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Painting a ‘defining’ moment for artist with Erwin ties

Contributed Photo • Starlene DeBord is shown with her work, “Defined,” which is winning critical acclaim for the Erwin native.

By Michael Briggs

A few months ago, I had the honor of viewing a piece of art my friend, Starlene DeBord, was working on as part of her interest in the events surrounding the Inauguration of Joe Biden to be our 46th President. I was stunned with the beauty of her work and proud to know that Starlene grew up with me right here in Erwin.

DeBord, who has roots in Erwin, is winning acclaim for her artistic interpretation of Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

I asked Starlene to share some thoughts about the work with me and Erwin Record readers. Here are her remarks: 

“During the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, I was so filled with hope and optimism by all the performances, but was especially touched by the words shared with us by National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Sharing in many of her hopes, I set out to create a personal piece of art using images I captured combined with her words, finally settling on the style of the finished piece.

“I named the piece ‘Defined.’ It was my intent to illustrate that Ms. Gorman’s words physically shaped her, and that by immersing oneself in the piece, following the twisting, turning of phrases, those same words might shape us, as well. Let the words fill us and define us, even perhaps change us, and our path.

“Right now, we all stand at a hopeful crossroads of a historic time, on this path of welcoming diversity, reconciliation and unity. We are on a journey where each footstep counts, every action invested will have a certain and sure return on its investment. None of us are powerless; we can all be a force for good.”

I also asked Starlene about the reception “Defined” has received.

“This piece of art has been welcomed with great success. In June 2021, it was presented by invitation at the National Civil Rights Conference at Miami University, Ohio – the site of Freedom Summer 1964.

“A reproduction of the print was donated locally in Tallahassee to Big Bend Cares, a non-profit charity that offers assistance and support to the local HIV+ community. At their annual Artopia event, “Defined” was voted Best in Show by the judges, and at the public event where it was auctioned, it was given the People’s Choice Award by those in attendance.

“A large canvas of the print was donated to Miami University, and now hangs in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion.”

“Defined” by Starlene DeBord


Starlene DeBord spent her youth and college years in Erwin but has traveled extensively since graduating from Milligan College. She has lived quite a few places, including Texas and California, but is now a multi-disciplinary artist, living on a small farm with (too) many pets in Tallahassee, Florida. 

She is currently investing most of her creative energy illustrating and writing, with some occasional metal-smithing and teaching. In her spare time she enjoys gardening and learning new things, exploring nature and photography. She shares her life with three dogs, three cats and nine pet rabbits, along with a very sweet, tolerant man (also from Erwin) who embraces her art and creativity.

If you are interested in this piece of art, contact Starlene via her website at

The profits from sales of this piece will be donated to the League of Women Voters of the United States. The LWV is non-partisan, advocates education and encourages informed active participation in government, to ensure that everyone has the means to vote, regardless of race, political alliance or economic status. The League of Women Voters is an organization fully committed to diversity, equity and inclusion – in both principle and in practice. Find out more at

(Michael Briggs is an Erwin resident and a member of the faculty in the department of literature and language at East Tennessee State University.)