Review: Local postman’s art exhibit shows his transformation into luxury designer

Kermit Oliver’s “New Narratives, New Beginnings” exhibit features intricate silk scarves and realistic portraits of Texas wildlife and everyday people. Photo courtesy of Avery Ballmann | Personal editor

By Avery Ballmann | Personal editor

In 1984 Kermit Oliver moved to Waco and started working at the post office. According to Jason Sheeler, a reporter for NPR’s “All Things Considered” podcast, “He doesn’t believe he can make a living as a painter.” Oliver’s humble commentary on himself is not attributable to his success in the art world.

Not only has Oliver’s art been featured in multiple exhibits in Houston, he has also designed 16 scarves for luxury brand Hermès in Paris. The “New Narratives, New Beginnings” exhibit at the Art Center Waco features many of the silk scarves and many of her paintings from her personal collection and clients.

The exhibition is quiet. Dark paintings of fruit and birds were on display right at the entrance. “The Last Supper in Jerusalem” and “Still Life with Birds” sold for a total of $27,000 at this exhibition. Going through the individual pieces, the paintings were of different sizes and had unique frames. Each seemed to have a continuous theme, a view of how a man sees the world.

A self-portrait of Oliver, painted in 1975, was exhibited in the first room. The portrait seemed mysterious and not as detailed, which might sound like Oliver’s notorious reputation for keeping his personal life private.

Past the self-portrait in the Laura Dossett Smith Gallery was the collection of Hermès scarves. For those of you unfamiliar with luxury design house Hermès, they sell the Birkin bag and other high-priced items. A silk scarf can sell for between $115 and $7,250.

Oliver’s scarves on display at the Smith Gallery depict Texas wildlife, Native Americans, and key events in American history. Featured designs are”Fauna et Flora du Texas”, “The Pony Express”, “Marquis De Lafayette”, “Madison Avenue”, “Pani la Shar Pawnee” and others.

At the rear of the art center, the Bradley Hulse Gallery displayed Oliver’s paintings from his personal collection and others who purchased his work.

At Kermit Oliver's
Kermit Oliver’s “New Narratives, New Beginnings” exhibit features intricate silk scarves and realistic portraits of Texas wildlife and everyday people. Photo courtesy of Avery Ballmann | Personal editor

The movable white walls had a work of art on each side. This back room has been beautifully appointed due to the natural lighting and labyrinthine wall displays. Oliver’s art fixes the viewer. Images of children with angels and animals were serene and peaceful.

Each part of his paintings had its own dialogue going on. In “Untitled” (1975), each animal surrounding the child had its own emotion and its own role. I could have stared at this painting all day and found something new each time. The Bradley Hulse gallery was my favorite part of the exhibit because of that certain collection of paintings and their detail. The people inside the frames looked eerily real and as if they could leap out of the canvas after the gallery closed at night.

What made Oliver’s art and himself so intriguing was that he was incredibly humble about his talent. A man who can design for Hermès and show up for his postal job on Monday is something so mysterious that I don’t think the average person could ever understand.

My words and my camera could never capture the symbolism of Oliver hidden in his brushstrokes, so people will have to see his work in person. The Art Center Waco is holding the exhibition “New Narratives, New Beginnings” free to the public until January 22.