Arleen Regina Polite
January 17, 1962–July 24, 2020
Though only 5 feet tall, Arleen Regina Polite was ferocious! She obtained her black belt in Kyokushin Karate in 1995 at Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP. She was their first black belt ever! After taking a pause in her martial arts practice while living in Florida for 8 years, she returned to Sun Dragon in 2015. When she learned that they had changed to Seido Karate, Arleen began to train for her second black belt.
Arleen was amazing from the start. Born in Palatka, Florida, the third child of Queen Ester Evins Polite and Hallbrook Polite, Sr., she was reading and drawing by the time she was 4 years old. During her elementary years, Arleen continued to hone her craft as an artist. She presented her first art show at age 10. By the time she was in high school, her art skills rivaled that of many trained adult artists. In high school she also was a cross country runner and a member of Future Farmers of America.
After finishing her two-year course of study at the Florida School of the Arts, Arleen moved to Atlanta and earned a BFA in 1984 from the Atlanta College of Art (now the Savannah College of Art and Design). There she discovered the ancient Chinese technique of block printing. A few years after graduating, she moved to Austin, Texas. She had found her new home!
Arleen and her art became hallmarks of the Austin art community. Her work was exhibited at numerous galleries throughout Texas, including the Austin Museum of Art, Flatbed Press, and La Peña in Austin; the Dallas Visual Art Center; and the San Marcos Fine Arts Center. In 2010, Arleen recorded an hour-long interview at the University of Texas. In this interview, she reflected on what it was like to try to survive as an artist in Austin, and she spoke openly and honestly about her craft, her struggles, and her aspirations.
At the St. James’ Episcopal Church in Austin, Arleen found solitude, love, and family. She was the church’s resident artist, creating beautiful and moving images for its Stations of the Cross. This past Holy Week, early in the COVID-19 crisis, an audio-visual meditation on the Stations of the Cross was recorded with voices from the congregation set alongside her images. It stands as Arleen’s own meditation on the struggle and journey of life, death, and resurrection.
Arleen’s entire life was spent in service. From 1989 to 1990 she was a Peace Corps volunteer, stationed in the Philippines. When civil unrest broke out under President Ferdinand Marcos in June 1990, the US government received intelligence reports that Peace Corps volunteers were going to be targeted by insurgents. After weeks of chaos, the volunteers scattered. Arleen found refuge in the mountains with the Negrito people. When she miraculously received word of the Peace Corps evacuation, Arleen was shuttled to the departing plane by motorcyle.
It had been a number of years since Arleen had attended ST, but she was present in Naperville in 2019. One of her powerfully evocative images commemorates the 30th anniversary of Sun Dragon. I do have some of her woodcut work, and now I cherish it more. (If you are reading this, and you have any of her art, please let an NWMAF Board Member know. We’ll post and share with our community.) An artist gives of themselves while they are here so that they continue to live with us in our hearts, minds, and memories long after they are gone. May she Rest in Power.
(The above information was condensed from online resources and written by Sensei Amelia Jones.)