AMHERST – There was a time when talking about Black history in Amherst was taboo.
While the situation has improved much since then, Darlene Strong feels it’s vital for the African Nova Scotian community to do everything in its power to share its stories.
“If we don’t do it, who’s going to do it for us?” Strong said. “If we don’t recognize where we came from, future generations won’t know where they’re going. Our own local history is too important not to share.”
Strong, an Amherst author and artist, is partnering with the Cumberland County Museum to celebrate African Heritage Month in February with a new art exhibit, Exploring Sand Hill – Faces and Places. The exhibit features 10 original fine art pieces and a mini-publication written by Strong.
She said the exhibit was created from her memoirs and musings of bygone days.
“This exhibit focuses on some of the significant landmarks,” Strong said. “It’s a didactic exhibit in that it features writing, photos and art combined to educate. It’s a visual art exhibit highlighting a few of the places in our community.”
Among those landmarks is the East Pleasant Street School, which served Black and white students until its closure in 1939; and Maria’s Place in Brookdale, a favourite meeting place for Saturday night shortwave radio and on Sundays after church for cake, biscuits and buttermilk.
Another painting is a remembrance of the 1933 cross burning on the grounds where Amherst Regional High School stands today.
The pieces are all 12×12 or 9×12 oil on canvas board paintings.
The exhibit, that runs at the museum throughout February, is a continuation of last year’s Sand Hill exhibit at the museum that celebrated the rich history of Amherst’s Black community and showcased landmarks such as the former Highland View hospital, the Old Stage Coach Stop that was owned by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s uncle, Douglas Gay, as well as open spaces like Dickey Park and the Amherst Stadium.
During the 1800s, Sand Hill had one of the largest Black populations in Cumberland County and had a strong concentration of skilled labourers, educators, musicians, cooks, millwrights, entrepreneurs, blacksmiths, farmers and tradespeople.
Frederick Parsons, known as “Sand Hill’s engineer,” played a prominent role in Amherst history by designing a number of its streets and helping to lay out the town’s cemetery.
It’s these contributions Strong has attempted to share through her books and her art. Twenty years ago, when the community first started to record its history through art, music and literature, it wasn’t available.
“There was a time not too long ago when Blacks were thought of not too important subject matter,” Strong said. “It appears a lot of information wasn’t reported because people didn’t think it was important. When I wrote the history of Sand Hill in 2007 we had a very favourable response but there were a few people who felt children should be studying anything by Black history.”
She said there are now many more opportunities to share Black history, whether it be in town halls, government offices, libraries, museums and schools.
“If we don’t share our history now, it’s our fault,” Strong said.
Museum manager Rebecca Taylor said Sand Hill is an important and vibrant part of the community and today’s generation needs to learn about its people’s contributions to Amherst’s history.
“Many people have many fond stories they share when talking about Sand Hill,” Taylor said. “This is very nostalgic and people will find a personal connection to these.”
Museum board chair Lisa Emery said Strong has done a series of exhibits at the Church Street centre and each is better than the one before. She said the walking trail exhibit from last year was very educational and she’s excited for this year’s because there are many more paintings.
“The paintings really show the Black culture from the area,” Emery said. “Darlene is a very talented artist who wants to share the experiences and the history of Sand Hill. It’s Amherst history because the Black community was here before the town was even born.”
The art featured in Strong’s exhibit is also being featured in an online art show and sale at Jiggity.ca Grove Cottage Fine Gifts, as well as in the museum’s gift shop.
Admission to the exhibit is $5 per person and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Each day in February, the museum’s Facebook page will feature a post about a notable African Nova Scotian from Cumberland County and the museum is inviting people to comment and share stories on those individuals. Some of those memories and anecdotes will be preserved in the museum’s archives.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the museum is hosting an African basket-weaving workshop with Clara Clayton Gough. Participants will learn how to make a basket using Nova Scoian red maple – just like her mother taught her when she was a girl.
Cost is $65 and includes a light lunch. To register, email [email protected] .
ARTS AROUND: Last chance to view children’s exhibit at Rollin Art Centre – Alberni Valley News
This week is your last chance to view an art exhibit featuring local Port Alberni children.
“Moments in Time” is the current art exhibit at the Rollin Art Centre. It is a collaboration of children’s art organized by the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. Port Alberni branch, which looks at the world through children’s eyes.
The exhibit runs until May 20. The Rollin Art Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is located at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Argyle Street.
“SPRING – Seasonal Imagery” is the title of the next art exhibit at the Rollin Art Centre. This exhibit will reflect the gentle changes of the season and create a unique mood and feeling associated with this season based on your interpersonal reflection.
Join us in the gallery on Saturday, May 28 for refreshments and an opportunity to meet with some of the featured artists: Janice Sheehan, Mae LaBlanc, Joan Akerman, Jayant Chaudhary, Cathy Stewart, Cynthia Bonesky, Mary Ann McGrath, Cheryl Frehlich, Dodie Manifold, Patrick Larose and Karen Poirier. The exhibit open May 25.
