In honor of Black History month, we’ve asked a few of our Fine Arts faculty members to share about some of their favorite African Americans in the arts. We hope you will be inspired to take a closer look at the contributions of African American artists throughout history and present day.
“Charleston’s art history is full of African American artists. Take a quick walk right outside the First Baptist School campus on Meeting Street. Many of the beautiful wrought iron gates that you pass by were created by the late Philip Simmons. Simmons spent 78 years as a blacksmith focusing on decorative iron work. When Simmons began his art work, he made more practical pieces for the house, but over time his craft became more decorative and artistic in nature.
As you walk a little further down Meeting Street, you may be greeted by the sweetgrass basket weavers working diligently on their baskets. Sweetgrass basket weaving is one of the oldest African American art forms. Mary Jackson of Mount Pleasant is well known for her sweet grass basket weaving, which uses traditional methods with some contemporary design. Her art has been exhibited in many art museums. Originating in West Africa, basket weaving was originally brought to America by slaves using sweetgrass, palmetto, and pine needles to create functional but creative pieces. This artform continues to be passed down from generation to generation.
Both iron work and basket weaving are unique art forms that have a rich history and are just a couple of examples of the many contributions that African American artists have made to the beautiful art world that surrounds us in Charleston.”
“It’s difficult to narrow down my list, but, as my students will tell you, Alvin Ailey is a top favorite. I love his choreographic style which blends ballet, modern, and African dance. “Revelations” is my favorite of his works, and it truly moves me to tears every time I watch it. Gregory Hines, an incredible tap dancer, also comes to mind. As a kid, I remember watching him in the movie “White Nights” and have always been amazed by his ability to improvise such complex tap phrases.
Two of my favorite African American artists who are still performing in the dance world are Silas Farley and Misty Copeland, principal dancers with New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre respectively. While both are undeniably captivating performers, I admire them as much for their examples off-stage.
Misty Copeland is inspiring to me, because, unlike most professional dancers who start training at a very young age, she didn’t begin her serious ballet training until her teen years. I love her dedication and grit! I had the opportunity to meet and hear Silas Farley speak last year and really admired his faith perspective, as he drew connections between his Christian walk and his ballet career. In the arts, as in life, it is important to always keep learning. I am thankful for the continued lessons and influence of these artists.”