Billy Price Carroll
Billy Price Carroll (formerly Billy Price Hosmer), artist, pursued her love of art for as long as she could remember. Seeing her life as an adventure like a magic carpet ride, Billy fell in love with art at the age of six when her mother enrolled her and her sister Nadia in a summer art program.
Thus began the fervent love affair that continued throughout her life. Though blind in one eye from birth, Billy was so passionate about her art that she never pursued a traditional job. Instead she continued to enthusiastically entrench herself into her love of drawing, painting, portraiture and sculpture for 63 years!
Graduating from Miss Hutchison School in 1939, Billy attended the Memphis Art Academy until she married in 1941 divorcing in 1949, two years after the birth of her only daughter, Pixie. After her divorce, Billy moved back to Memphis, and “borrowed” ten of her friends’ children to paint thus beginning her professional career. She never looked back.
Billy delighted that her “word of mouth” portrait commissions gave her an exciting, full-time endeavor. An intriguing variety of subjects challenged and captured her imagination over the years, giving her many memorable and even humorous episodes.
Billy said of her career, “This career has been a duet of avocation and vocation. Every new subject has offered both challenge and adventure.”
Those adventures also led her from Memphis to New York, to Europe, Japan and Hong Kong. In her never-ending quest to enrich her talents, Billy studied art at every possible opportunity from coast-to-coast starting in 1952. She was given fellowships and scholarships to over seven different art foundations including Florence, Italy, in 1959.
While in Hong Kong on commissions from 1964 until 1973, the continuing thirst for enrichment led her to delve into a new medium—Chinese Ink and Water painting. Studying under the watchful eye of several highly recognized Chinese art masters, her quests led her to intensely study and practice the intricacies of the ink and water medium, while also learning calligraphy.
In 1969, this study led Billy to receive an unprecedented invitation by the National Taiwan Historical Museum in Taipei to display 62 Chinese paintings in their Art Center. At that time, she was the only westerner who had ever been invited to show Chinese art in their museum. The exhibition was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony preceded by a brass-band and the explosion of many traditional, honorary firecrackers.
Even after all the promotion and hoopla, within two days after the show opened, there was an uproar among the Chinese art critics and fans. The “American woman imposter” was summoned to appear spontaneously on a special national 30 minute TV program. There, she was intently questioned for over 17 minutes and then required to do an entire ink and water painting while on the air. She calmly took on the task finishing within 12 minutes including her calligraphy signature. The Hong Kong Morning Post headlined its feature story about the television event: “An Artist Who Dared and Succeeded Brilliantly!” Which, of course, she did!
After the show aired all attendance records at the Art Center were broken. Over 2500 guests signed the guest-book in order to see for themselves the work of this petite Westerner. One of her pieces was noted numerous times in the media—a thirty-foot span of 10 minutely joined scrolls. These scrolls depicted a panorama of Hong Kong Harbor painted from sketches done from the stern of a small yacht bobbing in choppy waters. (Side note: this panel was the result of a dare from one of her Chinese artist friends—a first time feat according to them.)
As the exhibit ended and was being taken down, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of Taiwan, requested a private showing. As a result, the entire display was re-opened. Both the Chinese and English newspapers made front-page notice of the First Lady’s visit. Newspaper quotes related that she “highly praised the works of the American artist.”
Once back in her own studio state-side, Billy continued to avidly pursue her portrait career while also continuing with her intrigue in Chinese ink and water. In 1984, Brooks Memorial Art Gallery invited her to exhibit 25 of the Taiwan exhibition pieces. The Taiwan exhibit remains intact to this day.
In the late 70’s and 80’s, in addition to her Chinese work and portraiture, Billy began to pursue one of her first loves—sculpture. Her life-sized geese in flight are featured in the center garden of The Memphis Botanic Garden as well as an eight foot “Chime Tree” and a five-foot ballerina called “The Leap”. The Hutchison School of Memphis features her life-size bronze sculpture of a little girl gleefully spinning, titled “Spirit of Joy”.
Mrs. Carroll’s art career consisted of 55 one-woman world-wide exhibitions, all invitational. Every exhibition consisted of 12 to 68 paintings. Out of the 55, eleven were in major museums, galleries, libraries and universities.
Her portraiture career spanned over 63 years of full-time activity in painting as well as in bronze. These commissioned portraits are in collections throughout the United States, England, Germany, Italy, France, Mexico, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Among these portraits are numerous judges, prominent doctors, mayors, a senator, ministers and Episcopal priests and bishops, a library director, professors and head-masters/mistresses of several private schools.
Bronzes are in collections in Memphis Botanic Gardens, at two universities and in numerous private collections. In addition, Mrs. Carroll has won honors, fellowships, scholarships, art awards and listings in prominent publications world-wide.
Obviously art was Billy Price Carroll’s life. She loved it and lived it to the fullest. Each new day, to her, brought the promise of a new adventure in which she was always eager to take pursuit.
Her adventure in this world ended on March 13, 2011. She was 90.