Remnants of last year’s holiday season have almost disappeared. It’s the end of January, time to bundle up and welcome the first of a line up of exhibitions the local art venues have planned this year. Visitors to the January 4th Friday evening gallery crawl won’t be disappointed to view the first exhibition of 2009 at the Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County — Distinguished Visions, Timeless Tradition.
   The exhibit consists of original works by African-American artists, collected by local patrons of the arts and local artists. What you will experience is the power and beauty of the African-American voice in the visual arts and the generosity of collectors who are willing to share part of their collection of original works with the community.
    According to Calvin Mims, arts services coordinator at the Arts Council, “the exhibit was brought together from the private collections of Fayetteville residents to tell life’s story in black. It’s a story of family, love, joy, strength and celebration, in the tradition of the African-American culture.”
   Mims shared with me how the Arts Council wanted to have an exhibit showcasing African-American artists for Black History Month.
   “Through our research we found that several of the country’s noteworthy artists, who happen to be African American, lived or taught in North Carolina, such as John Biggers. The idea for the exhibit came from the discovery that many Fayetteville residents have over the year’s collected significant works of art by African-American artists,” said Mims.
  {mosimage} Mims commented, “At the arts council we are always engaged in dialogue about American culture and we want to ensure that these outstanding artistic contributions will be enjoyed and valued by future generations.   In collecting the work and getting ready for the exhibit to go up, I have been pleased with the number of individuals seeking to enhance their knowledge of African-American art.”
   Visitors to the arts council will see original oils, drawings, signed limited-edition prints and photographs by contemporary younger artists and also many works by artists who worked through the social and political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s — a time when the Civil Rights and the Black Pride movement were igniting. It’s a chance to see an original Hughie Lee Smith, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, Betye Saar and many others.
   If art history is not your passion, be aware there are many artists in the exhibit who are already historically significant and tell the African-American story in American culture. If you remember the The Cosby Show, Hughie Lee Smith’s work was hung on the set of the show.
   Smith taught in many prestigious art academies in the United States and his works were exhibited in museums and galleries across the country. Even after receiving many awards he was not given a major solo exhibition until 50 years after he started painting, at the age of 73. 
   Many people may not know the name Ernie Barnes, but they know his work — he is the artist whose paintings were often seen on the television sit-com show Good Times. Barnes was born in Durham and attended North Carolina Central University. An athlete himself, his work is characterized by athletic and elongated figures.
   Work by two of my personal favorites, Betye Saar and Elizabeth Catlett are part of the exhibit. Born in 1926, Saar is an artist who uses mixed media to explore the personal and political. In 1998 Saar made a poetic statement about the essence of her style, a statement that seems to sum it up: “Symbols, images, place and cultures merge. Time slips away. The stars, the cards, the mystic vigil may hold the answers. By shifting the point of view an inner spirit is released. Free to create.”
   Catlett, born in 1919, is an artist who made her reputation in sculpture and printmaking by exploring themes which related to black women: love, children and marriage. A Mary Cassatt, in 1970s Pop-Art style, Catlett also focused on images of heroic and talented figures in African-American history and was not shy about being highly political in her work and her political activism.
   Catlett is an artist who was very effective in raising the consciousness of African Americans in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She did this with the subject matter of her work and the many people she reached through teaching art.
Seeing work by John Biggers is always a pleasure. I clearly remember the year the Fayetteville Museum of Art had an exhibit of his work and arranged for him to talk to our students at Fayetteville State University.   Before us was a renowned artist whose lifetime had spanned the Great Depression, World War II and the Civil Rights movement; yet the first thing you experienced from Biggers was the kindness and generosity he exuded.
   Born in Gastonia in 1924, it was Biggers’ extraordinary talent and his humility that made him a memorable artist to meet. Future generations will know him for his use of symbols, mixed with a highly stylized figurative technique that carved him a place in the history of art.
   It is not a coincidence that Biggers and others in the exhibit are from North Carolina.
   The exhibit has not left out some younger contemporary artists who are making their way into galleries, museums, private and corporate collections, and hopefully art history. Mima McMillan, a young artist who is employed at the McColl Art Center in Charlotte, is part of the exhibit. A lithographic transfer from an older body of work titled Highland Avenue is in the exhibit.
McMillan’s photographic influence has evolved into a more conceptual body of work which was recently exhibited at the Hart Witzen Gallery in Charlotte. From Fayetteville, McMillan attended Peace College in Raleigh and finished at Fayetteville State University. She was one of the founding members of the Flow artists in Fayetteville and is now one of the founding members of the Contemporaries in Charlotte.
   Another local artist in the exhibit is Dwight Smith. After relocating to Fayetteville from Detroit, Mich., several years ago, he has made a place for himself in the local art community. A mature, professional artist, Smith’s work continues to be purchased by collectors and major corporations. Even with his noted national reputation, Smith takes the time to support local community efforts by participating in the CommuniCare project and is president-elect of the Fayetteville Art Guild. 
   Distinguished Visions, Timeless Tradition opens this 4th Friday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Arts Council, 301 Hay St., and will remain up until March 21.
   There is plenty of time to visit the exhibit and take new visitors to the Arts Council. The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday – Sunday. For information about the exhibit, additional programming surrounding the exhibit, and the hours of the gallery, call 323-1776.

Contact Soni Martin at

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