Ancient Urn

our ancestral story

The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do. – Booker Taliaferro. Washington

Elsz & O is a barrier-breaching

Storytelling Gallery 


that produces visual and performing arts, research, and design through a people-centered approach towards equitable practices founded by owner, Marlesha S. Woods.

This traveling gallery shares a deeply rooted family tradition spanning over 105 years of innovation, established in 2021 in honor of two storytelling sisters, Elsz & O.


Elszerene T. Smith, Marlesha's grandmother was a fiber artist specializing in quilts, crocheted fashions, bead weaving, folklore and poetry while primarily working in the healthcare sector as a RN. She graduated from HBCU, Meharry Medical College.

Olist Taliaferro Roberts, Marlesha's great-aunt was an award-winning painter working primarily in oil and acrylic. Her works of Southern landscapes, figurative, and , longstanding arts leader, curator, storyteller and professor at Tennessee State University with an artistic career that included a plethora of solo and group exhibitions, a university presidential portrait, and collaborations with numerous philanthropic organizations.

It was the owners avid creative writing mother, Marilyn T. Cooper that also worked in the field of education that recognized her talents as a youth and charted pathways for her to expand her knowledge of art, its history and its meaning even if that meant that she was the only Black student in the room.

Each matriarch's story has influenced the works of art that are created in both personhood and production.  



Fast forward from 1916 sharecropping tobacco fields of Tennessee through over a century of in·sa·tia·ble fortitude, faith, and freedom-seeking the artistry yet thrives by preserving narratives one work of art at a time and reclaimed space.  

our time


"O" for us doesn't represent oppression, opposition, or even opulence but rather a reminder... that against all odds here "we be" doing what we do best...




 visual artist, Olist
was born

writer, Marilyn 
was born

Elsz & O
Storytelling Gallery
was birthed
...they would have celebrated 
95 & 105 years


U.S. is on the brink of World War I


Civil Rights Movement 


Civil Rights Protests

Jim Crow Evolves

Human Resilience 

 stories of
culture & freedom


fiber artist, Elszerene was born

interdisciplinary artists, Marlesha
was born

late 1800's


hidden stories of
culture & freedom


Chattel slavery expands  



Great Depression


Great Depression

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always have what you always had.
- Southern phrase repeated by Elsz

so with cOurage & care we are doing art different