Two-Day Watercolour Workshop at Rollin Art Centre — June 1 and 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Ionne McCauley is an accomplished artist, quilter, and author, currently living in Qualicum Beach, who has taught colour workshops for more than 25 years. Next month, she will teach the basics of colour theory and pigments during a watercolour workshop in Port Alberni. In this workshop, you will learn about value, hue, tone, shade and saturation. Explore the learnable magic of watercolour paints, how to achieve glowing colours and how to choose (and use) pigments for exciting colour combinations.
Workshop Fee is $150 and supply fee (paid to the instructor) is $20. Register at the Rollin Art Centre: 250-724-3412. Numbers are limited.
One-Day Acrylic Workshop at Rollin Art Centre — Saturday July 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — When you think of landscapes, you might think “Oh that’s too complicated.” Not so! If you break it down into simple shapes, it becomes easy and fun. In this workshop, Susan Schaefer will guide you through landscapes, discussing what makes a good composition while simplifying your landscape. Schaefer has been a professional artist for the past 20 years and has taken workshops from some of Canada’s finest artists. She has a fun and relaxed way of teaching, working with students at their individual level and ensuring a good learning experience for all.
Workshop Fee is $115 +GST and a supply list is available. Register at the Rollin Art Centre: 250-724-3412. Numbers are limited.
LOOKING FOR ARTISTS
The annual Solstice Arts Festival is back after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Join us Saturday, June 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rollin Art Centre.
Spaces are available for artists and artisans on our terrace or in our two gardens. There is lots of room to spread out and it is a picture-perfect spot to set up an easel or demos of the artwork you create.
If you are interested in displaying at this year’s free family event, call the Rollin Art Centre at 250-724-3412 for more info. Spaces are $25 for the day.
Teas on the Terrace events are back at the Rollin Art Centre. Tickets are now on sale at a cost of $20 for our strawberry teas and $25 for a “High Tea.”
The first tea will take place July 7, with musical guest to be announced.
June 1 and 2 – Workshop – “Watercolour – The Basics of Colour Theory and Pigments”
June 18 – Solstice Arts Festival – Spaces available for artisans
June 22 – July 22 – “Women’s Work” – group exhibit – Sue Thomas, Jillian Mayne, Colleen Clancy, and Ann McIvor
July and August – Teas on the Terrace – Tickets available now
Melissa Martin is the Arts Administrator for the Community Arts Council, at the Rollin Art Centre and writes for the Alberni Valley News. Call 250-724-3412. Email: email@example.com.
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The artwork in the new council chambers at the Jubilee Centre reflects the hopes and beliefs that local First Nation and Métis peoples have for reconciliation.
But Frederick McDonald, an artist from the Fort McKay First Nation commissioned for the paintings, made sure people at an April 25 unveiling ceremony didn’t forget why the artwork was made in the first place.
In a nine-minute poem, McDonald made people at the ceremony confront the legacies of the residential school system, 60s scoop and colonialism have on Indigenous peoples.
He talked about the high rates of homelessness, drug and alcohol addictions, unemployment, food insecurity and suicide found today in Indigenous communities across Canada.
His poem discussed the racism and discrimination inflicted upon Indigenous peoples by some leaders in politics, policing, health care, education, religion and business. He blasted the RCMP’s role in enforcing these policies throughout the years.
Politicians from all levels and parties were skewered. Even racist depictions of Indigenous people in movies and TV shows weren’t spared in his poem. If people listening to his poetry felt uncomfortable, that was his point.
“Have you heard enough? Have you had enough? Do you want to do something? Really, you still want to talk about truth and reconciliation?” he said.
“If you do, let’s talk about healing. Let’s talk about all our pains: there’s, your’s and mine. Let’s talk about the drum’s. Let’s talk about the dance. Let’s talk about celebrations and ceremony, about differences of culture, about understanding and working together. So much to do. So much to do. So let’s begin.”
McDonald’s poem captured the rage felt by so many First Nation, Métis and Inuit people, but his three paintings in the council chambers reflects his optimism in the future. He wanted his art to acknowledge the past but not dwell on pain or anger. This was also insisted upon by an elders council.
“As Aboriginal people, we want to be able to tell our own stories, so that’s what these paintings are all about,” said McDonald. “It’s about us sharing our stories, sharing them in a positive manner, working towards the future together—not side-by-side, not separate—but together going forward.”
A fourth piece is a talking stick, which was created by Elder Shurley Arthurs of the Fort McMurray First Nation 468. It sits at the desk where guest speakers address council. All the pieces were bound by teachings of honesty, love, truth, humility, wisdom, courage and respect.
“We hope relations between all people will continue to flourish. That is my big wish. I pray for that everyday. Because with the world as it is, who knows how much short time we have?” said Arthurs. “Love the people around you. It’s very important.”
Council decided in 2019 that the artwork for the new chambers would be completed by Indigenous artists, following a motion made by Councillor Keith McGrath. A committee was formed that included elders, knowledge keepers and creatives from Indigenous communities in the region.
Mayor Sandy Bowman said the art will remind council of the Indigenous history of this region, which serves “as a constant reminder to unite, and foster change and understanding.”
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