Tuscaloosa. — The month of May was one exciting experience after another for UA photography students. They signed on to Associate Professor Chris Jordan’s Black Belt Artist Project (BBAP) during Interim at UA, and spent the week in and around Wilcox County, interviewing and photographing artists.Black Belt Artist Project members practice interviewing Daniel Warren in Camden, Ala. (left-right) Sam MacDonald, Aleiah Briggs, Maddy O’Connor, Kasandra Boor, and Chris Jordan. Photo by: Gordon MacNeil.

The first week of Interim, the students practiced their photo skills in Tuscaloosa. The second week they traveled to Camden, Ala., where they lived while making day trips around the region to interview and photograph artists.

The BBAP team’s first official day with artists was a trip to Gee’s Bend, Ala. They met and photographed five quilters who are part of the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective, and recorded their stories. Psychology major and studio art minor Kasandra Boor sent back a report on what it was like meeting the artists:

“Our first quilter was the amazing Mary Margaret Pettway who has been quilting since she was about 5 years old. She loves to work with traditional patterns and neutral color palettes. Next, we had a quick portrait session with Mary Lee Bendolph, who just retired from quilting a week ago. The third artist was Doris Pettway Mosely who has also been quilting since she was young. Her passion is sewing and she loves bright colors like red and yellow, as well as smaller projects like quilted potholders. Fourth was also a quick portrait session with Mary Ann Pettway, who was about to leave for a trip to showcase her quilts. Finally, we talked to Betty Kennedy who started quilting later in life. She loves working with traditional fabric and quilt patterns, but she also likes to come up with her own designs.”

Black Belt Artist Project members visit Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas in Selma, Alabama.That evening, Boor reported, the students shared their experiences about getting to know the quilters. “While it was a  long day, it was very rewarding and an honor to meet all of these amazing artists,” she said.

Their second day turned out to be a busy one for the BBAP team with three separate locations to visit three artists who show their work at Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center in Camden. Black Belt Treasures, along with Canon Solutions America, are collaborators in the Black Belt Artist Project. In Selma, the team got to meet the renowned Charlie Lucas, also known as “Tin Man,” who is internationally recognized for his sculpture and paintings. The students all expressed how honored they felt to be welcomed into his studio.

Also in Selma, the students’ second subject was Betty Bain, a basket weaver with over thirty years of experience, who BFA major in photography Sam MacDonald interviewed on Ms. Bain’s porch, while studio art major Aleiah Briggs took photos. MacDonald reported that Bain told her, “She loves what she does and loves to spread her knowledge through education, going as far as Canada to teach basket weaving!”Black Belt Artist Project members visit basket weaver Betty Bain in Selma, Alabama.

The BBAP team’s last stop was at Spencer Farms in Marion Junction to talk with sustainable farmer Laura Spencer. Boor said, “It was amazing to interview her because there is so much she is involved with, like her soap and candle making, farming, and education. She is very passionate about everything she does, but she especially enjoys being around her goats and being a part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).”

Black Belt Artist Project members visit sustainable farmer Laura Spencer of Spencer Farms in Marion Junction.The Black Belt Artist Project is a collaborative initiative between the UA department of art and art history, the non-profit Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and Canon Solutions America. A book, exhibition and archive of the materials will be produced from the oral histories recorded and portraits created by the students. To read more about the project, go to https://art.ua.edu/tag/black-belt/.

For more information about the Black Belt Artist Project, contact Associate Professor Chris Jordan at (205) 348-1217 or Rachel Dobson, communications specialist, at (205) 348-1893. 

For information about the UA Department of Art and Art History and its programs, visit our website: https://art.ua.edu/academics/or contact the department at (205) 348-5967.