Big Day For the Big Chair

Fifty-nine years ago today, Curtis Brothers Furniture Company declared July 25, 1959 Big Chair Day to celebrate the oversized chair that stood as a conspicuous advertisement in front of their showroom at the corner of V Street and Nichols Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue) in southeast Washington, DC. A piece of the original Big Chair is in the Museum’s collection, bearing testimony to one of the Anacostia neighborhood’s most famous landmarks.

Modeled in the Duncan Phyfe style and crafted out of mahogany, the 19 ½ foot, 4,600 pound chair was installed atop a four foot high concrete pedestal with a plaque touting it as the “World’s Largest Chair.” It took skilled laborers from Bassett Furniture Industries 900 hours to construct it in late 1958, and once erected, it became an immediate attraction, drawing visitors from all over the city.

January 16, 2018 – Bolivian dance troupe Tinkus Tiatako dances near the Big Chair sculpture during the annual Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade in historic Anacostia.
Photo by Susana Raab, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The Curtis Brothers Furniture Company capitalized on people’s curiosity and celebrated Big Chair Day extravagantly with a carnival-like atmosphere. The company gave away furniture and other prizes, offered pony rides for children and orchids for women, hosted live music by The Buckskins, and offered free photographs of customers with the Big Chair. The crowning moment of Big Chair Day 1959 was the coronation of Maureen Reagan, daughter of future President Ronald Reagan, as Miss World’s Largest Chair.[1]

The Curtis Brothers continued advertising their company as the “Home of the World’s Largest Chair” until it folded in 1975. Just months after hosting Big Chair Day, the company celebrated the Christmas holiday with advertisements calling on Washingtonians to “come and see the World’s Largest Santa sitting on the World’s Largest Chair.”[2] Another marketing gimmick featured a 9×10 foot furnished glass house placed atop the chair. A young woman named Rebecca Kirby, a model who went by the name Lynn Arnold, lived in it for forty-two days. The event was widely advertised by the furniture store and covered by the local press.[3] Local residents who witnessed it talked about it for decades[4]

Chuck Brown performing atop the Big Chair.
Photo by Steven M. Cummings, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Since its construction, the Big Chair has functioned as more than an advertisement for furniture. It has served as a gathering place for local residents, a way-finding marker for those giving directions, and a focal point of Washington, DC’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Even after the Curtis Brothers Furniture Company closed in 1975, the chair remained at the same street corner, unchanged for decades save for repairs and painting by its caretaker, John Kidwell.  George Curtis III, son of the original furniture store owner, stated in 1986 “There’s no difference between that and the Washington Monument. It’s a landmark.”[5]

As befits a landmark, the Big Chair has shown great longevity. Although the original mahogany frame had to be dismantled in 2005 due to weathering, a new Big Chair was quickly erected in the same location, largely funded by the Curtis Investment Group. It was unveiled on April 25, 2006, in front of 250 invited guests, civic leaders, and politicians, including then-Washington, DC Mayor, Anthony A. Williams. The new Chair is cast proportionately to the original, but made of 2,600 pounds of painted aluminum, which requires less maintenance and lasts infinitely longer than wood. It continues the tradition of anchoring the community and standing as a landmark of Anacostia.

Souvenir block from the original Big Chair. Object no. 2006.0007.0001

As to the remainder of the original Big Chair, the discarded mahogany was cut into souvenir blocks, one of which was eventually donated to our Museum. Though a simple wooden block, it carries the weight of a neighborhood’s history – conveying some of what the Big Chair has meant to Anacostia in the six decades since the Curtis Brothers Furniture Company crafted it to draw in customers.

[1] The Evening Star (Washington, DC), July 24, 1959, sec C, 20. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[2] The Evening Star (Washington, DC), December 21, 1959, sec A, 4. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[3] “Model Gets Her Feet On the Ground Again,” The Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 24, 1960, sec A, 8. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[4] Paul Schwartzman, “The Return of the Big Chair: A Very Big Deal,” The Washington Post, April 26, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/25/AR2006042501682.html (accessed July 17, 2018).

[5] Sandra Fleishman, “It May Not Be the Biggest but It’s Ours,” The Washington Post Magazine, November 23, 1986, 17-18. Proquest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877 – 2001), (accessed July 17, 2018).

