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Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired By Museum Archives Encourage New Views Of Virginia History

Hamilton Glass paints in the details of the rope depicted in his mural “Bound." (Courtesy: Virginia Museum of History and Culture)
Hamilton Glass paints in the details of the rope depicted in his mural “Bound." (Courtesy: Virginia Museum of History and Culture) Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia showcases 10 large scale paintings from artists across the Commonwealth. The Virginia Museum of History and Culture invited the artists to pick any object they wanted from the museum's nearly nine-million-item history collection to create these murals. For Virginia Currents, Metta Bastet visits the museum.


Hamilton Glass was inspired by a mural, located at the museums entrance.

Hamilton Glass: Being a man of color, it just makes me uncomfortable.

Glass saw the mural as glorifying the Confederate side of the Civil War. He dug deeper into the war and read letters from soldiers on both sides.

Glass: Then, that got me thinking about what battles happened here in, you know, Richmond and Petersburg and so that took me to the one in which the most African American soldiers were murdered, and that was the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg.

Glass’s mural “Bound” depicts a rope wrapped around the wrists of an African American. The ends of the rope are being pulled in opposite directions by a Union Soldier on the left and a Confederate Soldier on the right.

Andrew Talkov: It was really interesting to work with the artist to understand that story.

Andrew Talkov is the Vice President for Exhibitions and Publications at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

Talkov: So, I think what this exhibit did is it gave me, sort of, a renewed interest in looking at the objects in our collection in new ways. It makes me look at things in a new way.

Talkov describes Fresh Paint as a “mashup of two concepts”. The first, highlighting objects in their historical collection and the second, to echo conversations happening across the country about public art and its impact in the community. Museums have the tough task of juggling between what to store and what to showcase. As a result, not all stories are shared equally. For this initiative, artists had access to items that weren’t on display as well.

Talkov: No exhibit can tell the whole story of anything, right? You're always limited by space and time and - and other resources. But I think that by giving people the beginning of the story - my hope is that we would inspire people to take it to the next step and to take the story home with them, and embrace it and learn more about it.

Nico Cathcart is the co-curator of Fresh Paint and created the mural “The Elements of Change”.  She used a hat from the Women’s March, a book written by Elizabeth Keckley, a photo of Virginian suffragists and a porcelain plate dating back to the revolutionary war to illustrate women's roles throughout history.

Nico Cathcart: So, what I was kind of going for was that women have always been kind of the backbone of change in Virginia and not all the time do we talk about that.

“Auz” Miles’ piece titled “By Any Means” shares the same theme. Mile’s mural was inspired by Mary Smith Peakes, a freed black woman from Hampton, Barbara Johns, a black student in Farmville, and the Chimborazo School roster of free black persons in Richmond.

Austin Miles: And just to think about how many people, um - and for me, like how many, um, children of color, who are now going to come into this museum and see different stories being told about them and people who came before them, and I just took it as just this wonderful - this wonderful thing, like, Oh! We can make a difference through this. You know, these murals can change opinions. These murals can communicate stories that people have been close-minded to hear before, you know.

Christina Wing Chow: Being the daughter of immigrant parents, I'm Chinese-American, so I don't really - I feel I don't really relate so much to the history of Virginia.

Artist Christina Wing Chow’s work titled “Gateway” is an interpretation of the iconic Natural Bridge. 

Chow:  I was drawn to the Natural Bridge, more so than anything else, because it's something more universal that, you know, anybody can look at it from whatever culture and just marvel at this natural formation that the earth made.

Amelia Blair Langford’s “Home” is  inspired by a book from the 1700s, that’s filled with drawings of Virginia flora and fauna. The book was brought back to Europe to show what Virginia wildlife looked like.

Amelia Blair Langford: What was really beautiful while we were working, we had a lot of visitors that watched us, and so um, being able to start becoming part of our history in the making, um, and being able to educate folks that were coming through - like this is what we're creating, why we're creating it. Um, to create this new modern-day voice on our past, and so it was, um, quite remarkable. I would love to do it again, for sure.

A giant copper still for making whiskey and moonshine donated by the McConnell Family was longtime muralist Ed Trask’s artifact of choice for his piece “Still Relevant.” Trask illustrates Virginia’s bootlegging past with nods to NASCAR's first African American racecar driver, Wendell Scott, and the gal with a diamond smile, Willie Carter Sharpe who hauled over 220,000 gallons of moonshine in her day. If you look closely, you’ll catch George Washington hiding out in a mason jar. Trask says he loved seeing the various style aesthetics and execution of the other muralists as they painted their stories.

Ed Trask: For me, I think what was so important was watching the impact that these objects in Virginia history had on the individual artists themselves, and how they translated that into basically colored plastic. I mean, we're just painting with latex paint.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture is nearly 190 years old. CEO Jamie Bosket says at this point in their history, they are making it a priority to share a wider range of stories.

Jamie Bosket: Particularly now, we have a very sincere mission to welcome all Virginians and represent all Virginians.

Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired by the Story of Virginia runs through April 21, 2019. For Virginia Currents, I'm Metta Bastet, WCVE News.