BAL artists use historic doors in celebration of the Great Migration

Group Shot Gallery Guichard
Photo credit: Tony Binns for Steed Media Service

Six participating artists, who live and work in the Bronzeville Artist Lofts (BAL), will use the original doors from their historic residence, the renovated building that once housed the Ben Franklin Store, historically known as the world’s first Black-owned and operated department store by the legendary policy kings, the Jones Brothers, to create art. In partnership with The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Gallery Guichard is celebrating the centennial of the Great Migration in style.

Tell us about the exhibit and the six featured artists.

Roger Carter’s “Bronzeville Bound” is a representation of a prominent image captured during the Great Migration period in Chicago. The door piece depicts the Chicago Defender’s role in getting people to migrate to the North. Fleeing the Jim Crow South, Black people were in search of better jobs, opportunity, and a better life.

Alpha M. Bruton’s “Keeping Up With the Joneses” has been a yearlong journey of research, collective thought and ideas to tell the narrative and give tribute to the Anthony Overton, a trailblazer that helped build Bronzeville, and Mae’s Dress Shipped that styled society. Telling the story from the perspective of the Black Scholar, the Black Power, the Black Poet; the first time since plantation days.

Marlene Campbell’s work depicts the historical experience of the African-American during through the great migration using collage and paintings.

Allan Emerson Hicks’ “Safe Passage” and “Door to Success”.  “The Safe Passage” sculpture references a stopping point or resting spot upon a journey. “The Door to Success” sculpture references the entrepreneurial nature of African Americans and all mankind.

Raymond A. Thomas: In the late ‘40s Thomas’ grandfather, Reedy Thomas, left his home in Tchula, Mississippi, with his wife Mary Catherine to join their family for a better life up north in St. Louis. Ray Thomas, his father, would be the eldest child born to this union. On a beautiful St. Louis summer evening Ray would meet a beautiful, freckled-face girl named Clara Sue at a sock hop and fall in love. The two teens would marry and in 1965, the same year the Gateway Arch was completed, Raymond Anthony Thomas was born. “Chicago had always been the place I wanted to work and reside. I had visited many summers and was captivated by the culture, the community and the Chicago Bears.” So in 1984,the young brash artist with dreams of making a difference with his passion to create would leave his hometown for the city of Big Shoulders to fulfill his destiny. These works reflect his journey and the shared experience of finding this fabled land called Bronzeville.

Andre Guichard:  As curator, “Sacred Door” represents the energy of our ancestors and those who came before us as alive and well. His work speaks to the energy that flows through the Bronzeville community and the Bronzville Artist Lofts. “I am humbly inspired as an artist, curator and gallery owner to receive the baton and pass along our culture and continue the race to promote our cultural treasures and touch the world with my creativity.”

What was the genesis when you chose to collaborate with these artists?
It started when the building was being renovated. I saw a stack of the doors being prepared to be put in dumpster and immediately knew they had another calling. The collaboration came about a year after living with so many of my fellow artists, neighbors and understanding the power of collaboration and importance of our community and each of our individual greatness.

Why is this important? 
The history of the community, the Centennial, the history of the building, the Jones Brothers’ greatness and the significance of the cultural baton being passed from the deceased masters of this community to the contemporary living artists carrying the baton forward.

How long did it take you to develop the exhibit?
It was a work in progress and a collaborative effort by all six of the participating artists.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this exhibit?
The historical significance of the Bronzeville community, the significance of all of our individual roles as activists whether we are artists, writers, doctors, lawyers or business chiefs. We all played a role then and we all play a role now to be a part of or support the resurgence.

“Echoes of Our Journey: Bronzeville and The Great Migration” runs July 14-Aug. 19, 2016, at Gallery Guichard, 436 E. 47th St.

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