Sophomore Lauryn Taylor sees a bit of herself in a new exhibit at the University of Mary Washington Galleries.
“I haven’t seen many works of art featuring someone who looks like me,” Taylor said of a piece featuring a full-figured Black woman in Healing Through the Preservation of Our Histories and Our Selves, on view at Ridderhof Martin and duPont galleries through March 24. “It means so much that a painting like that is … being shown to everyone.”
Taylor, a studio art and marketing major, is among Mary Washington students who – along with faculty, staff and community members – had a hand in selecting pieces for the galleries’ new high-profile exhibit. The show features a collection of works by renowned contemporary African-American artists – Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Theaster Gates, Kara Walker, Sonya Clark and nearly two dozen others – on loan from the Petrucci Family Foundation (PFF).
“We’re so fortunate to be able to offer our students a curatorial experience like this,” Department of Art and Art History Chair Jon McMillan said, “and to bring artwork of such a high caliber to the Fredericksburg community.” Many of the highlighted artists are internationally known, he said, with work in major museum collections and “blue-chip” galleries.
Claudia Volpe, PFF’s director, helped UMW curate the show from the foundation’s vast collection of African-American art. “Now that we find ourselves in the wake of all that was unearthed and uprooted over the past two years, we understand that historical preservation can also be a function of self-preservation,” Volpe said in a press release. “This exhibit’s call to contemplate our tangled histories is an invitation to heal, both as individuals and communities.”
The show began to take shape a year ago, said Visiting Assistant Professor Ashe Laughlin, who serves on the board at the Arts Center in Orange, which has several of PFF’s smaller works on display. Impressed, he realized UMW Galleries could house an even bigger exhibit, he said, including some large-scale pieces.
Laughlin immediately brought Taylor and other Black students in UMW’s studio art program to the table. One of the works they chose was Ronald Jackson’s She Sang a Song No One Would Hear. The oil painting of a reflective young woman whose face is covered by a polka-dot mask became the show’s centerpiece.
“We all just gravitated to it, and then we discovered that Jackson lives right here in the Fredericksburg area,” said Laughlin, who sought the painter’s input and invited him to attend the exhibit’s opening last week.
Senior Jasmine Folson, who said she’s rarely seen works depicting Black people in art galleries, hopes the exhibit will spark meaningful dialogue about African-American history and representation in the arts, and encourage young artists.
Among the pieces on view, LaToya Hobbs’ Angelica – a woodcut on paper of a woman fresh from the shower, with her hair worn naturally – resonated most with Folson, she said. “I loved it because it was like looking in a mirror.”