Black Heritage Project a local artistic collaboration
Lycoming College’s Black Heritage Project is the collaborative effort of art professor Lynn Estomin, visiting artist Stephen Marc, members of the Williamsport community and Lycoming College’s digital art students. Marc was artist-in-residence at Lycoming College in late January, working closely with Estomin’s students and local community members to explore, study and ultimately create work inspired by local sites that played an integral role in the Underground Railroad and Civil Rights Movement. Some of that work – that which was created by the students with community members – will be on display this month at the James V. Brown Library, 19 E. Fourth St, beginning with a public reception tonight at 5:30 p.m.
Lynn Estomin has worked with Stephen Marc in the past, including his last stay as artist-in-residence when she spearheaded the multimedia “Freedom Bound” project. Estomin, whose own work is socially and politically conscious, and whose class schedule is always full (she teaches graphic design, digital imaging, web design and interactive media) said she “has learned a lot about history and about teaching both times Stephen Marc has been an artist-in-residence at Lycoming College,” going on to describe the time as both “exhausting and exhilarating.”
“His knowledge base on both the history of the Underground Railroad and the movements for Civil Rights and Black power are extensive. He is also the most energetic and inspiring teacher I have known; his enthusiasm is contagious. He clearly enjoys teaching, patiently showing students technical processes while simultaneously explaining the history behind both the subject matter and the development of photography as an art,” said Estomin.
Community members lent their voices to the project, shaping the collages by offering up oral histories, stories, memories, photographs and artifacts and working directly with Lycoming College digital art students.
Black, prominent members of the Williamsport community were among those involved in the project. Students worked with Sam Belle, chair of the board of The Center (originally named the Bethune Douglas Center since it was founded to serve black girls who were excluded from the local YWCA on the basis of their race) and track coach at Williamsport Area High School.
They worked with Lucille Evans, whose mother’s grandfather was “the second black policeman in Williamsport and the first black cop killed in the line of duty. He left a widow and six children, who received no help from the city after his death. Lucille’s great-great-uncle Nathanial Hughes served as a Union soldier in the Civil War. One of Lucille’s relatives was a conductor on the local trolley line,” Estomin explained.
Students worked with Vanessa Hunter, director of Liberty House, a program of the Williamsport YWCA that provides housing the opportunity to develop and achieve personal success for homeless women and children. They worked with Curley Jett, Williamsport’s first (and only) black police chief. Now retired, Jett remains active in the community, working with youth and serving as a deacon at Love Ministries Church. They worked with Rahmin DeVaughn, a student at Williamsport Area High School who tutors at the after-school program at the Community Alliance for Progressive Positive Action. DeVaughn’s father was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was actually chased by police dogs during a demonstration.
Twila Dodds, Velma Grimes, Linda Jackson, Richard James, Jane Luther and Curtis Ousley also lent their voices to the project. The students in Estomin’s art practicum course who helped to transform those voices into the unique series of 18-by-12-inch prints they would become included Sara Anthony, Ethan Bierly, Sifa Blackmon, Megan Brad, Kelly Ciesla, Chris Connolly, Kristi Costantino, Stephanie Engle, Lauren Karol, Briana Riddick, Jessica Schote and Amaraja Sholder.
“When the exhibit closes, the community members will be given their collages to keep,” Estomin said.
Other members of the community lent their services as well. Michael Darough, Lycoming College visiting assistant professor of art; Dr. Rachel Hungerford (retired), former executive director of the Thomas T. Taber Museum; Sandra Rife, co-director of the Lycoming County Women’s Archive; Mary Sieminski, retired librarian and author of the Sun-Gazette’s “Williamsport Women” column; and Shawn Newcomer, the James V. Brown Library’s adult programming coordinator, lent some of their many talents and services to the project.
Lycoming College’s Black Heritage Project will be featured at the library’s First Friday event in April. For more information visit www.jvbrown.edu or call 570-326-0536.