Exhibition of restored Amistad murals starts summer tour of U.S.

By Jeff Woodard, United Church News…

In collaboration with United Church of Christ-affiliated Talladega College in Alabama, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta has sent the exhibit “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals” on a summertime tour of at least seven cities.

The six-mural collection portraying the mutiny of the Amistad captives and its aftermath has been removed and restored, and will be on view to the public June 9-Sept. 2.

A mural by artist Hale Woodruff (1900-1980) shows freed captives from the slave ship Amistad returning to Africa in 1842 to start a new life. Some of the American missionaries who accompanied them are also depicted. IMAGE COURTESY HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

Reproductions of three of the murals hang in the Amistad Chapel of the UCC’s Church House in Cleveland.

“As beautiful as [the reproductions] are, they offer just a hint of the incredible beauty and power of the originals,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Mitchell Clement, associate director for leadership gifts in the UCC’s Financial Development office. “The Amistad story is our story—our church’s story—and we should tell it now and well.”

A graduate of Talladega College, Ms. Clement said that for many years the murals were displayed on a higher, poorly-lit level of the college library. She said she viewed them again recently—literally, in a different light.

“In a light- and climate-controlled environment, at eye level, they are clean and pristine. They are almost life-size,” said Ms. Clement.

In 1938, Talladega College commissioned Woodruff, an African-American artist, to paint the murals. The High Museum has now partnered with the college on the removal, extensive conservation treatment and multi-city tour of the mural series.

Stops on the tour include Dallas, New York City, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Hartford, Detroit and Birmingham. The tour may come to Cleveland in Spring 2013 or Fall 2015, said Ms. Clement.

As the exhibit moves around the country—and the Amistad history is before more and more people—said Ms. Clement, the story will be told of a faith-filled people who respond to injustice and provide resources for local churches to take action in their congregations and communities.

“We are beginning to think about a model for engaging local churches in a special viewing of the exhibit and action design workshop,” said Ms. Clement.

“This would follow the exhibit over the next three years to be available to congregations, associations, conferences and faith groups of whatever stripe throughout the regions along the way.”

For more information, visit www.high.org/Art/Exhibitions/Rising-Up-Hale-Woodruff.aspx/.

This article is reprinted with permission from United Church News (www.ucc.org/news).

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