In the midst of the Civil War, a young slave named Dan lives on a Southern plantation and loves to play his drum. When a company of Union soldiers announce that the slaves have been set free, Dan has no family, no home and no place to go. He follows the soldiers, who befriend him. When Confederate soldiers attack, Dan discovers that he may be able to save his friends using his drum.

This is the tale told in Li’l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story by renowned artist Romare Bearden. The book, the only one written and illustrated by Bearden, is part of the Romare Bearden: Beat of a Different Drum exhibit presented by the Arts Council and opening Jan. 22 during 4th Friday from 7 – 9 p.m.

“The book is a work of fiction,” said Mary Kinney, marketing director of the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County. “It’s a wonderful story of heroism and bravery of this little boy … finding friendship in unexpected places.”

The free Black History Month exhibition of artwork and artifacts will run until March 5 and includes lectures, performances and workshops. The Arts Council worked with Charlotte’s Jerald Melberg Gallery, the Romare Bearden Foundation in New York City and the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex to arrange the exhibit.

It incorporates historical pieces on loan from the Museum of Cape Fear including an authentic Civil War drum, a bayonet and a painting of the Fayetteville Arsenal before it was destroyed in 1865. Kinney said reproductions of a Union soldier’s uniform and a southern woman’s outfit will be available for visitors to touch.

The highlight of the exhibit is a series of colorful images from Bearden’s book, on loan from the Jerald Melberg Gallery. Kinney said the images and themes will engage visitors of all ages.

“We’re excited to present this story and works of Romare Bearden,” Kinney said. “There’s a sense of wonder to some of these pieces. This exhibit is very colorful with vibrant pieces. Some a little more abstract and collage focused. In this story told through watercolor, you get the sense that you know this little boy.”

Bearden was born in Charlotte in 1911, and lived much of his adult life in New York, where he died in 1988. Considered a prolific artist, his work was exhibited during his lifetime throughout the U. S. and Europe. Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the 20th century, Bearden experimented with different mediums and styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages. Bearden’s diverse interests were evident with his sets and costumes designed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

“He did have a full career outside of artwork,” Kinney said. “He had a full-time day job as a social worker. Art was evening and weekend work. He was the type of artist that was open to exploring art. His different mediums make the show more accessible to more people.”

Kinney said the Arts Council expects a wide and varied interest in the exhibit from artists, students, historians and novice art enthusiasts.

“It is an opportunity to have access to artwork from outside our community, works that are normally not available unless viewed in high-end galleries,” Kinney said. “When they come, they will get a sense that they’ve seen something they wouldn’t normally have a chance to see, and learn something about African-American art.”

Group tours with educators and other organizations are available with docents who are educated on the time frame, art techniques and historical significance of the works.

The opening during 4th Friday will feature a meet-and-greet with Diedra Harris-Kelly, co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation in New York and a relative of Bearden, as well as performances by Fayetteville State University’s Percussion Ensemble at 7:15 and 8 p.m. in the Arts Council’s Grand Hall. 

Harris-Kelly will also participate in a discussion on collecting African-American art at 11 a.m. on Jan. 23.

Kinney encourages visitors to also visit a related exhibition at the Transportation & Local History Museum. Cumberland County Goes to War commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and Cumberland County’s war experience. 

The Arts Council galleries are located at 301 Hay Street. Admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to noon; and Saturday noon to 4 p.m. To schedule a tour from Jan. 25 until March 4, contact the Arts Council at 910.323.1776. To learn more about Romare Bearden’s life and work visit http://www.beardenfoundation.org/ 


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