Inside the artist’s studio: Leslie Payne

Leslie Payne never called himself an artist. Nor did he call his airplanes, whirligigs, or ships works of art. Today however, his artwork, what he called “imitations,” stand as an important part of the museum’s collection, his machine shop akin to a studio where he once created his artwork.


Leslie Payne's "Airplane Machine Shop Company."
Leslie Payne’s “Airplane Machine Shop Company.”

In 1918 Leslie Payne, then a small boy, attended an airshow in Northumberland County, Virginia that would serve as inspiration for rest of his life.  The World War I biplanes were so captivating to him that in the 1960s, he began making replicas or “imitations” of the planes on his farm.  By the 1970s, Leslie Payne had turned his yard into a makeshift airstrip, with several aircrafts, whirligigs, instrument towers, and the airplane machine shop seen above. He constructed each plane carefully, using plans and patterns for the struts and wings of each fifteen foot aircraft.  The planes were made of found objects, like sheet metal, spare canvas, and remnants of old house appliances.  One plane even had an engine which allowed Leslie Payne, dressed in his aviation suite and goggles, to drive women on fantasy flights around the farm and up the nearby roads.  He would even document the trips in his homemade flight log.

Leslie Payne in front of his machine shop
Leslie Payne in front of his machine shop

Leslie Payne was not a traditional artist.  You will not find brushes and stacks of stretched canvas in his Airplane Machine Shop, no easel or palette knife.  You will find paint in greased cans, coils of wire, wheels, chains, and hammers amidst screws and bolts, stacks of rusted metal on a work table and floor.  In the 1970s, you could find Leslie Payne in his studio, not wearing a smock but an aviation suit and goggles, tool belt hung around his waist. Though now the machine shop is rust-covered, it remains a testament to the artist’s working method.  His motto, “Safety First: Tak no chances” is outlined on a piece of scrap sheet metal at the front.   Propellers and whirligigs mark his unending interest in aviation, the major inspiration in his body of work.  There are divider note cards and rubber stampers illustrating his meticulous record-keeping; for each faux-flight Payne would ask the girl to type a flight plan on an index card, to be time and date-stamped and filed. The flag represents the patriotic theme carried through all of his pieces, which were decorated in stars and stripes.  In this way, the airplane machine shop is his studio, and it’s preservation in the collection allows us a glimpse into his world, the world of the Airplane Payne.

The Adam Francis Plummer Diary

After Adam Francis Plummer (1819-1905), an African American man enslaved on George Calvert’s Riversdale plantation, secretly learned to read, he began to keep a diary. He started writing the diary in 1841, the year that he married Emily Saunders, who was enslaved on a neighboring plantation in Maryland. Plummer maintained the diary until his death in 1905. The Plummer diary includes birthdates of babies born on and around the area of the Riversdale plantation, letters, receipts for purchase of land and tools, and inventory lists of household furnishings and provisions. It also has poignant stories of the sale and separation of family members and of the long struggle to reunite the family after the end of the Civil War. After Plummer’s death, his daughter Nellie Arnold Plummer began making entries in the diary. Nellie added additional information to some of her father’s entries and updated family events noted in the diary.
Nellie Arnold Plummer was born in slavery in 1860. In 1927 she wrote Out of the Depths, or The Triumph of the Cross, which documents the history of the Plummer family. This fascinating book has been digitized and is available on the Digital Public Library website.
In the following excerpt, Nellie describes how Adam Francis learned to read:
“As is well known, it was against the law for anyone to teach a slave to read and write. There was a colored preacher known as John Bowser, who in some way unknown to me, had learned to read and write. He taught Adam. So, instead of spending his time among idle gossipers, or with those who drank, Adam taught himself all he possibly could. This he kept up until the end. His rainy days were spent in mending chairs, etc., or in doing other lesser jobs. But for his improving that ONE opportunity, to learn how to read and write, we would know very little of our family history, not even the births and deaths.”
The Plummer Diary will be on exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum from Monday, Feb 23, 2015 to Sunday, December 27, 2015.

