Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Congressional visit

I had an unexpected but most welcomed pair of visitors to the studio this afternoon - Congressman Jim Clyburn and his daughter, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. A mutual friend told Mignon about the painting and she called and asked if they could come by and see it since Rep. Clyburn is a history buff (majored in it). They were in town to pay their respects to a departed friend and running a little later than scheduled, so I assumed they had a change of plans. I cranked the music and went back to the business of painting only to turn around ten minutes later and come face to face with two Secret Service agents. I thought it would be nothing more than a quick election year meet, greet and retreat but he was really interested in the work and stuck around for nearly twenty minutes perusing the entire piece and asked a myriad of questions about many of the subjects.

Congressman Jim Clyburn
I was surprised when he recognized Clarence Lightner in the painting and told me that they had been fraternity brothers - his nickname, 'Baby'. He also knew 'Goldie' Frinks, reminded Mignon of an incident they shared and when I asked if Golden lived up to his moniker 'the Great Agitator', Mr. Clyburn responded with a hearty, "Oh, yeah!" He also knew Ella Baker, Reginald Hawkins, Sr., Kelly Alexander and John Hope Franklin. The two secret service agents got into the groove as well and were not only amused by the prices on the menu held by Annie Holland, but also by the fact that they could actually read the text on the two newspapers. I must say that I was honored that they took time out of their busy schedule to drop by and will invite both to the unveiling.

I am about two days away from completion and am spending the time going over every inch of the piece and making color corrections. I was invited to attend a meeting in Greensboro with Ann Simpson and some personnel at the International Civil Rights Museum on Wednesday to bring them up to speed with the unveiling and solicit their participation.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Valances and Work of Art

June 20th! This was the day that I predicted that I would be finished with the main painting and I am. The base color on the valances are in and tomorrow I will fill in the shadows and the window breaks. The whole idea behind them was completely theoretical (yeah, I know what you're thinking - this clown waited this late in the painting to try something experimental?) Yep. They look great and accomplished exactly what I thought they would - lift and separate. Now there is greater delineation between foreground and background which will increase with the shadows and completion of the window framing. After that I start the final eight days of completion in which I will look closely at each of the panels, scrutinize every aspect and make the necessary corrections. Probably won't take that long but I'll use the time to second guess myself until I'm stupid (nearly there already). Time is the enemy now so efficiency will have to be my guide.

I haven't had that much time to watch television over the past few months but when I have - such as last night, I watched Bravo TV's new show 'Work of Art - The Next Great Artist'. Thank God for Tivo. I only recorded the first episode just to try it out and was really surprised by the show. I initially thought that it would be a platform to showcase the virulent pomposity of the art world (a slight odor was evident), but all in all it held up. I suspect that what I liked about it was the format, which was a blatant rip-off of one my favorite TV shows 'Project Runway' (so unimaginative of them but why reinvent the wheel?). It was interesting to watch the process of art executed on the fly and under the ridiculously short time constraints.  I was pleased by the outcome of many of the projects and look forward to seeing what the rest of the season has to offer.

Cast of Bravo TV's Work of Art - The Next Great Artist

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Colored Troops

Photo's by Joy Halstead

This background panel is a salute to colored union troops. The particular regiment shown is a division of Gen, Charles Paine's 4th USCT. The 27th regiment under his command played a prominent role in the capture of Wilmington in February 1865, after which, they constituted the vanguard of the Union's march on Wilmington.

Another reason I decided to place colored troops in this frame is because of the presence of James B. Young in the foreground. During the Spanish-American war, states were asked to organize regiments of volunteers. When President McKinley called for volunteers in April 1898, African Americans in Wilmington, New Bern, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Asheville quickly organized into companies and offered their services to Governor Daniel L. Russell. Russell had been elected governor in 1896 on a fusion ticket, supported by both Populists and Republicans and with nearly all of the black vote. Recognizing his debt to black voters, Russell agreed to create an all-black volunteer regiment. To command the regiment he commissioned James H. Young, the African American editor of the Raleigh Gazette and a former state representative who had been instrumental in founding a state school for the deaf, dumb, and blind.

North Carolina was one of only three states to create an all-black regiment commanded by black officers. Across the U.S., the black press praised the state and its Third Regiment. 

One more background to complete. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Parrish Street - The Black Wall Street

Background: The North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company on Parrish Street in Durham, NC

In the early twentieth century, Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina, was the hub of African American business activity. This four-block district was known as “Black Wall Street,” a reference to the district of New York City that is home to the New York Stock Exchange and the nation’s great financial firms. Although other cities had similar districts, Durham’s was one of the most vital, and was nationally known. Parrish Street bordered the Hayti community, Durham’s main African American residential district, and the two districts together served as the center of black life in Durham.

