Fort Worth

February 3, 2014

Art exhibit at Lenora Rolla museum focuses on preserving African-American history

An exhibit showcasing the work of Tarrant County African-American artists will be up at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum this month, along with the work of nine elementary school students.

Artist E.L. Young told youngsters at Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary School not to worry about making money if they find that art becomes a passion for them.

“Don’t be discouraged that you will be a starving artists,” he said. “You can be anything you want to be.”

Young, 65, a professional artist who realized in the third grade that he might have talent, said children often limit their potential because of something an adult told them.

The works of a few aspiring elementary school artists, depicting the lives of people of color in the Old West, will be exhibited alongside Young’s work at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum through February.

Young chose nine winners for the exhibit last week from the third, fourth and fifth grades at Van Zandt. The museum is featuring Young’s pastels and the work of about a dozen other African-American artists during Black History Month in an exhibit called “Preserving the Past in the Present for the Future.”

Sculptors, painters and maskmakers will be represented, said Karen Shields-Gitttens, chairwoman of the art show committee. For the first time, the works exhibited at the museum will be judged by artists throughout North Texas, Shields-Gittens said.

“We are really trying to educate adults and children about the African-American artists in the community,” she said. “Most African-American artists are not recognized, and many do not have a venue to show their work.”

Burl Washington, a Fort Worth native, will have paintings in the exhibit. His paintings of African-American cowboys and soldiers were exhibited during the Fort Worth Stock Show.

His subjects are often shown as solitary figures, wrought in fine detail down to the tiny wrinkles beneath their eyes.

“I wanted people to understand the isolation they had to go through during that period,” Washington said. “I tried to show the years of hard work and the toll it takes on people.”

Hard work is evident in many of his paintings. The woman in I Don’t Feel Noways Tired hunches over the Bible she holds in gnarled hands, looking as though she carries the weight of years on her shoulders.

“You can’t just call it black history,” Washington said. “This is American history. We are telling a part of history that’s not been told for many years.”

Washington said he often visited the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society before it moved from Rosedale Street to the 1000 block of East Humbolt Street. The society had documents he could not find anywhere else.

“I could find a lot of information there that I needed to complete my projects,” Washington said. “When I started painting there was not a lot of information out there in the public.”

Much of the history of Tarrant County’s African-American residents is at the museum.

Lenora Rolla, the journalist, teacher and activist who founded the society in 1974, predicted that historically significant photographs, documents, artwork and artifacts belonging to Tarrant County African-Americans would need a repository.

“A lot of our history is transmitted through paintings and drawings,” Shields-Gittens said. “It’s painted, not put down on paper and ink and not written down. Sometimes the verbal accounts of our history get lost, misused or mistranslated. But the artwork is always there.”

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