Marta Churchwell: Local History Takes Center Stage in Wall Art Exhibits | Lifestyles

There is currently significant visual arts in downtown Joplin, and it deserves a view, given its relationship to local history.

One is the newest addition downtown in public murals, a well-deserved tribute to local black history. Created on the optically north exterior of Bruce at First and Main streets, it is a stunning montage of local black landmarks and national artists who once performed or lived here.

The other major art is a few blocks south of the Spiva Center for the Arts. It includes two exhibits that are the latest to hang in the 109-year-old Cosgrove building, which Spiva has called home for nearly 30 years.

A celebration of the completion of the new mural was planned for last Saturday evening, but was canceled with the arrival of much-needed rain that day. The celebration has been postponed to September, but no date has yet been set.

The delay will allow organizers to build a celebration with more splash than what was expected last weekend.

“We’re banding together and doing a much bigger event. We hope that family members of some of the mural subjects will be in attendance with Missouri dignitaries,” said Nanda Nunnelly-Sparks, an executive with the Langston Hughes Cultural Society and Minnie Hackney Community Center, who led the mural project.

The muralist commissioned for the project was Alexander Austin, a black Kansas City artist with a strong artistic background. His work was exhibited in an exhibition in Harlem and he was listed as one of America’s Top 30 Black Artists in 1994. His work has appeared in respected national publications and hangs in the homes of celebrities. Among the works to his credit is an 18,000 square foot mural in Kansas City’s Power and Light District.

This artist is the real deal. His affable personality, coupled with his determination to keep working despite the recent 100 degree temperatures, has won over many in the community.

The mostly black-and-white Austin mural features two of Joplin’s native sons, literary great Langston Hughes and jazz luminary Charles McPherson, surrounded by musicians who performed in Joplin, affecting McPherson like a living child here and leading to a musical career spanning over 60 years. Murals include Scott Joplin, Marian Anderson, Ella Johnson and Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, Mamie Smith and Duke Ellington.

Interspersed with these images are references to local black history – Lincoln School, which served black students, and Melissa Cuther, one of the pioneers of the African-American community who taught at Lincoln School in the early 1900s. 1900s. It also includes a banner from Joplin Uplift, a reference to a local black-owned newspaper published in the late 1920s.

The mural project has been in the works for a few years in collaboration with organizations serving the black community – the Langston Hughes Cultural Society and the Minnie Hackney Community Center – and arts organizations Connect2Culture, Post Art Library, the Joplin Arts District and Spiva. Center for the Arts, as well as Visit Joplin.

At Spiva, the two exhibitions closing the Cosgrove location are “Rhapsody: The Urban Fantasy Paintings of Rob Mango” in the Main Gallery and “Local Color: Reflections of Joplin” in the Regional and Upstairs Galleries. The exhibitions run until October 29.

By then, the arts center plans to have moved into the new Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex, nearing completion at Seventh Street and Joplin Avenue.

This move will usher in an era for the historic building in Cosgrove, and it seems only fitting that one of its final exhibitions will be ‘Reflections of Joplin’, featuring works centered on local history on the occasion of the sesquicentenary of the city next year.

The works were created by members and students of Local Color Art Gallery and Studio, our artists’ cooperative located on 10th and Main streets. It includes 90 pieces in a range of media documenting Joplin’s landmarks and historical figures.

This exhibition is large in scope to document our community through art. But it’s just as interesting as a collaborative art project, which required considerable research but allowed creative stylistic freedom. Yet this has led some artists to deviate from their typical styles. Abstract painter Mary Parks created a mining scene in a realistic style. Jesse McCormick typically creates paintings that are mystical in nature. In this exhibition, he shows his abilities in architectural painting. The exhibition is a demonstration of the extent of the talent of local artists.

In Spiva’s main gallery are the surrealist paintings and sculptures of Rob Mango, a Manhattan painter and sculptor who has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe and whose work has been reviewed in publications such as Art in America, the Huffington Post and the New York Times. .

Mango’s large-scale paintings are both urban and natural allegories. A few pieces are symbolic accounts of the destruction and rebuilding of New York’s skyline on 9/11; another is a Utah desert setting, throbbing with spirituality, a searing storm serving as a harbinger of something to come. Mango mixed his paint with sand from this Utah desert to give the painting dimension.

These exhibits, especially “Reflections of Joplin”, give an honorable farewell to an era for a historic building, as well as for Spiva. Meanwhile, the mural is a deserved recognition of the contributions of our black community. All are worth the time to see them.

William E. Bennett