Forced out of politics by the successful “White Supremacy” political campaign of 1898, Durham’s African American leaders turned their talents to the business world instead. The African American community of Durham was relatively prosperous and enjoyed better relations with its white counterpart than prevailed in many other communities in the state. The idea of an insurance company, moreover, fit in naturally with a tradition among African Americans of self-help, mutual aid societies or fraternities. John Merrick, born into slavery in 1859, had become by the late 1890s a business success in Durham. Owner of half a dozen barber shops and a real estate business, Merrick was also a member of the Grand United Order of True Reformers, a mutual benefit society organized in Richmond in 1881 which had expanded into insurance and banking. In 1898 Merrick brought together six of Durham’s leading black business and professional men and organized North Carolina Mutual. Guided by the “triumvirate” of John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, and Charles Clinton Spaulding, “The Company with a Soul and a Service” survived the hardship of its first years to achieve success and help make Durham’s reputation as a center of African American economic life.

On the first of April 1899 the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company opened for business in Durham, North Carolina. The first month’s collections, after the payment of commissions, amounted only to $1.12, but from such beginnings North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest African American managed financial institution in the United States.

In 1906, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company, moved its headquarters to Parrish Street. It was soon joined by the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and the founderd of North Carolina Mutual also invested in real estate and textiles. National leaders W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington both visited the city, in 1912 and 1910, respectively, and praised black entrepreneurship and the tolerance of whites.

In the 1960s, urban renewal wiped out much of Hayti and Durham’s black business community, but by that time, Parrish Street’s heyday had passed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Menhaden Chanteymen

5 of the 8 background panels are now complete! The detailed imagery of the fishing fleet has me cross-eyed for the moment but now that it's done, we move onto a street scene that will prove equally as detailed but I suspect will be easier to accomplish. Now for today's North Carolina history lesson on the fleet of Menhaden Chanteymen.

Beaufort, NC is the menhaden capital of the world. Local menhaden companies once provided hundreds of jobs in Beaufort and surrounding areas with numerous factories and vessels, including dozens of steamers that came from Virginia to work the lucrative fall fishery. Grocery stores, hardware stories, gasoline docks, and department stores all benefited from the influx of people and money during menhaden’s fall fishing.  The smell of “shad” cooking on Lennoxville Road was recognized throughout Carteret County as the smell of money that was an important part of this county’s commercial fishing industry.

Menhaden fishing was also a part of the culture and community that has not been forgotten locally.
For more than a century, folklorists and ballad hunters have mined the North Carolina mountains for folksongs and traditional crafts, virtually unaware that such treasures could be found in abundance along the watery byways of the coast. Many of the richest folk traditions in the state are associated with maritime occupations, or "working the water," as people say.

In the town of Beaufort, in Carteret County, commercial fishing enterprises have long operated fleets to net huge catches of menhaden, or shad fish, as they're more commonly called by the local fishermen. In processing facilities along the water, the fish are converted to a remarkable variety of uses, from feeds and fertilizers to paints and perfumes.

The ship-board crews employed by the fisheries have been predominantly black over the years, and the work assigned to them has been physically demanding. Menhaden are caught by quickly encircling large schools of fish in two small "purse" boats, which surround the fish with their nets. This purse seine must be pulled tight or "hardened," drawing it in from the bottom in order to capture the fish and lift them to the surface of the water. A special "scoop" net then brings the catch to the hold of the main fishing vessel. Since the mid-1950s, this work has been performed with the aid of hydraulic winches and lifters; prior to this time it was done by hand. As it was not uncommon for a catch to exceed 100,000 fish, hardening the net required great strength and coordination on the part of the crew.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pea Island Lifesavers

Background: Pea Island lifesaver surfman Lonnie Gray (rowing), Captain Richard Etheridge and crew

There are times I often think of this painting in terms of Playboy - the images may draw you in, but it's the articles that keep you engrossed - ;-)  In other words - to hell with the art, this painting is all about the stories. And this story of the Pea Island lifesavers is definitely one for the books. For those that are unaware of these legendary fella's, here's a brief synopsis of why the SOG wanted them included in the painting.

The Pea Island Life-Saving Station was a life-saving station on Pea Island, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was the first life-saving station in the country to have an all-black crew, and it was the first in the nation to have a black man, Richard Etheridge, as commanding officer.

Richard Etheridge was born a slave on January 16, 1842, and like most Outer Bankers, learned to work the sea, fishing, piloting boats and combing the beach for the refuse of wrecks. Even though it was illegal to do so, his master also taught him to read and write.

During the Civil War, Richard Etheridge enlisted on August 28 and was assigned to the 36th United States Colored Troop. The 36th distinguished itself during the September, 1864 Battle of New Market Heights, Virginia when Union forces overran Lee's strong position and won an important victory on the road to taking the Confederate capital at Richmond. Etheridge was promoted to sergeant two days after the battle. At the War's close, Etheridge, now a Regimental Commissary Sergeant, and the black troops of the Army of the James were regrouped into the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and sent to Texas. These units would become known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New School, New Rules?

