Connecting to our past

African-American Visual Artists Guild showcase Dayton’s iconic neighborhoods

By Joseph Ferber

Photo: ‘Neighbor Next To Thee’ watercolor, ink, and charcoal by Debra Richardson-Wood, on display at the RTA Cultural Center through Nov. 30

The African-American Visual Artists Guild is gifting the city of Dayton with a historical exposition that any Daytonian can respect; the guild recently displayed its first project from their new art series, Exposition Through Art. The project is displayed in the form of a gallery, with works portraying two of Dayton’s most historically vibrant neighborhoods: the Wright-Dunbar Village and the Wolf Creek neighborhood. Individual pieces reflect the people and the culture of the areas from past to present. Several pieces delve into area architecture in residential spaces—depicting houses that have been restored to resemble their original styles in the time of the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Other pieces focus on local businesses, reflecting the area’s commercial history.

The idea for the exposition came from two sisters, both guild members, who pitched the project after driving past recently restored homes in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. They were on the way home from a regular meeting at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center (a museum dedicated to the area’s most noteworthy innovators—the Wright brothers and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar).

Andrea Cummings, recording secretary and program committee member of the exposition, spoke on the origins of the project: “One day as we were driving through the area on the way to the meeting I said, ‘Boy I sure would like to capture one of these houses on fabric with needle and thread using embroidery technique’ and my sister said, ‘And I would love to paint a couple of these houses myself,’ which is her forte. So from there, that little acorn grew into this big oak tree we now call this program in project.” Her sister, Yvette Walker-Dalton added, “we’d never seen many of these houses since they’d been redone, so we thought it was a great place to uplift and give some attention to.”

Walker-Dalton then offered a personal anecdote as to why she and her sister firmly connect with this particular part of the city of Dayton. “We have some type of interest to that particular area because we have an interest in Paul Laurence Dunbar. Our great grandmother Gertrude Jenkins lived on Germantown Street next to Summit Street, which is now Paul Laurence Dunbar. But in 1905, our great grandmother lived there and was a friend of Paul Laurence Dunbar and they would sit down and have tea and good conversation. So that particular area is part of our history.” The Cummings sisters are not the only ones from the guild with explicit connections to the exhibit’s content. Yvette mentioned Debra Richardson Wood, a fellow artist and guild member who has three paintings in the exhibit. When she was younger, Wood lived in apartments that were housed in the same building—which is now utilized as the Interpretive Center—where the artists regularly meet.

The gallery is the result of a two-year effort creating, planning and fundraising for the project. Cummings says, “This program is a way to pay homage to an area of the Dayton city that is quite historic and through the years has been a thriving business area as well as residential area that changed through the years from a multi-ethnic area to a predominantly African-American area.” She details her perspective on why the exhibit is important for Dayton residents to experience: “This area is a combination of different periods in our life in Dayton city life. I remember particularly how thriving that business area was, particularly on Third Street between McGee and Edwin C. Moses. And I think people tend to forget about it because it is on the West side and we want to make sure that everybody is aware and to let them know that is still does thrive and grow. There is a lot of restoration going on and important commercial and residential life that does go on in this area.”

The exhibit encourages people of all backgrounds to engage in Dayton’s history as a way to learn about our communal history of integrated neighborhoods that produced innovators from all cultures and fields. The mediums used in the exhibit are also diverse. Viewers will see paintings in oil, acrylic, and watercolor with pen and ink. They will also see photography, prints from woodcarving, hand embroidery, an appliqued quilted hanging, and a bronze bust of a young Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Twenty artists are featured in the exhibit, which will be displayed at the RTA Cultural Center until the end of November. Then, the exhibit will move to the Dunbar House located in the Wright Dunbar historical neighborhood. A 24-month calendar (for 2017 and 2018) has been produced by the guild, featuring images of the original art currently display. A portion of the proceeds will help fund a partial scholarship for a young artists in the area.

Exposition Through Art will be on display from Oct. 8 through Nov. 30 at the RTA Culture Center, 40 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd. From there, the exhibit will move to the Dunbar House, 219 N. Paul Laurence Dunbar St. For more information, visit the African-American Visual Artists Guild website at AAVAG.org.

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Joey Ferber
Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at Looprat.Bandcamp.com and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at UnwrittenPodcast.com, for which he also contributed to as a scriptwriter. Reach him at JoeyFerber@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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