and I know through word and example she is with our Lord at peace in heaven as she was on this earth.”

It was the combination of these three themes – humble beginnings, love and family and dedication and devotion - that helped to shape Floy Ealy Edjole as an artist, and to inform her mindset, outlook and approach to art. The focus on the simple life allowed her to focus on the eternal values and principles that would guide her throughout her life. Her mother was a moral compass, helping her find her true calling in art.

As Floy Ealy Edjole often points out, her mother gave her a wonderful life experience -- something that she wouldn’t trade for anything in this world. “We didn’t have much money but we were loved and a family,” she says. “My paintings will always express the feeling of freedom.”

Her mother was a moral compass, helping her find her true calling in art.

You can see this feeling of freedom in so many of Floy Ealy Edjole’s paintings, together with the feelings of love, of devotion, and of serving others. Her artwork, in fact, can be read as outward signs and symbols of this inner love. And in it all, there was the inspiration of her mother.