Thelma Dale Perkins: A Life of Civic Engagement


Undated portrait of Thelma Dale Perkins. Dale/Patterson Family papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Dianne Dale.

Thelma Dale Perkins was born on October 23, 1915 in her family’s home on Sumner Rd SE in Hillsdale, Washington, DC.  Her parents, John H. Dale, Jr. and Lucille Patterson Dale, belonged to families who settled in the Nation’s Capital during the Reconstruction era and produced several prominent achievers.  Her maternal uncle Frederick Douglass Patterson was the third president of Tuskegee Institution and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.

Growing up in a family that emphasized “civic pride and service to others” probably contributed to Thelma’s desire to work hard and uphold the family tradition of civic service.  Thelma’s parents’ prized education and stressed the importance of their children furthering their studies. The youngest of four childhen, Thelma attended Birney Elementary School and the locally renowned Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, America’s first public school for African Americans. In 1932, she entered Howard University to study teaching and social work.

It was during her college years that Thelma’s involvement in volunteer and civic organizations began.  She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the Liberal Club, which “advocated for the integration of African Americans” into the greater society.    Thelma joined the Southern Negro Youth Congress and, as a member of the American Youth Congress, she attended informal “chats” at the White House sponsored by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to discuss issues facing youth of the day.

After graduating in 1936, she worked for distinguished Howard University sociologist Dr. E. Franklin Frasier on a National Youth Administration Fellowship and for the Federal Government. As Mrs. Perkins later recalled, “I resigned from the government rather than sign a loyalty oath and accepted the job of National Secretary of the National Negro Congress in New York City.”

Thelma made lasting friendships in her career, among them Paul and Eslanda Robeson. She was managing editor for Paul Robeson’s Freedom newspaper and involved in the campaign to get his passport restored during the McCarthy years. To celebrate, Mrs. Robeson’s appearance before the McCarthy’s Committee she invited Eslanda to her parents’ home in Hillsdale.  She states in Paul Robeson:  The Great Forerunner, “That afternoon, Essie [Eslanda] relaxed and enjoyed the visit with my parents and their neighbors as though she had known them all her life.”


Thelma Dale Perkins speaking at an unidentified event. Dale/Patterson Family papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Dianne Dale.

In 1957, she married Lawrence Rickman Perkins Jr., a Lincoln University graduate and adopted two babies, Lawrence Dale Perkins and Patrice Dale Perkins.  Later in her career, Mrs. Perkins won several awards for her dedication and contributions to local organizations in New York.   As a manager of community relations for CIBA-GEIGY Corporation she initiated and developed the nationally recognized “Exceptional Black Scientist” series. “It was a great joy as it allowed me the opportunity to interact with young people and stimulate them to consider careers in science,” she later recalled.

Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Perkins moved to Chapel Hill, NC and continued her family tradition of civic involvement. On September 29, 2014 she passed away peacefully.

A small collection on her materials can be found in the Dale/Patterson Family papers in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, donated by her niece Dianne Dale.

Note: There are several far southeast Washington, DC neighborhoods (including Hillsdale, for example) which are often colloquially considered as part of the larger and older Anacostia neighborhood.

Ebola: Charles Smith and Social Activism

The Folk Art collections of the Anacostia Community Museum frequently relate to personal responses to global events. One can read awareness and activism in the museum’s collections made by artists such as Leslie Payne, Dereck Wilson and Mr. Imagination. Charles Smith, however, possibly rises above in his intimate portrayal of fellow activists and his figural representation of social and community afflictions around the world.

Charles Smith, Ebola, 2001. Kohler Foundation Collection, Anacostia Community Museum. 2004.0011.0011

Smith’s 2001 sculpture, Ebolacaptures his concern about the disease and its effects on his (and our) contemporaries in West Africa. Dr. Charles Smith (Doctor of Life) believes in the Sankofa proverb, “you can’t go forward until you look back.” Thus, many of his sculptures are janus-faced and can address the future and the past at once. This cement figure is painted brown on the front face, red on the raised lettering spelling “EBOLA” cascading down the front of the figure, and white on the remaining body areas.

