Painting a ‘definitive’ moment for the artist with Erwin ties

Contributed Photo • Starlene DeBord is shown with her critically acclaimed work, “Defined” for the Erwin native.

By Michael Briggs

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

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

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

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

“I named the room ‘Defined’. I intended to illustrate that Ms. Gorman’s words physically shaped her, and that by immersing oneself in the room, following the twist, the flipping of sentences, those same words could also shape us. Let the words fill us and define us, maybe even change us, and our path.

“At this moment, we are all at the crossroads of hopeful paths of a historic era, on this path of welcoming diversity, reconciliation and unity. We are on a journey where every step counts, every share invested will have a certain and sure return on its investment. None of us are helpless; we can all be a force for good.

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

“This work of art has been met with great success. In June 2021, it was invited to the National Civil Rights Conference at the University of Miami, Ohio – the site of Freedom Summer 1964.

“A reproduction of the print was donated locally in Tallahassee to Big Bend Cares, a non-profit charitable organization that provides assistance and support to the local HIV-positive 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 received the People’s Choice Award by those in attendance.

“A large canvas of the print was donated to the University of Miami and can now be found at the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion. “

“Defined” by Starlene DeBord


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

She currently invests most of her creative energy in illustration and writing, with some occasional blacksmithing and teaching. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening and learning new things, exploring nature and photography. She shares her life with three pet dogs, three cats and nine rabbits, as well as a very gentle and tolerant man (also from Erwin) who embraces her art and creativity.

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

Proceeds from sales of this coin will be donated to the League of Women Voters of the United States. The LWV is non-partisan, advocates education, and encourages active and informed 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, both in principle and in practice. To learn more, visit

(Michael Briggs is a resident of Erwin and a faculty member in the Department of Literature and Language at East Tennessee State University.)

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