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
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.
"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
Elsz & O
...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
culture & freedom
fiber artist, Elszerene was born
interdisciplinary artists, Marlesha
hidden stories of
culture & freedom
Chattel slavery expands
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