Unsung Heroes Are The Subject Of Art Exhibit

Tiffany Smith, Associate Director at Neighborhood Housing Services, is one of
the subjects of Artist Kristen Williams’ Unsung Heroes Art Exhibit. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GREATER CHATHAM INITIATIVE.
Tiffany Smith, Associate Director at Neighborhood Housing Services, is one of the subjects of Artist Kristen Williams’ Unsung Heroes Art Exhibit. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GREATER CHATHAM INITIATIVE.

Unsung Heroes Are The Subject Of Art Exhibit

By Tia Carol Jones

Kristen Williams is using her talents as an artist to highlight community leaders and memorialize them with portraits for an art exhibit. Williams’ Unsung Heroes exhibition is on display at Mahalia’s, which is located at 735 E. 79th St.

Williams has participated with Greater Chatham Initiative’s Artists on the 9ine for two years. Williams said her experience as a featured artist with Artists on the 9ine has been really good. She expected it to be just a place to paint, but she’s also found community and a place to collaborate with other artists.

“It’s been a lot more than just a place to paint and it’s been a really good experience, just working with the Greater Chatham Initiative. I feel like they’re doing a lot of really great things in Chatham and trying to make the corridor between 79th and State and 79th and Cottage (Grove) better and make Chatham what it once was, which is a community of people who care and are hard workers,” Williams said.

Williams was able to create the exhibition because of the Ignite Fund award, a program administered by 3Arts and supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. She had the vision and the idea to paint people in the community, but she didn’t know where to start.  The Greater Chatham Initiative helped her identify people and take her idea to the next level.

Williams created the portraits of Joseph Caldwell, Owner of Tailor Rite Cleaners; Spencer Leak, Sr., Owner of Leak and Sons Funeral Home; Tonya Weatherly, Principal at Ruggles Elementary S.T.E.A.M. School; the Rev. Joseph B. Gordon, Pastor at CME Carter Temple; Josephine Wade, Owner of Josephine’s Cooking Restaurant; Stephanie Hart, Owner of Hart Corporation; Mitchell Smith, Branch Manager at the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Chicago Public Library Branch; and Tiffany Smith, Associate Director of Neighborhood Housing Services.

Williams said once she was able to sit down and speak with the people, she was going to create portraits of, she found out why they were highly recommended.

“They all are very passionate in their mission and their goal is to serve the community through their passion. All of them are deeply committed to serving the community through what they love,” she said.

It took Williams a year to create the portraits. Each one of the eight portraits are different sizes. At first, she wanted all of them to be very large. After the first couple of portraits, she decided not to make them too large.

Williams said some of the people saw their portraits before the unveiling, which took place in late February. During the unveiling, Williams said there were “oohs and aahs” when people saw the portraits. She said the event was very high energy, with flashes from cameras.

“When you’re painting a person that’s alive, you’re subject to scrutiny and criticism. Everyone seemed to be excited and super happy about how I painted them,” she said.

The paintings will be on display in the windows of Mahalia’s. Nedra Sims Fears, Executive Director of Greater Chatham Initiative, said the portraits will be turned into banners and will serve as decoration in the neighborhood.

“Here is an opportunity to celebrate and recognize those who are among us and do the work day in and day out,” she said, adding that she would like to see the exhibit and the people depicted go other places. “We believe that being able to see the portraits and hear the stories really provides great context.”

For more information about Greater Chatham Initiative, visit www.greaterchathaminitiative.org.


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