Juneteenth Resources

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas, June 19th, 2002. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-055_GT0097

Across the nation last week various communities celebrated Juneteenth with a parade, festival, or both. The holiday is the best-known emancipation celebration in the United States, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day that Union troops under the command of General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with the announcement of the abolition of slavery.  Until Granger’s arrival, some enslaved Texans were unaware of the end of slavery.

Growing up in a military family, I fondly recall attending Juneteenth celebrations in most of the States I called home. The festivities included speeches and actors recreating events in the life of historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. There were also games, music, arts and crafts, and great food!    The holiday brought together a diverse population of my local community to commemorate this event and celebrate African American heritage and culture.

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas June 19th, 2002. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-055_GT0064.

Years later when I started working in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum, I was thrilled to discover the museum held Juneteenth community festivals from 1989 to 1998.  In addition, the museum documented Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas for its 2005 exhibition: Jubilee: African American celebrations exhibition.

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas, June 19th, 2012. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-55_GT0140

Our archival holdings consist of a sizable collection of contemporary Juneteenth materials, from photographs and programs to video recordings.  We are now hard at work on an onwill be more accessible as we move towards making our collections more publicly accessible online.

Juneteenth ’91, “freedom revisited” publication by Betty Belanus and the Anacostia Museum.

A Fashionable Journalist

On this day 36 years ago, Mayor Marion Barry Jr. declared June 12, 1982 Ethel Lois Payne Day in Washington, DC. Collections Researcher Bailey Ferster commemorates the day by digging into the museum’s collections for a personal look at this grande dame of journalism.

Known as the “First-Lady of the Black Press,” Ethel Payne earned a reputation as a no-nonsense journalist who asked some of the most challenging questions. We’ve written about her accomplishments before in this blog, and today we reflect on her personal sense of style.

Ethel Payne, Portrait commissioned by Miller Brewing Company, 1987

In line with her fearless journalistic practice, Ethel Payne was a bold and charismatic dresser, unafraid to stand out in a crowd. Photographs show her wearing bright colors and eye-catching prints, and a 1987 painting portrays her elegantly attired in a loose-fitting multicolored dress with a long bead necklace, pendant earrings, bracelets and large rings. The background is painted in muted tones that accentuate her strong presence.

Some of her personal effects in the museum’s collection include a set of patterned deer hide suitcases and fur trimmed capes she used while traveling. Many of the clothes she donned were custom-made outfits from overseas, tangible connections to the cultures she experienced while traveling for work. One of her most treasured accessories, however, was a wide-brimmed green hat decorated with artificial flowers, leaves, and berries. Wide-rim hats as well as floral hats were popular during much of her career, from the 1940s to the 1970s, and Ethel’s pistachio green hat took the fashion to its zenith. More eccentric and expressive than most, the hat was decorated by hand, each flower, berry, and leaf stitched into place with green thread that is visible on the inside and underside of the brim. This hat, and Ethel’s other eye-catching fashion choices, lend credence to historic tales of her commanding presence on the media circuit.

Ethel Payne’s Floral Hat, Anacostia Community Museum

An ongoing museum project to document objects in our collection is adding depth and texture to our understanding of important community leaders. Ethel Payne’s hat and other personal accessories speak to her unique style and provide a sense of her striking personality. Her fashion choices offer an intimate look at the remarkable woman who earned a national reputation for her trailblazing work in journalism.

 

Ms. Kilbourne: Chemistry Teacher Extraordinaire

“Among the things that have made teaching of chemistry an inspiration have been the intrinsic challenge of the subject matter, and the enthusiasm of the students—above all, witnessing their later successes in life. . .”      –Elaine M. Kilbourne, circa 1967

Elaine M. Kilbourne (1923-2014)

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we would like to highlight the achievements and influence of high school chemistry teacher Elaine M. Kilbourne (1923-2014), who taught locally from 1948 to 1993. A collection of scrapbooks and other memorabilia she compiled was recently donated to the Museum by her friend and former student, Mr. Guy A. Toscano. It documents her distinguished career as a teacher and educator, and her ability to mentor and inspire generations of students.

Elaine M. Kilbourne, Anacostia History School Chemistry class, undated.

