AACHM@1528: Where Art Meets History opened on October 24, 2021 at the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County at 1528 Pontiac Trail.
The exhibit was a visual collaboration inspired by community, identity, history, legacy, resilience, and hope. It celebrates six Black artists with Washtenaw County roots: Earl Jackson, Wanetta Jones, Dr. James Lee, Karen Simpson, Gregory Sipp and Wasentha Young.
This online exhibit features the artist statements along with a video about their exhibit piece, creative process and inspiration.
The Rainbow Makers: Umoja
Oil on Canvas
Artist Statement: Like millions of African Americans one of my goals was to travel to my ancestral homeland, Africa. Before that became a reality I read several books by African and African American historians about it’s glorious past and the contributions it’s people made to advance the human race.
Arming myself with the knowledge that the arts, science, religion, mathematics and philosophy originated from the Africans of the Nile Valley civilizations of Kemet (Egypt), Nubia ( Sudan), Kush ( Ethiopia) and that the modern human race’s origins are found in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania dating back 200,000 years.
Romanticizing about it’s history I created a series called the Rainbow Makers. As the earth took shape and found it’s path around the sun these cloud dwellers emerged to create her atmosphere. They are clothed in mystery as they keep the ancient secrets of the Rainbow pouring ceremony. They pour from oversize gourds the blessings, harmony and the healing powers of the Rainbow.
Prints of this painting may be purchased directly from the artist and proceeds will be donated to the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.To purchase a print and support the Museum call or text the artist Earl Jackson at 404.862.6203.
Conglomerate of a Soldier
Oil Paint on Linen Canvas
Artist Statement: All types of different color mediums have fascinated me since 1944 when I attended the School of Industrial Arts, now known as Art and Design. As the first graduating class I majored in Fashion Illustration and Design. I attended Pratt Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology continuing my education in oil painting and the application of color. Before moving to Ann Arbor,during my 20-year residence in California, I studied bead construct and weaving at Ascona Beads and took courses in Environmental and Interior Design at UCLA.
As mother, I expressed my creativity in fashion by making my children’s clothing, in their teens I took silver and gold jewelry design classes, and never hindered my girls’ creativity. I am proud to say each one of my daughters are artistic… among other stellar characteristics… if I may say so myself.
Dr. James P. Lee
Lift Every Voice and Scream, No Time to Be Silent, Can We Talk About It?
Oil on Canvas
Artist Statement: This painting is result of my attempt to process and interpret the onslaught of social “justice” events of the year 2020. The revelation of circumstances surrounding Ahmaud Arbery’s death and the subsequent untimely deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks occurred in a very narrow period of time. In response to this, I felt compelled to not only view these incidents as current events but instead to look at them through the lens of history and through the lyrics of the spiritual song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I found solace particularly in the line, “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.” From the middle passage to the present day our sorrows have accumulated into an ocean of tears, a tsunami of tears and this, unfortunately, was just the current wave.
Through the use of symbols and metaphors I encourage you to look beyond the surface and explore the complexity of the issues and the layers of root causes that have led to the many inequities, disparities, and injustices that African-Americans continue to face. These issues and root causes make up the perpetual “stony road (that) we trod” as we continue to navigate our way through obstacles in education, economics, voting legislation, health care, environmental issues, the criminal “justice” system, and more.
If we sincerely want better outcomes we must not only “lift our voices,” but we must be willing to think in new ways and our conversation must evolve. It is my hope that this piece will stimulate dialogue and be a part of a larger on-going conversation and subsequent actions toward the improved quality of life for African-American people and for the betterment of society as a whole.
Karen L. Simpson
Resistance in Blue and White
Artist Statement: I write about race and history. I’ve taught African American quilting for over twenty years. I hold a Master’s in Historic Preservation and as a historian, I help museums and other historical institutions design exhibits that deal with issues of racial and cultural diversity. All my understanding and love of history and research gets poured in to my writing of fiction in what I hope is interesting, and powerful ways.
