The following excerpt is from  
The Disciples of Light: 
A WAY OF SEEING AND THE EDUCATIONAL TRANSFER OF 
IDEAS LINKING SPIRITUALITY AND ART 
AMONG SOUTHERN PAINTERS 
IN THE HENSCHE-HAWTHORNE TRADITION
A Dissertation by Barbara Faulkner



Gerald Deloach: Learning to See and Avoiding Expectations

I visited Deloach at his rural home and studio in the spring and then again in late summer. 
His home is several miles
down a straight rural blacktop east of Alligator, Mississippi on Highway 61. There are few
houses along the road, and they look like they have been there for many years. From a distance,
Deloach’s place looks like an oasis, an island of green trees rising up out of flat, cultivated earth.
The walls of his home are filled with his paintings, common objects and ordinary vistas made
extraordinary by his rendering of light and color. Like other artists I know, Deloach has his hand
in many projects when he is not painting: raising the ceiling in his living room, building a
chicken coop as a birthday present for his wife, constructing an arched bridge over a ditch on one
side of the yard, making a replacement wheel for his lawnmower because he thought the one at
the hardware store was priced too high. We walked across his bridge into an adjacent field that
was once cultivated for soybeans or cotton but is now planted in hardwood saplings. He led me
along a path that followed a small bayou to point out some of his favorite vistas for landscape
painting. Deloach seems to have changed little from our Delta State days. His hair has thinned
and grayed a bit, but he is still thin, lanky, easy-going, and quick witted. The following narrative
is written from Deloach’s email responses to a series of questions I posed to him as well as
details that I learned during my visits.
Gerald Deloach grew up in the small rural community of New Africa not far from
Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta. It is about an hour’s drive north of Cleveland, Mississippi,
where Delta State University is located. His parents ran a small country store out their home and
farmed cotton. Deloach and his wife now live on the family land, and one of his brothers lives
nearby. The only pictures that Deloach remembered seeing in his family home were photos of
relatives, calendars, pictures in magazines, and the engraved illustrations in his grandmother’s
bible. He also remembered comic book art and “being truly frightened” by horror comics. In the
post-WWII era of his elementary school days, he drew battleships, planes, and tanks and
remembered doing “some criminally bad watercolor copies of photographs.” In high school, his
interest led him to take art and join the art club. Though he enjoyed drawing, he felt that he
lacked the draftsmanship skills to ever consider it as a career or a serious field of study
 (personal communication, January 24, 2005).
When Deloach entered Delta State College in 1966, his family encouraged him toward a
“practical” field of study. Like one of his older brothers, he chose business and accounting
because he had discovered in high school that he had an aptitude for bookkeeping. As others
have found, aptitude is a hollow substitute for genuine passion, and by his fourth semester,
Deloach had discovered a more satisfying talent for problem solving in design through a required
art elective. Stan Topol, who taught basic design, was an abstract expressionist who organized
the elements and principles of art into specific design problems. Topol offered him
encouragement and suggested that Deloach had a good intuitive sense of design. As a result, he
decided to change his major to art. Skill in drawing realistically was not needed to succeed in the
area of design, and as another bonus, Deloach found that he enjoyed the lively company of other
art students. He also remembered that “there was a smell of Freedom in the air” during the
freewheeling 1960s when all things seemed possible.
 (personal communication, January 24,2005).
The two opposing camps in the Delta State Art Department, the modernists and the
traditionalists, emphasized different concerns. Expressions of individually, originality of
concepts, and experimentation with media where “craft was learned on the fly” were aspects of
the modernist camp that attracted Deloach. However, although he had “a great deal of respect for
the innovative pioneers of modernism,” he had none for their imitators. The lack of foundational
skills and often “disgracefully distracting” lack of craftsmanship in the modernist camp left
Deloach with the uncomfortable feeling that “there was some concrete knowledge that I needed
to learn… like how to draw and paint realistically” (personal communication, February 1, 2005).
Sammy Britt, leading the traditionalist camp, emphasized developing control of media and a
vocabulary of color through practicing drawing and painting from life. Deloach felt that the
foundational skills he desired, which seemed “unattainable through pure experimentation,” could
be learned with Britt who guided students to observe relationships of color and to produce
unfinished studies that were not based in drawing. After his initial exposure to Britt’s teachings
and his paintings, and to seeing slides of Hensche’s work, “I started noticing colors in nature that
were unavailable to my conscious mind before being exposed to this approach to painting.”