During her tenure at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC (1948-1968), and later at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, MD (1979-1993), Ms. Kilbourne earned a national reputation for her teaching. She pioneered the use of experimental and hands-on learning in her classroom, even discussing “atomic and ionic dimensions and molecular structure from student-constructed models”. In 1958 and 1963, Ms. Kilbourne received Principal Awards for Excellence in Science Teaching by the District of Columbia. The American Chemical Society recognized her contributions to the STEM field with numerous awards, including the Second District James Bryant Conan Award in High School Chemical Teaching in 1967.

Ms. Kilbourne is presented the James Bryant Conant Award, 1967

Not a person to rest on her laurels, Ms. Kilbourne created a series of national curricula for high school chemistry seniors while serving as Science Education Specialist for the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also worked for the National Science Foundation’s summer program, training chemistry teachers.

This is one of ten science projects written by Ms. Kilbourne, while she worked as a Science Education Specialist at the Food and Drug Administration.

Throughout her long career, Ms. Kilbourne demonstrated a passion for chemistry and a keen ability to influence students’ learning achievements. Her impact is evident in the letters and notes of appreciation she received from students, which are preserved in her scrapbooks. Actions speak even louder than words, and as one of her awards noted, an “average of nine to ten of her students per year” went on to major in science at college, leading in several cases to illustrious careers in STEM fields.

Ms. Kilbourne graduated from Eastside High School in 1940, received her B. A. in Physical Sciences from Montclair State Teachers College in 1944 and completed a M.A. degree in Student Personnel Administration at Columbia University in 1947. The collection contains limited personal information, and I am left to wonder about this remarkable woman’s early life and school experiences, what sparked her interest in chemistry, and how she experienced being a woman science teacher during the mid-20th century. What is undeniable is that she contributed to the advancement of STEM education, and that she instilled a love of learning in generations of Washington, DC area students. Her contributions are now duly documented among the Museum’s collections.

 

Help us identify these families!

In honor of National Quilting Day, research conservator Annaick Keruzec takes a closer look at several quilts with photographic patches in the museum’s collection.

Quilts are made for comfort, to decorate a home, or to tell a family story. For a textile conservator like myself, each quilt is unique and fascinating. Crafted from small pieces of fabric, they carry within them things that were part of the quilt maker’s environment. I can spend hours researching each fabric square, identifying fibers through the microscope or combing through historic sales catalogues to date and source the fabrics. I can examine how they were selected, arranged, and stitched together. I can document and admire the handiwork, the color combinations, and the artistry. Quilts are richly textured objects, full of connections and personal choices made by the maker. Indeed, researching quilts can offer remarkable insights on the person who made them.

Quilt with photographic patches

Shroud Series #2, Quilt by Fay Pullen Fairbrother. Photographed during examination in the collections processing room of the museum.

Several quilts in the museum’s collection incorporate squares with photographic images printed on them. This gives an added layer of complexity. How were they made? Why were these photos chosen? What was the artist’s intention? I am collaborating with a photo conservator and conservation scientists at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) to document these photographic quilts historically, technically, and personally from the artist’s perspective. In the next few months, we will analyze the fabrics, inks, emulsions, and binders used to create the photo patches – and we will report on it in this blog.

I’ve been examining a set of seven quilts created in the early 1990s by the artist Fay Pullen Fairbrother (1948-1997). Collectively titled The Shroud Series, they incorporate turn-of-the-century photographs depicting family portraits, lynchings, and the Ku Klux Klan. In an artist statement shortly after she made the quilts, Fairbrother wrote that the photographs of the KKK activities, studio portraits of black and white families, and lynched men clearly reflected a dissolution of family values and morals, Christian or otherwise. She chose to accentuate the dissonance of the violent imagery by juxtaposing it with quilt making, which has associations of comfort and family. The images stand out among the patchwork of the quilt.

 

I’ve been sourcing the images for the 50 photo-patches Fairbrother created, although I am not sure where and how she located them pre-internet. She reused some images, so they constitute a total of 24 different photographs. Among them are eight photographs depicting lynchings. Lynchings were public events that were described and recorded in local and sometimes national news. Some were depicted on early 20th-century postcards. I have identified the men in four photographs as Bennie Simmons (1913), Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (1930), Claude Neal (1934), and Rubin Stacy (1935), whose photographs are published in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000). Four other scenes remain unidentified.