This work sought to bring awareness to this deadly disease, long before this current, closely (and loudly) watched outbreak. Smith’s use of found materials and public presentation makes the works and the addressed concerns and themes accessible to the community he hoped to inspire.


See more of the Kohler Foundation Collection of the sculptures of Charles Smith at the SI Collections Search Center.



Native Americans , Urban Waters, and Civic Engagement: The L.A. River

In this article, activists Robert Bracamontes and Robert Garcia, collaborated to highlight the importance of engaging Native American populations in restoration efforts along the L.A. River in California. As the original caretakers of the watershed for hundreds of years, it is vitally important to include Native Americans in river renewal efforts. Having a seat at the table will ensure that native traditions will be honored as well as ensuring a healthy watershed for future generations to enjoy.

For a PDF of the full article, please click the below:

Native Americans, Urban Waters, and Civic Engagement-The L.A. River

Honfleur Gallery’s East of the River exhibition Artists Panel Wrap-Up

Exhibiting Artists in Honfleur Gallery’s East of the River show: Bruce McNeil, James Terrell, Malik M. Lloyd, Amber Robles-Gordon, moderator Susana Raab, Rik Freeman, Luis Peralta del Valle, Yvon Fleurival, and Lawrence Green. Photo courtesy of Samuel Margai.

On October 16, 2014 The Anacostia Community Museum (@AnacostiaMuseum) sponsored an artist panel featuring 8 of the 9 East of the River artists exhibited in Honfleur Gallery‘s annual juried show.  They were: Yvon Fleurival, a Haitian-born, Southeast Washington based painter with an MFA from the Maryland Institute and College of Art (MICA); Rik Freeman, a painter based in NE Washington whose murals can be seen at the DC Convention Center and Dorothy Height Library on Benning Road; Lawrence Green, a photographer, filmmaker and DJ based in SE Washington who graduated with a degree in Film and Media Arts from Temple University; Malik M. Lloyd, a SE based DC artist with a BFA in Illustration from the Philadelphia College of Arts; Bruce McNeil, a SE photographer who had documented the Anacostia waterway for years and hosts photo tours of the waterway with the Anacostia Community Museum; Luis Peralta Del Valle, another SE artist and muralist who has created a beautiful mural of SE spots with the Anacostia Community Museum Academy on display outside the library at Savoy Elementary, and who studied at the Corcoran School of Art; Amber Robles-Gordon, a mixed-media artist based in SE with an MFA from Howard University; and James Terrell, a multi-disciplinary artist based in NE Washington with an MFA from the Parsons School of Design and a BFA in Howard.

I can’t stress enough the value of hearing artists discuss their work.  Most artists work from a very personal place, and when they choose to reveal themselves and their inspirations you too may find yourself uplifted as I was, when for example I heard Amber Robles-Gordon discuss how her art employed the energy of color and that she saw everything she did, her art-making – her yoga and pilates instruction – as an integral component of her practice, each building upon the other to inform her work.

If you have the opportunity to attend an artist talk, whether in our East of the River communities or elsewhere, I encourage you to do so.  It’s a way we can all support each other, doesn’t cost a thing, and invariably will inform you and amplify your understanding of the art, and perhaps find resonance in your own life.

A few of the artists chose to share their work and words with us, and I post their images here, with their permission. The artists retain all rights to the reproduction of their work.

Rik Freeman presenting his work. Image courtesy of Samuel Marga

Rik Freeman presents his work inspired during a residency in Bahia, Brazil. Image courtesy of Samuel Margai.

ST. Kitts Field  by Lawrence Green. All rights reserved.
ST. Kitts Field by Lawrence Green. All rights reserved.
St. Kitts Tree  by Lawrence Green. All rights reserved.
St. Kitts Tree by Lawrence Green. All rights reserved.


Seasonal Reflections by Bruce McNeil. All Rights Reserved.
Seasonal Reflections by Bruce McNeil. All Rights Reserved.

