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UA Gallery Announces Black Belt Artist Project Exhibition

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.

The University of Alabama department of art and art history is pleased to announce the opening of the exhibition, Black Belt Artist Project–Photography Students of the Department of Art and Art History, Friday, December 4, 2020, at The University of Alabama Gallery, Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. The public is invited to a “socially-distant” First Friday reception for the exhibition and to celebrate the release of a limited edition book of the project, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Visitors must wear face coverings inside the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center and maintain a minimum distance of six feet from others. The DWCAC is limited to fifty (50) visitors at a time. The exhibition will be up through January 29, 2021.

Online exhibitions are on Facebook and Flickr.

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 an exhibition and new book, a mostly younger generation has rediscovered the Black Belt’s rich traditions in the visual arts. UA photography students in the project spent quality time with each of the artists, listening, photographing, and learning about rural Alabama’s legacy. The Black Belt Artist Project is a collaborative project of UA’s photography students and faculty in partnership with Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and Canon Solutions America.

Black Belt Artist Project members visit Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas in Selma, Alabama.
Black Belt Artist Project members visit Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas in Selma, Alabama. Photo by Gordon MacNeil.

Working with a variety of Canon cameras, Associate Professor Christopher Jordan’s students spent two semesters with these culturally unique artists in several counties of the Black Belt documenting their lives and works through photography and oral history video interviews. Then students spent two semesters designing and producing a book that features the photographs, biographies and excerpts from the interviews. “As an educator, it has been a thrill to work with students to document and celebrate these wonderful artists,” Professor Jordan said. “The artists so generously opened their homes and studios to us, providing extraordinarily rich and valuable learning experiences.”

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.

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).

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr with the hashtag #blackbeltartistsproject.

Don’t miss another Black Belt Artist-related exhibition: Charlie Lucas: Talking to the Ancestors, now through 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.