On three of the quilts in the Shroud Series, Fairbrother incorporated family portraits. They show well-dressed black and white families posing against draped studio backdrops. In contrast to the lynching photographs, the portraits are private and personal. Family portraits are also ubiquitous, and it is hard to describe them in a way that is unique. As a result, portraits are difficult to research and document. I have contacted archives to which Fairbrother might have had access, but have not yet located the images she used.

Please help us identify the five family portraits shown above and below! Have you seen these photographs or any like them? Let us know in the comments section.

  

Our scientific research on the quilts will continue to reveal Fairbrother’s technical processes. Meanwhile I am hoping to discover more about the artist’s life and sources of inspiration for her exceptional quilt series.

A Pin Box in a Haystack

In honor of Presidents’ Day, the Museum’s Registrar highlights the museum’s curious connection to President Wilson.

From George Washington’s first inauguration until the present, Americans have been captivated by the nation’s highest office, and immediately that fascination extended into collecting and preserving objects associated with the Presidency. What started as a personal pursuit in the early 19th century has become the purview of museum and library professionals who collect, preserve, and curate objects related to each Commander in Chief.

As the Smithsonian’s community museum, our interest is in the everyday lives and experiences of ordinary people. As such, we are most interested in the local and personal manifestations of the Presidency. Our collection includes campaign buttons worn by community organizers, and pens that signed legislation into law.

One item in our collection, a small porcelain box with lid, recently caught me by surprise. The box was labeled as an archaeological artifact, part of a group of objects excavated in 1991 prior to the construction of the Anacostia Metro station in Washington D.C. It was stored in a cabinet with other archaeological finds from this dig, including early 20th century glass bottles, broken porcelain, keys, and other small items. At first glance, the attribution made sense because these things were all early 20th century household items. A maker’s mark on the bottom of the box, ‘Victoria Carlsbad, Austria,’ identified it as a fairly common item, readily available for purchase in Washington in the early 1900s.

This porcelain pin box in our collection is said to have been a gift from President Wilson’s wife to a local dressmaker. Object No. 1991.0064.0008a+b.

However, two recent discoveries caused me to question this attribution. Our friends from the D.C. office of Historic Preservation came to do an inventory of all the archaeological finds and field notes, and found no specific mention of this box. While not entirely unusual, this was intriguing. Meanwhile, a team of collections researchers were scouring through hundreds of files related to past exhibitions at the museum. One file referenced a china pin box donated by Mrs. Rosa Ware Jones, which was displayed in the museum’s 1977 exhibition The Anacostia Story, 1608-1930. This reference immediately attracted my attention.

What was so distinctive about this reference? I noticed the word “donated” – implying the box in the exhibit was a gift to the museum – yet I knew of no “china pin box” documented as such in our collection. Exhibit documents recorded the box’s provenance: given by one of President Woodrow Wilson’s wives to a dressmaker named Lillie Green, born in 1882, who lived on Elvans Road SE in the 1910s.

The Green family listed as living on Elvans Road SE in the 1910 Federal Census.
Year: 1910; Census Place: Precinct 11, Washington, District of Columbia; Roll: T624_149; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0234; FHL microfilm: 1374162

Could this be our box? I looked for additional sources that might corroborate the box’s origin. Inventories conducted by museum staff over the years all list the porcelain box, but offer little additional information. Yet I noticed that an inventory conducted in 1988 described a “china pin box,” using the same words as the Anacostia Story exhibition script and thus confirming that the museum kept the box after the exhibition. Later inventories continue to list this box and no other, even after the 1991 acquisition of the archaeological artifacts – casting further doubt on the archaeological provenance. Finally, a grainy photograph of the exhibition surfaced, showing a small white object on display. The poor quality of the photograph makes it difficult to see, but the item could be our box.

Knowing all of this, and looking again at the box and lid, its attribution to the archaeological dig is suspicious. It is in good condition, with a few scratches but no breaks – unlike virtually all of the material from the dig.

So assuming this is indeed the “china pin box,” does its story hold up?

