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Black Belt Artists Celebrated in Book, Exhibition by UA Students

A student taking a photo of a basket weaver sitting against a workshed.
Basket weaver Estelle Johnson Jackson in Sumter County, photographed by Aleiah Briggs.

Over the past century, the South’s long history of folk art has been explored by a wide variety of writers, researchers and artists. Now, in a new book, a mostly younger generation has rediscovered the Black Belt’s rich traditions in the visual arts, spending quality time with each of the artists, listening, photographing, and learning about the South’s legacy.

The University of Alabama department of art and art history is pleased to announce the release of The Black Belt Artist Project, a limited-edition book documenting the artists in a collaborative project of UA’s photography students and faculty in partnership with Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and Canon U.S.A.

The public is invited to celebrate the book release and opening reception for the upcoming exhibition, Black Belt Artist Project–Photography Students of the Department of Art and Art History, that opens at The University of Alabama Gallery, Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, Friday, December 4, 2020. Along with the books, photographs and video interviews of the artists will be on view.

two students photographing a man in a hat on his porch.
Students taking action shots of painter Stephen R. James in Monroe County, Ala. Photo by Amber Quinn.

Associate Professor Christopher Jordan’s photography students spent two semesters talking with notable artists living and working in the Black Belt region of the South through photography and video interviews and two semesters producing the book, photographs and videos. The book features their photographs, biographies and excerpts of the interviews.

The Black Belt artists included in the project are Betty Anderson, Betty Bain, Mary Lee Bendolph, Deborah Carter, Mike Handley, Estelle Johnson Jackson, Stephen R. James, Betty Gaines Kennedy, Jeanie Lambert, Jessie LaVon, Charlie Lucas, Andrew and Etta McCall, Miller’s Pottery (Eric Miller & Allen Ham), Doris Pettway Mosely, Mary Ann Pettway, Virginia and Danny Pettway, Mary M. Pettway, Minnie and Tinnie Pettway, Mike Prime, Laura Spencer and Sam Williams.

Students whose work and excerpts of interviews appear in the book are Savannah Biggert (BA 2019, psychology, minor in studio art), Kasandra Boor (BA 2019, psychology, minor in studio art), Aleiah Briggs (BA 2020, studio art major, minor in art history), Sarah Cheshire (MFA student, creative writing), Arielle Gray (BA 2019, studio art, minor in art history), Jasmine James (BA 2020, double major in studio art and history), Kayla T. Lawson (BFA major studio art), Sam MacDonald (BFA major, photo and graphic design), Maddy O’Connor (BA 2020, studio art major, minor in advertising), Amber Quinn (MFA student, photography), Holly Ray (BA 2019, studio art, minor in advertising), Kassidy Stewart (BA 2020, studio art major, minor in entrepreneurship), Candace VonHoffman (BFA 2019, painting and photography), and retired social work professor Gordon MacNeil.

Black Belt Artist Project members visit Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas in Selma, Alabama.
UA photography students visit artist Charlie Lucas in his studio in Selma, Alabama.

Students who helped design the book are Aleiah Briggs, Natalie Clark (junior double major in studio art and advertising), Rebecca DeLong (BA 2020, double major in marketing and studio art), Alex Gaunt (BFA major, digital media), Angel Greene (BFA 2020, major, digital media and painting), Brittany Pitts (junior double major in studio art and advertising), Anna Sella (BFA 2020, major in digital media and drawing), and Holly Welch (BFA 2019, digital media).

Don’t miss another Black Belt Artist-related exhibition: Charlie Lucas: Talking to the Ancestors, October 2 – February 26, 2021, at the Paul R. Jones Museum downtown Tuscaloosa.

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.