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Putting a Face on the Past
Four Charlotte Artists Create a “Path of Portraits” for the Museum of Historyby Tim Miner on June 16, 2021
“History can inform important conversations about the issues and opportunities facing our community today, but only if we know our full history. That means, of course, sharing and understanding the history of people of color, who have contributed to Charlotte’s history from the very beginning.” — Adria Focht, president & CEO, Charlotte Museum of History
There are many ways to put a face on history.
During its five-day African-American Heritage Festival, the Charlotte Museum of History engaged four local creatives — Makayla Binter, Abel Jackson, Kalin Devone and Ricky Singh — to paint images of four noteworthy Charlotteans of color.
“We believe it’s important that everyone in our community can see themselves represented in Charlotte’s story,” said Adria Focht, president and CEO of the museum. “[The Path of Portraits] helps us honor and bring to life the stories of some of Charlotte’s most notable and influential Black leaders over the years.”
The foundation of a new tradition
These four new works will form the foundation of “The Path of Portraits,” a new installation at the museum. The four new works will form the foundation of “The Path of Portraits,” memorializing the contributions of Charlotte’s Black community.
“The four portraits created during this year’s festival will be on display in the museum and will become a part of its permanent collection,” added Focht. “We hope to work with local artists in the future to tell the story of our past in new and interesting ways.”
The Portraits … and the People Behind Them
Painted by Makayla Binter
Ishmael Titus was an enslaved man who fought in the Continental Army in place of his owner, Lawrence Ross. Eventually, he obtained his freedom and moved North. He requested and was denied a pension for his service, which included fighting in the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Binter on Ishmael Titus: “Ishmael Titus was once an enslaved man who later gained his freedom, or bought it, presumably after proving his years of service to the Union during the American Revolutionary War. I was more impacted by his sheer presence as a Black man during this time as an enslaved soldier and imagining the life he lived until 110.
“[Since he had] his pension denied, like other Black men during this time, I was overjoyed to see his recognition and legacy that is maintained today. In this portrait, I hope to showcase the hardened features that slavery probably instilled upon him, but also the youthful and soft eyes that led to a long life.”
Painted by Abel Jackson
“Nance” is the recorded name of one of the at least 11 enslaved women who lived at the Alexander house in the 18th century.* Little is known of her, other than she was the mother of three children. The father of these children is unrecorded.
Jackson on Nance: “Of all things recorded of Nance, one thing is certain — she is a mother, a.k.a. ‘Mama.’ [To give a face to a woman who has no record of her appearance,] Mama was the inspiration for my portrait of Nance. I hope others can see the unconditional love she felt for her three children.”
Painted by Kalin Devone
Born into slavery, John Schneck was an influential politician in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Prior to the war, he purchased his freedom and that of his wife. After the war, he returned to Charlotte and served as a regional delegate to the state-wide Equal Rights League and four terms on Charlotte’s Board of Alderman.
Painted by Ricky Singh
Born in Wilmington, George Davis studied at Biddle Institute in Charlotte, which is now Johnson C. Smith University. After graduating and spending time at Howard University, Davis returned to Biddle as a science teacher, coach and dean of faculty.
When he retired, Davis was appointed a Rosenwald Agent for the N.C. Department of Education and traveled the state to encourage rural communities and school boards to participate in the Rosenwald Fund Community School initiative. During his tenure, he helped rural Black communities raise over $600,000 for school construction.
Singh on George Davis: “Dr. Davis dedicated his life to raising the education for black people in Charlotte, and his impact is seen. While our city has improvements to be made in education, it is through the work of inspiring individuals that the work gets done. When you see Dr. Davis, see a visionary, an advocate, a black man, a voice in our city.”
FOLLOW THE ARTISTS
Makayla Binter: INSTAGRAM
Abel Jackson: INSTAGRAM
Kalin Devone: INSTAGRAM
Ricky Singh: INSTAGRAM
EDITOR’S NOTE: * We updated published information on Nance on Sept, 7, 2021.