First, who was Lillie Green? Federal Census records for 1900 and 1910 list her as a dressmaker born in 1882, living at 93 Elvans Road SE with her father, brothers, and sisters. She is listed with the same address and occupation in the 1913, 1916, and 1918 Washington, DC city directories. Better yet, this corresponds to President Woodrow Wilson’s time in office, making its story plausible: that the box was given to Ms. Green by one of President Wilson’s wives.

Lillie and Lula Green appear in the 1913 Washington, D.C. City Directory

Ms. Green died prematurely on August 21, 1917, as recorded the next day in the Washington Evening Star. What happened to her china pin box? It appears to have been passed down in the family, a treasured heirloom with a remarkable story. Federal census records and newspapers – as well as ancestry.com – identify Ms. Rosa Jones as the daughter of Lula Green, Lillie Green’s younger sister. It was Rosa who, six decades later, donated her aunt’s box – along with its exceptional story – to our museum.

We cannot corroborate beyond a doubt that this pretty porcelain pin box was a gift from the President’s wife. However, all the pieces available to us coincide to support Rosa Jones’ statements at the time she donated the box to our museum. Significantly, Mrs. Jones’ gift attests that Washington residents, like others around the country, have long treasured objects with a presidential connection.

Flashback Friday: Good Hope Road

 

Commercial buildings and traffic along Good Hope Road in 1975.   Learn more here.

#FlashbackFriday

An Immigrant’s Journey: Cornelio Campos and Gateways

Cornelio Campos

 During the research process prior to the opening of Gateways/Portales, I had the pleasure of meeting with the artist Cornelio Campos his Durham, North Carolina home-studio several times. I got to sit among his vibrant paintings and works-in-progress, and learn about this soft-spoken artist’s journey. Born in Cherán, Mexico, he arrived in the United States in 1989, moving first to Los Angeles where he worked in construction. Eventually he moved to North Carolina in 1992 after hearing of better job prospects from a cousin. He moved to Epson, North Carolina, where he did farmwork. He later transitioned into landscaping and moved to Durham. He currently works as an alarm installation specialist in addition to being a well-known artist in North Carolina. He has been featured in many group and independent shows, as well as community events throughout the state.

In 2015, the archives at the Durham County Library accessioned and are continuing to build Campos’ archive. His papers include correspondence, sketches, purchase invoices, institutional partnerships, his many exhibitions, as well as commissions, including one for noted Chilean author Isabel Allende. The archive details the depth of his artistic career in addition to his importance in the state of North Carolina as a whole.

Campos’ personal experience of coming to the United States and to Durham in particular, is that of other Latinxs in the region. Many Latinxs started coming to North Carolina in the 1990s, drawn by the promise of work and money. Like Campos, many became farmworkers. In March of 2016, Dr. Ariana Curtis conducted a video interview with Campos for the Anacostia Community Museum’s Gateways/Portales exhibition. During his interview Campos lamented how incredibly taxing farmwork was, and how few people understand what difficult, back-breaking work it is. “No one told me how hard coming to the United States would be.”

Like Campos, many Latinxs found steadier, non-seasonal work, and ended up making Durham their home. The Southeastern United States is currently experiencing some of the largest Latinx population growth in the country. This growth, particularly in urban centers like Durham, is challenging and changing the black-white binary that has dominated the Southeastern United States for decades. Campos’ painting Realidad Norteña (the Reality of the North) helps document that change, as well as confronting viewers with the realities of the immigrant experience.

realidadnortena

Realidad Norteña by Cornelio Campos, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

Campos’ body of work visualizes and examines both the geographic and cultural borders between Latinxs and the larger United States population. Like the “Big Three” Mexican Muralists before him, (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros , and Jose Clemente Orozco), his large scale paintings feature workers and the marginalized as subjects, with social justice as their themes. Campos aims to visualize the dangers and difficulties that people experience not only in crossing the border into the United States, but the severe circumstances that lead to such a decision. Realidad Norteña (the Reality of the North) was painted after Campos became a United States citizen; he describes it as his most personal, autobiographical piece.