Another day another background. This one makes reference to the integration of Charlotte schools in 1957. Many whites showed their objection by refusing to allow their children to ride school busses with black children. I thought it was appropriate to place this scene behind the image of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, founder of Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina, a school for African-American women founded in 1902. A staunch educator, Ms. Hawkins was known for her 'rules' in the classroom:

1. Always greet the teacher when meeting for the first time, whether it be morning or not.
2. Be sure that you have everything you need-- text, paper, pen, etc. Don't be a carpenter without tools.
3. When called on to recite, always make some sort of reply. Don't sit dumbly in the seat and say nothing. Don't even think too long. Valuable minutes are wasted thus.
4. When standing or sitting, hold yourself erect. Don't slouch. Talk clearly and sufficiently loud for everyone in the room to hear.
5. Don't make a habit of laughing at the mistakes of others. This often hinders a person from doing his best.
6. Don't deface property. Writing on or cutting into desks or chairs, writing and drawing in books, breaking the backs, or turning down the corners of pages of texts are evidences of poor training.
7. Make it your business to keep the room in order. Straighten the shades, keep the floor and desks free of waste paper, and erase the boards when they need it.
8. Don't Cheat. You will never learn by "copying" from your neighbor or from the book.
9. Do not argue with or contradict the teacher in class. If you think that she has made a mistake, wait until the hour is over and discuss it with her quietly at the desk.
10. Do not yell out the answers to questions; wait until you are called upon. The teacher will let you know when concert recitation is desired.
11. Don't mistake the classroom for a lunchroom or a bedroom.

Today's schools could use Ms. Brown!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The background

The last phase of the painting has begun. The background (scenes outside the diner window) will be filled in by the end of next week barring any unforeseen difficulties (there better not be any). This is the part that was subliminally bothering the hell out of me. My initial intention was to fill in the entire pane of theoretical glass with imagery, but spatially, it did little to address the issue of distance within the piece and visually stop the painting at a specific point. The fix (I think) is a simple one. Add light colored valances to the windows. They will serve to frame the window from the inside and give a better sense of distance.

The other issue that literally kept me up a couple nights was exactly what was the viewer supposed to see outside the window. I was working on the assumption that the eight frames would represent various aspects of black life throughout history, but that seemed a bit unhinged and ultimately irrelevant to the surroundings and would end up as meaningless (and forgettable) filler. I suddenly remembered that the SOG gave me an Excel worksheet that contained not only the names of prospective participants, but significant events to the state's black history. Since this piece is based on one of those events (the Woolworth sit-in) why not kill the flock with one stone and use the background to highlight the remaining events? Eh - problem solved.

The first panel background shows Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy in Greensboro two weeks after the sit-in's began. I also included one of the signs that graced the window when Woolworth decided to close the counter. As planned, all of the backgrounds will be painted in a single color (a faint bluish gray) to represent the past and honor the non-compete clause in my head.

The next panel shows a scene from the Somerset Plantation in Creswell, NC. I decided to place that one behind the two anonymous slaves as well as Harriet Jacob who escaped from a plantation and hid in an attic for years to remain close to her enslaved son until escaping to the north. If I am not mistaken, the two buildings to the left were the plantation hospital which seems fitting because two doctors, Dr. Milton Quigless and Dr. Charles Watts, a surgeon, are standing in front of them. No, I didn't plan it that way but I will have no problem lying and saying that I did. 

Somerset Place Plantation

The Somerset Place Plantation was North Carolina's third largest by 1860. In 1969, Somerset Place was designated as a State Historic Site. In 1986, descendants of African American slaves from Somerset Place planned a gathering known as Somerset Homecoming. The event was inspired by a book titled "Somerset Homecoming" written by the property's current manager Dorothy Spruill Redford. Redford spent 10 years tracing the lives of Somerset Plantation's 300 slaves and organized more than 3,000 descendants nationwide to attend a homecoming at the plantation. 

I'm pushing to have two more backgrounds finished by the end of the week. 

Call and Response

As promised, here are some more pics of the Nick Cave exhibition at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art on the campus of the College of Charleston. I attended both lectures given by Nick Cave and Phyllis Galembo and I am happy to report that they were well attended and the audience engaged. 

detail of the textures
Nick Cave gallery talk
Phyllis Galembo gallery talk
I pictures are horrible. The back grounds on my painting are looking wonderful and I promised to post a couple images of them tonight. I've been busy on all fronts the past few days. Two days ago, I got a call from a producer of the Spoleto Festival. They needed a moderator for a talk with Henrique Prince, the leader of one of the last black string bands in America, the Ebony Hillbillies. Why me? My good friend Mark Sloan pitched me for the gig and you don't say 'no' to Mark's requests. They are always reasonable and you are guaranteed to have a great time and more importantly, venture into unknown territory and come back with pearls of wisdom and a map to even more knowledge. The talk was at the Avery Center and needless to say, I was nervous at first, but Rique was a talker and I basically asked him question I wanted to know the answers to - questions like, "What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin?" It also helped that Henrique is a walking storehouse of musical knowledge and carries a compendium of ethnic musical history around in his dread covered head. The Ebony Hillbillies play tonight at the Cistern (sold out) and I'll be there. To get more info go to:

The Ebony Hillbillies