What’s Happening at the Library: Local black artists illuminate Local History Month

Published 9:33 am Monday, August 12, 2019

There is a superb exhibit of photography, painting and drawing by black Winchester artists in the reference section of the Clark County Public Library. It is, without a doubt, one of the most accomplished exhibits ever at the library.

The credit for that goes to the artists and donors who made it happen.

The library has been organizing art exhibits for 10 years now. In all those years, I’ve never had so much fun or been so privileged to work with a group as talented and bright as the people who helped with this exhibit.

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First of all, I want to thank the inimitable Joyce Morton, who in May, gave me a list of local black residents who collected or made art.

Her contacts helped me get a few initial commitments and got the ball rolling.

She also donated for the show two landscapes and a number of pen and pencil sketches done by her talented son, Dwayne.

Mary Higgins and Kenneth Williams were two of the people Joyce told me to contact. Though both were reticent at first about showing their work, subsequent conversations convinced them. Those conversations were pure pleasure for me.

By July, I was calling Mary Higgins just for the conversation and wonderful stories she would tell. Her love for her family, community and work associates is inspiring and gratifying.

Science fiction author Ursula LeGuin once said if space aliens ever wanted to know what life was really like on Earth, they would ask a black grandmother. If LeGuin had known Mary Higgins, she could have been specific about who.

Though we had a few short phone conversations, I met Kenneth Williams when he brought in his paintings. What a wonderful morning it was.

When he walked in the door, his deer painting was visible and it took my breath away.

Kenneth loves nature and that picture exactly and soulfully captures nature’s radiance. There’s kinetic color in his deer painting he learned from the work of Francois Boucher.

The rich dark background and gold light in his still life of fruit resembles Michelangelo’s techniques. That’s no accident. Kenneth studies painting by the old masters.

He was also a technician on U2 spy planes flying from Alaska in the early 1960s.

I don’t meet eclectic people like him every day, but when I do, it makes my week.

Dwayne Green is a terrific local illustrator who draws realistic and fascinating pictures of black cowboys and soldiers and Native Americans.

He started drawing when he was 5, inspired by his mother, who drew cartoons and his father who did realistic art.

Dwayne uses those influences to create images of strong personalities brought to life by the intricate details of their costumes. He’s a wonderful historical illustrator.

Pee Wee Robinson donated some of his Labor Day street photography to the show, along with three photographs by Ernest Gentry.

Pee Wee’s pictures are a joy to behold. They teem with the celebratory spirit the black community has infused into Winchester every Labor Day weekend for more than 100 years. It’s obvious adults and children love to have their pictures taken by Pee Wee.

The best of Ernest Gentry’s photographs, I think, is one of him with fellow works at Browning’s Turkey Farm. Photographers complement each other by saying, “You got eyes.”

Ernest Gentry’s got eyes, metaphorically and literally.

Finally, thanks to three Winchester residents who donated local black art from their collections: Terri and Steve Humble and Amy Williams.

Terri and Steve loaned the library works by internationally-recognized woodcarver LaVon Williams; a painting by Tony Dunn, a blind abstract artist from Lexington; a beautiful vintage photograph of children at Frederick Douglas Elementary School in Louisville; and an outstanding life-sized figure of a young black boy that was carved for Bruce Knox who owned a Lexington book store devoted to African-American literature.

Amy Williams donated two paintings by Darryl Davis, a Winchester artist of near mythic stature. One picture is called “Partying in Bucktown” and a card that accompanies it is a copy of the note Darryl Davis wrote on the back of the painting telling the story of its conception after an evening of partying in Bucktown during Labor Day.

That picture contains one of Darryl Davis’ signature media, dryer lint.

The other picture is a painting/collage of P.J. Washington’s Pool Hall.

This exhibit will be on display throughout August and September to coincide with the library’s Local History Week, the Pioneer Festival and the Labor Day Parade and Celebration.

It’s a treasure for the whole community.

Big love and big thanks to all the artists and donors who made it possible. You are wonderful people.  

John Maruskin is director of adult services at the Clark County Public Library. He can be reached at john.clarkbooks@gmail.com.