Through dozens of striking paintings, sculptures, mixed media and other works, the African American experience is documented in Reverberations: Black Artists on Racism and Resilience, one of two exhibits opening Saturday (Juneteenth) at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
The works depict life during slavery, in the era after Emancipation, and all that’s come afterwards, the ugly and the beautiful both. The exhibition is sad, but it’s also celebratory – as seen in the canvases of wide-eyed young children, looking hopefully into the future.
Terri Lipsey Scott, director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, attended Wednesday’s sneak preview and took a moment to explain why the powerful Reverberations – curated and sponsored by Woodson staff – wasn’t on display at her own facility.
“We’re in a public housing community center,” she said. “And even though we have access to this extraordinary art, we can’t show it in that space. (James Museum director) Laura Hine reached out to me about this same time last year and said ‘We’ve got a gallery space. We’d love to share it with you.’
“And that involved this magical opportunity for us to showcase the art and the culture the way that we would love to have it displayed in our community.”
Scott has never made any bones about her unease with the city’s 2019 gift of 5.5 acres of land in Commerce Park, near The Deuces, St. Petersburg’s historically African-American neighborhood. St. Petersburg also kicked in $1 million towards the eventual construction of a new, state-of-the-art Woodson Museum on the site.
Raising the approximately $30 million needed to make it happen? Scott said they’ve pretty much left that up to her.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
“When we consider the depth and breadth of what we display in our community, as it relates to art and culture, what’s absent?” she asked rhetorically.
“And why should there be an absence of this art and history and culture? Unless we can have a space dedicated specifically to the goals and objectives that we seek, of inclusion, we remain absent.”
Sure, she said, there’s always an exhibit or two, or three, during Black History Month. “It’s there for the month and then they take it down.”
But Black history is American history.
“This partnership and allyship with the James Museum speaks volumes,” Scott said as she admired works by prolific Atlanta sculptor Basil Watson in Reverberations.
“It has always been important for us, specifically at the Woodson, in order to demonstrate how critically important it is for the Woodson’s African American history and culture to be a part of the extraordinary museums of St. Petersburg. An additional jewel in the crown of museums that we have here locally.”
For the birds
Saturday also brings Ergo Sum: A Crow a Day to the James Museum.
This utterly charming collection consists of 365 small wooden panels by Canadian wildlife artist Karen Bondarchuk. They were drawn and painted, one a day, between 2014 and 2015.
Each panel depicts a crow – sometimes, it’s a raven – in flight, or at rest, or eating, or foraging, or … whatever Bondarchuk felt like on any given day.
The artist took on the project, said curator Emily Kapes, as a way of chronicling the passage of time while her mother was in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“She really did it to highlight, to herself and others, how precious every day is,” Kapes explained. “And she wanted to go through a deliberate exercise of staying present, of helping to process her grief at her mother’s decline, and just to really honor her mother.
“So it was a year of being thoughtful, and creating something that she enjoyed. And she’s always loved painting crows and other birds.
“You can tell that some days might have felt a bit lighter – there’s some that have really wonderful whimsy – and other days were likely much heavier for her. You can tell by the colors and the brushstrokes she used. I think it turned out to be a really special project.”