I was visiting Kenilworth Park towards the end of summer 2014 and saw this  composition of lotus stems and the sky. The figures represented a salute to the seasons. Spiritually, it feels that every element is transcending and evolving into its space.- Bruce McNeil


Fishing by Bruce McNeil. All Rights Reserved.
Fishing by Bruce McNeil. All Rights Reserved.

This image was an assignment from the Anacostia Community Museum for the exhibition, Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways & Civic Engagement. I was looking for a family activity that involved fishing. This particular anonymous family was fishing along the banks of the watershed of Anacostia River in Bladensburg, MD. They fished for survival to provide the basic need of food for the family. It doesn’t matter that the waterways are polluted. Many have stated, like the show, this is “our river” too. In their home countries, many rivers are more polluted and they fish for survival. What I found amusing was the daughter was taking pictures of me while I was taking pictures of them. – Bruce McNeil

The Creation of Adam by Malik M. Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.
The Creation of Adam by Malik M. Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.

Blackboard Series: The impetus for this series came as effort to educate black people of a variety of propaganda that we have been indoctrinated to through the years via history and religion. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam has served as a major vehicle to influence billions of people’s perspective of the story of the first man. My intent was to use his very same bold and magnificent composition with text to expose the scientific and historical truth by altering the imagery from white to black. In addition to the full Frederick Douglass like afro of God, included are a few elements stereotypical to black men added in an attempt to make the imagery more distinctively black and digestible, such as the changing of the iconic finger touch into a fist-pump, the image of what could be considered a basketball into a globe resting on text books, indicative of past accomplishments. The most prominent stereotype associated with black men was changing Adams lifeless penis into an enlarged phallic symbol. Added to this school-related composition is “suggested reading” materials from two distinguished authors.

-Malik M. Lloyd

Home by Malik M. Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.
Home by Malik M. Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.

The impetus for the “Home” series came with visits to my Grandmother’s home in Columbia, SC over 25 years ago. The fields of vegetation would take on the appearance of cornrows, a hairstyle worn mostly by black people, and would set the stage for several artworks in the series. In addition to the fields, this artwork includes my Grandmother’s rusting red house and images of the Africa/Egyptian pyramids – another item that I associate with my concept of home.  -Malik M. Lloyd

Embrace Me by James Stephen Terrell. Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches. All Rights Reserved.
Embrace Me by James Stephen Terrell. Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches. All Rights Reserved.

At the talk I learned that James Terrell’s father is a preacher.  The stained glass which figures prominently in many of his works is a reference to this facet of his experience.

Hey Mr. DJ by James Stephen Terrell. Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches. All Rights Reserved.
Hey Mr. DJ by James Stephen Terrell. Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 30 inches. All Rights Reserved.


-7.Frutos do Mar.rik.freeman.jpg
Frutos do Mar by Rik Freeman. All Rights Reserved

Rik Freeman’s love of Santana and the group’s song, “Bahia,” inspired him to apply to an artist residency in Bahia, Brazil – where he created these two pieces.

Uma Cancao para Pelo by Rik Freeman. All Rights Reserved.
Uma Cancao para Pelo by Rik Freeman. All Rights Reserved.


On Luisius Model by Yvon Fleurival. All Rights Reserved.
On Luisius Model by Yvon Fleurival. All Rights Reserved.


New Work by  Yvon Fleurival. All Rights Reserved.
New Work by Yvon Fleurival. All Rights Reserved.


Thanks to the artists who contributed to the panel and show, and especially to Honfleur Gallery for supporting the work of these artists and many more.



Continue reading Honfleur Gallery’s East of the River exhibition Artists Panel Wrap-Up

From the Collection: James Wells prints

As the curatorial team turns towards identifying collections for the upcoming 12 Years that Changed Washington exhibition, we’ve been looking more closely at the art and artists held by the ACM to show how changes in art and culture coincided with radical social change in DC. Looking beyond formal visual arts, we are also looking for the many posters, prints and informal art that blossomed during this time–and in so doing stumbled upon one of the masters in our collection, James Wells.

James Wells, “Girls Profile,” Anacostia Community Museum, 2014.0018.0002.

Continue reading From the Collection: James Wells prints