(personal communication, February 1, 2005).As his sensitivity to color increased, he found that
Object consciousness dissolves into color shape consciousness. I became fully engaged
in solving this puzzle of color shapes describing 3-D forms buried in volumes of light,
atmosphere, reflections, and glows. I began to see a previously unknown world of
perception. I asked myself, “If this was invisible to me before, what else still is?” Mucho
grande. (personal communication, February 1, 2005)
The first piece in solving the puzzle of color was in learning to observe colors without
reference to the object’s local color; that is, the general color name used to describe it (e.g., the
ball is red). For example, Hensche's teachings pointed out that, in a red object, the visually
observed colors might be yellow, orange and purple, yet the mind might still identify it as a "red
object." Deloach recalled that “the realization that I had been led to observe color in a different
way opened the question of what else have I overlooked?” (personal communication, May 31,
2005). Through painting from nature, Deloach has found that direct color perception can
offer surprises that seem to contradict reason. For example, looking at a cobalt blue vase,
I see red violet in the light plane…hmmm, using red to express blue. I would never have
considered that possibility solely from painting from memory or imagination.
 (personal communication, July 17, 2005)
As Hawthorne (1938) observed, “there is nothing so surprising as truth” in a painting (p. 72).
Deloach learned that exaggerating elements of pure color resulted in paintings that “expressed
the vitality of things observed in sunlight.” Still, he also realized that “If you look for some
particular color pattern, well, heck, you will find it” (personal communication, July 1, 2005).
One result of the Hensche preference for using strong, saturated color was that “one begins
seeing nature in that way” (personal communication, July 17, 2005). Expectations affect what
one sees, thus for the painter “it is a struggle to be vigilant of one’s expectations while painting
and to overcome them for the sake of true observation… to abandon formula for the honest
observation” (personal communication, July 17, 2005).
Like other students of Sammy Britt, Deloach was prepared not only in the basics of the
Hensche-Hawthorne approach to painting light and color, but he was also thoroughly schooled in
the lore of the tradition by the time that he made his first visit to Provincetown in 1969. Deloach
was initially impressed with Hensche’s enormous physical energy. Hensche, a small, sparely
built man who was then about 70 years old, walked everywhere he went and moved like a man in
his twenties. He was alert, quick-witted, and he could talk for hours about painting, socialism
and the ideal society, being Hawthorne’s assistant, and proper diet. Hensche was a devout
follower of the Hay diet, a food-combining regimen, and his only apparent vice was that he
would occasionally drink to excess with his students. Deloach was introduced to Hensche’s ideas
about the artist’s role in the evolution of human visual perception, which Hensche felt “had been
derailed by the modernist movement”
 (personal communication, June 23, 2005). 
Deloach
believes that,
During a time when the academic institutions were encouraging freedom from the
“anachronistic” confines of realism, Hensche was pushing the envelope of understanding
visual perception via painting tabletop still lifes that he arranged in his back yard.
(personal communication, June 18, 2005).

Deloach further confirms that Hensche “felt that what he was doing in his own work was on the
cutting edge of the real evolution of art” (personal communication, June 23, 2005).
Other ideas that Hensche hammered on regularly included commitment to discipline and
craft, “the historical quest to understand Beauty, the development of a selective eye,” and
Painter’s Hell where Picasso was sure to end up (personal communication, May 31, 2005).
Hensche would watch new students carefully to determine their level of visual development. As
Hensche came to know each student’s level of development better, “his instructions would
become more individually specific” (personal communication, May 31, 2005). Sometimes when
Hensche was instructing one student, other students would drift closer to listen. Much like the
Zen master that Thurmond believed Hensche was, “he would admonish the listeners that what he
was telling a student was meant for him or her only and for [others] not to attempt to apply it to
their own situation”
 (personal communication, May 31, 2005).
The logical beauty of Hensche’s approach to color analysis was that colors were always
judged in relation to surrounding colors: warmer or cooler, lighter or darker, saturated or neutral.
Deloach called it a process of “coming to terms with a discipline of accuracy” (personal
communication, July 14, 2005). The beginner was told to always start with the most easily seen,
most obvious color mass and to state it boldly, exaggerating the purity of the color note. Then the
student proceeded to each adjacent color note in turn while leaving a bit of the white board
showing around each mass. Once a color note had been established for every mass in the
composition—no more than about half a dozen in all—the painter would step back to reconsider
the relationships of light and shadow, spatial placement, and color that expressed the light key.
The masses were then refined and improved for a second or even a third time before the painter
could begin to model the variations of color within a mass that describe its 3-dimensional form.
If at any time the student could not see or mix a color, or became puzzled about relationships, it
was time to abandon the study, set up another still life and start over: “A beginning student was
taught to make countless starts” (personal communication, June 20, 2005). “Being truthful with
one’s own understanding” (personal communication, June 28, 2005). was essential to progress.
Only when a student was capable of making consistently strong starts was s/he encouraged to
move on to modeling the masses. Even then, the rule was still “Keep to the masses” (personal
communication, June 20, 2005). This meant that the logic of the light key that had been
established with the first color notes must not be abandoned or destroyed in modeling. Once the
student could “successfully model a block, and was able to paint a white block in sunlight in a
colored manner and have it create the illusion of a white block in sunlight” (personal
communication, June 20, 2005), she or he finally could attempt the problem of modeling
rounded objects.
