“1963 Revisited”

October 22nd, 2013  |  Published in October 2013

“1963 Remembered”

By Marlene Steele

Trotted down to see the YWCA exhibit on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement 1963-2013, downtown CIncinnati. Being a significant subject for a multiple artist extravaganza, one would think that this exhibit would be worth the while.  I am selecting some pieces to highlight. Artist insight and issue penetration as well as craft consistent with an aesthetic standard are my criteria.

Sara Caswell-Pearce displays a thoughtful mixed media collage piece using the words “Race is Skin Deep”. A landscape-featured ground is implied with scraps of torn paper in tones of cream, tan, and black is ravaged with strips of red. The words are presented in stencil cutouts which reveal colorful inner organ anatomical illustrations under each.

On the far wall, 2 works by Leslie Shiels further elaborate on two themes.

Shiels’ work is called “Princes” and opens the discussion of the right of rule designated by family lineage as is historically dominant in colonial empires. The dark skinned male in a slingy undershirt common to the field laborer is seated at a paisley patterned table with a caucasian infant king in full royal bearing. The informally painted paisley pattern extends behind the individuals to flatten the remainder of the painting space with same size elements. The man on the left shows no hands at table, the finger of the infant king however points definitively at nothing.

“Lady Liberty depicts an African female nude bust whose head wrap seems to be an American flag. Her ebony body is painted with finger paint in tribal patterns that conform to the landscape of her anatomical surface.  Her head wears a spike halo similar to our Liberty in the Harbor which is obscured by Shiels’ patterning painting style. This pattern fills space and does not contribute to the painting. It might have been interesting to have elements of the body painting extending into the framed space as well.

Constance McClure displays her draughtsmanship in a multi media triptych entitled “Morgan/Beautiful”. McClure features the figure of a deaf African-American student she has encountered, in the act of signing the word “beautiful”. The triptych design which emerges from the 3 hand signed components of the word has an alliance in religious architecture. It also implies the doctrine of the trinity alluding to the concept of godliness dwelling in each of us. Thus the character of Morgan speaks to us wordlessly about the personal beauty and godliness of ourselves and others. This piece is executed in silverpoint, goldpoint, copperpoint and leaf on a prepared panel. Note the pencil study of the signing hands displayed on the left of the triptych, reminding us that this artist’s works are always solidly informed with life studies.

Checco – blue plate special 1960


Consider Jan Brown Checco’s “Blue Plate Special 1960”. Checco turns a typical lunch plate setting into a harrowing fulcrum of racial discrimination in the deep South. A vicious canine head lunges with bared teeth filling the center of the lunch plate. A pattern of white KKK hoods spook capriciously between conflicting edgings of sawtooth and spiky patterns, rotating toward you from what should be a pleasant and nourishing experience. The silverware pieces rest reassuringly in proper order though the placemat of the Confederate flag on which they rest seems potentially incendiary in this context.  In her artist statement, Checco revisits the actual incidents on which her work is based, citing the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.

A silver gelatin print by Robert Adelman from a private collection is a provoking historical image of a water cannoning incident. Dark human forms of peaceful protesters struggle against the powerful white water forces in a variety of defensive poses; and both melt into space. Though documentation was the original intent of the photographer, his imagery renders into pictorial poetry the country’s conflict in the simplest of terms.

Several exhibited works had nothing to do with the proclaimed theme of the show, and failing to penetrate or lend insight into this expandable topic, should not have been included. Cliche statements were disappointing and tired. A woeful lack of craft inhibited some potentially worthy directions.


The YWCA Women’s Gallery Exhibit commemorates the 50thAnniversary of the Civil Rights Movement: 1963-2013, Oct 4 through Jan. 10, 2014.


Submitted by Marlene Steele, painter

She teaches and paints in Cincinnati Ohio.







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