I used Indigo dyed reproduction fabric that was popular during mid-nineteen- century quilt making. Indigo has a long history of use in African and was used as currency in the slave trade.While I never fully believed the research behind quilts being used as maps on the underground railroad. I did take in a deep appreciation and understanding of the
spiritual power our ancestors invested in quiltmaking to aid in our resistance to oppression.
I fell in love with a passage from the book Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline L Tobin which guided me in fashioning this quilt. “ Tracing the thread of the African American quilt took us first to Africa, where we witnessed the cultural spinning of fibers belonging to the secret societies, to writing systems, to the talking drums, to encoded textiles and finally to the fashioning of the African American quilt itself, binding all together, tying, knotting, invoking the blessing of the Ancestors”. karensimpsonwrites.com
Artist Statement: I made this mosaic of John Coltrane to honor the memory of Robert Brown, Bob, as many people called him. There were many things that linked us together. We, along with our spouses and other friends would often go to the Detroit Jazz Festival. We would sometimes spend the night in Detroit so we could attend the late night jam sessions and be ready for the next days events. Ann Arbor also has great jazz venues we enjoyed including the Power Center, the Michigan Theater, Hill Auditorium, The Blue Llama, Kerrytown Concert House, and Ron Brooks club - the Bird of Paradise.
Bob enjoyed the music of John Coltrane. When you listen to Coltrane’s music it will elevate you. I feel his music has a spiritual and healing aspect. Coltrane’s tunes A Love Supreme, and Spiritual is a case in point. In this mosaic Coltrane is playing the soprano saxophone. He played multiple instruments, but the two he played most were the tenor and soprano sax.
There are many things I could say about my friend Bob Brown. He was an excellent high school teacher, that some of my children had as a teacher, he was a legendary high school baseball coach, he was very involved in the Ann Arbor community. He was a great husband, father, and grandfather, and a friend to many people, Bob always carried himself with poise and dignity. Rest in everlasting peace my friend.
In his honor, I am selling prints of this mosaic and donating the profits to the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, one of my and Bob’s favorite institutions.
To purchase a print and support the Museum call or text the artist Gregory Sipp at 734.657.4237. sippmosaicartistry.com
Artist Statement: Aretha Franklin is one of America’s greatest singers and one of best singers the world has seen. She sang songs that will be heard forever. It was in the 1960’s that I heard this new voice, she sang like no other, she sang R&B with a gospel sensibility and with her own style.This mosaic, I hope honors her. When I saw Aretha in this pose, I knew I had to do a mosaic of it. This is the period of time I enjoyed Aretha the most. The mosaic shows Aretha in the late 1960’s. She was in her early twenties and had a beautiful afro. In this mosaic I wanted to show you the texture of her hair in the glass.
Aretha was very active in the civil rights movement. She contributed her money and performed concerts for the civil rights movement. The black consciousness era was in full swing and Aretha was one of the beacons of light that I admired and enjoyed listening to. The songs that resonated with me in the 60’s were Baby, Baby, Baby, Dr. Feel Good, Chain of Fools, Amazing Grace, Until You Come Back To Me, Spanish Harlem, and Natural Woman among many others.
Artist Statement: I love the challenge of creating movement from what seems to be ridged materials in mosaic art like stone, metal, and glass.
My creative subjects embrace transformation. Working with my tools - hammer and hardy, give my work a visceral quality. The rise and fall of the hammer over the hardy, in an the almost lyrical/rhythmic way, offers me an artistic sense of meditation in motion. As I select materials, placement, the flow of lines to express a feeling, I am led into a space of balance and unpredictable expression that seems to settle my spirit. When a piece is finished it stands alone – uniquely - as a mosaic work of art.
Thematically, my body of works was focused on clouds; as they can be gentle, foreboding, diffused, appear solid, graceful, violent, and at times appear still, but are always in motion. As change will have it, I have just started a new body of works that will focus on masks depicting the African/American experience. Creating those pieces I find myself “driven”, often focusing on the concepts of time, symbolism, rites of passage, and spirituality. wasenthasmosaics.com