The central image of the painting is a female figure that fuses the Virgin of Guadalupe, symbol of Mexico on the left, and the Statue of Liberty on the right, in a rising sun. The rays of the brown Virgin’s mandala mirror the blonde Statue of Liberty’s crown. In the center of the female figure’s chest is a hybrid seal that combines the U.S.’s bald eagle and Mexico’s emblem of a golden eagle devouring a rattlesnake. The eagle stands on a combination of Mexico’s prickly pear cactus and the U.S. olive branch. Spanning the female figure and bridging the two halves is a monarch butterfly, symbol of migration. Beneath the monarch is an orange lily blended with a white flowering dogwood blossom, state flower of North Carolina; the stem of the flower is stylized barbed wire that bisects the bottom of the painting.

On the left of the picture plane, Campos has depicted a mother and child seated in an arid, barren Mexican landscape which merges with the steps of a Pre-Columbian temple. On the right is a segmented landscape, divided from the Mexican side by the barbed wire. In the segment closest to the wire is a desert littered with bones and a faceless, contorted figure, waist-deep in the sand, gazing up at the U.S. flag. Just beyond the flag is a verdant, lush field, tended by hunched farmworkers.

During a September 2016 visit to Campos’ home, he brought out a faded cardboard box. When he lifted the lid I gasped when I saw the contents: the boots he wore as a farmworker when he first came to North Carolina. He then brought out a small, tissue-thin envelope which held his ticket from his journey from Mexico to the U.S.  Both the boots and ticket stub are displayed together in the introductory section of Gateways/Portales. The dusty, weathered boots add an even greater weight to Realidad Norteña, hung just across the gallery.

The exhibition, "Gateways/Portales," curated by Dr. Ariana Curtis at the Anacostia Community Museum from December 5, 2016 - August 6, 2017. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Instituion

Campos’ boots and ticket from Mexico are on display in the introduction of Gateways/Portales

In his video interview for the Gateways/Portales exhibition, which will be part of the ACM permanent collection, Campos discussed how people on opposite ends of the political spectrum have reacted to his work. Shrugging and smiling, Campos noted that he received an intense amount of anti-immigrant backlash when the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill bought and displayed his work, but despite the negative feedback, he was pleased that his art was sparking discussion. He says he sees his work as a form of visual documentation, and as he says, “cultural diplomacy”. In addition to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Campos has worked with several institutions throughout the state including Duke University, Johnston Community College, Peace College, North Carolina State University, and Smithsonian affiliate North Carolina Museum of History to try and educate and create a dialogue between the Latinx and the non-Latinx communities.

Realidad Norteña has recently been acquired by ACM, and will be on display as part of the Gateways/Portales exhibition, on view until August 6, 2017.

[this post is written by Elena Muñoz]

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Elena C. MunozElena C. Muñoz received her MA in Art History from Rutgers University, and her BA in Art History from Fordham University. Her primary research interest is teasing out the African influences in Latin American
and Latino art. She is also fascinated with the evolution and uses of Marian imagery in the Americas. In 2014, she was a recipient of the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies fellowship, working with the Teodoro Vidal Collection at the Lunder Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently she is a research assistant at the Anacostia Community Museum, working on the exhibition Gateways/Portales, which examines Latino im/migration in the D.C. Metro Area, Baltimore, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

cornelio-campos-in-studioCornelio Campos is a self-trained painter from Cheran, Michoacan,Mexico who now resides in Durham, North Carolina. He has been painting since childhood, although the strong themes present in many of his paintings did not surface until he became an American citizen as an adult. His earlier works show a Mexican folkloric influence, whereas his more recent works are quite contextual, mixing ancient and modern styles, themes and images. Campos paints with a passion for educating others, primarily on the migrant experience, and for sharing the customs and culture of his people, Purepecha from Cherán. His work has been shown at exhibits throughout North Carolina, including Duke and UNC – Chapel Hill, where some of his pieces are permanently on display.

December 12th – La Virgen de Guadalupe

On this day in 1531 the Virgin of Guadalupe was said to have appeared in Mexico to an indigenous man, Juan Diego.