As it was with the other painters I interviewed, the Saturday morning painting
demonstration was Deloach’s most convincing evidence that Hensche’s way of seeing and
analyzing color within a light key really worked. Deloach recalled that,
Sometimes the sun would go behind the clouds and Henry would step back and look at
the sky, and decide what was about to happen. If he thought it was going to stay behind
the clouds, he would go back and change it to a gray day scheme. He would paint for
three hours and it was impressive how much he could get done in those three hours.
(personal communication, June 18, 2005)

The students that Deloach met at The Cape School of Art were from “Yale, Harvard,
California, Florida, all with a story of how they had managed to arrive in Provincetown in search
of some real knowledge of the practical matters of painting” (personal communication, May 31,
2005). Levels of commitment among these students varied. There were those who were there to
enjoy casual summer study in a picturesque New England fishing village, but the ones that
Deloach remembered best were those “who were fighting tooth and nail to understand how to
use color in the manner that Henry taught” (personal communication, June 22, 2005). The most
committed students would be in the yard by 7 o’clock each morning to claim a still life table with
sunlight on it, and “they would be found reading about art if they weren’t making it” (personal
communication, June 22, 2005). Deloach remembered “riding in a car with [painter Peter Guest],
and we were trying to note the difference in the perceived color of the yellow center line, near
and far” (personal communication, June 22, 2005). John Hamrick and Charlie Miller, who were
by then enthusiastic veterans of the Army of the South, offered encouragement and inspiration.
Deloach felt that “It was a tremendous experience being around so much directed energy”
(personal communication, June 22, 2005).
Sooner or later, the practical question that every painter must confront is that of selection
and interpretation. The painter’s earlier struggles to see color and cultivate a finer perceptual
awareness give way to questions of what to do with this heightened ability. Like other painters in
this study, Deloach has gone through periods where he has experimented with painting “every
little color variation I could see or imagine” only to find that “the strength of the painting is lost
in busyness” (personal communication, June 22, 2005). Over time he has found that in his own
paintings, vitality and poetic expression are more likely to result from “a few carefully chosen
colors and shapes [that] capture an essence” (personal communication, June 22, 2005). In this
respect, he believes that the painter’s “intuitive senses are educated by our conscious experiential
doings” thus “the happy accident” is no accident at all: “We learn to be intuitively selective from
our personal history of study and learning in addition to our genetic inclinations” (personal
communication, June 22, 2005). Painting from nature “what is out there in front of my eyes
offers a great mystery from which so much else proceeds” (personal communication, July 14,
2005). To the extent that Deloach feels his painting is “guided by something outside of
rational/conscious thought process” he is willing to characterize his pursuit as a spiritual one
(personal communication, October 10, 2005).
Most recently, Deloach’s awareness that concepts of what one is supposed to see can
subtly alter perception, and his exposure to the work of painter Russell Chatham has led him to
again reflect upon the relationship of expectation and vision. Chatham’s approach to color in
painting might be described as antithetical to Hensche’s. Chatham, a landscape painter from
Montana, uses an extremely limited palette of only nine colors that include no red-violets or
violets. Chatham’s use of limited color results in compositions that are “very quiet and unified”
and yet that “manage to capture the emotional essence of certain light keys” (personal
communication, July 1, 2005). The paintings appear muted, often saturated with earth colors; yet
they establish a powerful sense of light in atmospheric space. The “shockingly different
viewpoint” presented by Chatham that seemed “true in its quality” challenged Deloach’s most
basic beliefs about the ways of seeing and painting color and light in nature that he had learned
from Hensche. Deloach wrote, “After seeing [Chatham’s] work, I began to realize the ways in
which the Hensche approach to painting also acted as a filter and thus, at some level, censored
true vision. That is not to say the approach is flawed”
 (personal communication, October 15, 2005).
Deloach went on to elaborate that the heightened color resulting from Hensche’s “process
of pushing for strong color differences across the picture plane/motif leads the painter into
expectations [italics added] of an appearance that is sometimes incongruent with the physical
visual reality” (personal communication, February 28, 2005). Having been taught to see color in
nature in this particular way, the painter may be “psychologically inhibited from bringing these
strong colors down to a more neutral accuracy and ends up with an unrealistic over-colored
painting, which is a formulaic interpretation” (personal communication, February 28, 2005). As a
result of his reflections, Deloach has come to believe that the Hensche approach to painting color
and light “is a beautiful way of seeing color, albeit that it may be somewhat contrived or
conforming to a recipe of seeing” (personal communication, July 1, 2005). In other words,
Hensche was right; we do see what we are taught to see. However, learning to see in one way
also can limit one’s ability to see in other ways. As a personal reflection on his own perceptions
of color, Deloach offered,
"I have noticed that, after a day of painting, I am acutely aware of the color. It appears to
be clear and definite, as opposed to a day that I am taking care of the mundane business
of life; then the colors seem drab in comparison. I think the truth of color is probably that
it is always has to be a subjective interpretation. "
(personal communication, July 1, 2005).