The dark-skinned Guadalupe is often interpreted as a coming together of Spanish and indigenous cultures in Mexico. Her name, Guadalupe is the Spanish pronunciation of the Nahuatl name Coatlaxopeuh, a Mesoamerican fertility goddess. Her appearance to an indigenous man in the New World further rooted Guadalupe to the specificity of this place.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a powerful religious and cultural icon for Mexico and Mexican-Americans. Her green mantle and golden mandala are readily recognizable to people outside of those groups. She is not only a visualization of faith, but also a symbol of nationalism, cultural pride, and resistance for those in Mexico and beyond its national borders.

 

demographics-mexican

Of the four areas explored in Gateways/Portales, Mexicans are the dominant Latinx group in Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte. In Washington, D.C. metro area, Mexicans are second to Salvadorans. As a result of Mexican migrations throughout the US and the power of her imagery, Guadalupe appears in various iterations throughout the Gateways/Portales exhibition.

 

15540341_10101612089656310_534593938_o

She is representative of Mexico in Cornelio Campos’ autobiographical painting Realidad Norteña in “Social Justice & Civil Rights”.

 

 

 

madre-protectora-baltimore-tile

She is reimagined as an armed millennial in Rosalia Torres-Weiner’s  Madre Protectora displayed in “Making Home and Constructing Communities”.

 

 

virgin-de-guadalupe-mexico-2

Displayed beneath Torres-Weiner’s painting is a photograph of the altar dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Baltimore’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.

 

 

altar

Artist Gabriela Lujan placed a candle emblazoned with the Virgin’s image on the Day of the Dead altar in the “Festival as Community Empowerment” section.

 

eversoll_diablo_sm

High in the festival portal is an image of a diablo dancer resting on the base of an handmade altar for the Virgin after a performance in Durham, NC on her feast day.

 

 

La Virgin de Guadalupe was declared the patroness for the entire Continental Americas by the Catholic Church in 1945. Though she is most often associated with Mexico and Mexican-American culture, she was not specifically designated as the patroness for Mexico until 2002.  Guadalupe acts as a sort of cultural glue in the U.S., with her imagery and associated ceremonies being transplanted, creating a sense of community and solidarity among her devotees in Mexico and beyond.  December 12th marks the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States!

 

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Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

 

 

written with Elena C. Muñoz, research/curatorial assistant for the Gateways exhibition. 

Blended Families – Gateways and Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Most people know that I am Panamanian. Orgullosamente! Only some people know, however, that my father is Panamanian and my mother is African-American. Interestingly, this did not factor into Gateways until a meeting with Charlotte based artist Nico Amortegui.

Nico, born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, has lived and worked in the United States since the late 1990s. He is quick to say, one of the main reasons he is here and that he lives in Charlotte is his wife and two daughters.

Early in our exhibition stages when I was deciding what the salient themes were and how they would be represented, I met with Nico in his studio.  We discussed some of his recent work, the growing population of Latinx in Charlotte, Latin American vs Latinx, and the restrictive focus on Latin Americans/Latinxs. THAT was the inspiration for his piece in GatewaysHe wanted to create a piece that focused on Latinxs, but one that included space for his wife – who is not Latina- and his children.

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants Nico Amortegui, 2016 Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants
Nico Amortegui, 2016
Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

 

When his work was in process I referred to it as “blended families” but Nico’s original piece created for the Gateways exhibition is called An Immigrant Connection to a Country of Immigrants.   In his words,

It is based on the fact that when we talk about Latinos we blur out the Americans (United States) that have embrace the Latino culture and have made it part of their life.

This beautiful work is in the “Making Home, Constructing Communities” section of the exhibition, but the message resonates throughout the whole exhibition. When we fight for social justice and civil rights, when we build networks, when we celebrate our communities we do not do this alone. It is never ONLY the Latinx community and it is never only FOR Latinx communities.

This is the story of millions of families in the United States, including mine. So in the spirit of this piece, I say Happy Panamanian Mother’s Day to my mom who has embraced the culture and made it part of our lives. Although my mother is African-American, she has a big Panamanian family is mother to Panamanian children so …

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little me sleeping on my mother in New York

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my mom and me at the Bridging the Americas Opening, 2015

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la familia en Panama, 2009

 

 

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!!! 

 

Gateways is open! Through the lenses of social justice, constructing communities, and festivals as community empowerment, the exhibition explores the triumphs and struggles of Latinx migrants and immigrants in four urban destinations: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Raleigh-Durham, NC and Charlotte, NC

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