Hidden History: Richmond art exhibit highlights Virginia’s past

Black History Month

RICHMOND, Va., (WRIC) — Not only do we learn about our history through books and lessons in a classroom, but also through art. 

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture asked 10 artists to create murals reflecting on the Commonwealth’s history– using items in the museum as inspiration. 

“Colorful, engaging, inspiring,” said artist Noah Scalin. 

If you visit the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, the diverse murals of Fresh Paint will certainly catch your eye. 

“Here’s the promise and hope that we have and here are the great things from history that we can think about and move forward with,” said Scalin. 

Not only do we learn about our history though books and lessons in a classroom, but also through art. 

Virginia history literally painted on the walls of the museum. 

For Noah Scalin, two photographs caught his eye to create his mural: The Readjusters. 

“Who is this striking woman,” said Scalin.  “She’s really beautiful and she’s got these glasses.”

The woman: Janie Porter Barrett. 

“She was working to help incarcerated African American girls in Hampton Roads and was building this school for them,” said Scalin. 

To Barrett’s left, 

“Who are these guys?” said Scalin. ” It’s the Alexandria library. I find out that this is the first sit down protest in America.”

The photo and mural shows civil rights lawyer Samuel Tucker being removed from the library in 1939.

“The procession of these strong men,” said Scalin.  “This idea that they’re from this other era.”

Next Noah’s mural, “Bound” by Hamilton Glass. 

“It’s inspiration came from a letter from a Confederate soldier who talked about his experience in the battle of the Crater which is in Petersburg and talked about how in his experience of fighting black soldiers,” said Glass. 

Not only do we learn about our history though books and lessons in a classroom, but also through art. 

Set against a backdrop of a split American and Confederate flag, an African American soldier’s hands bound, pulled by both sides.

“They are both equal in their part of wrong against the African American soldier.”

Looking closer, a detail in the mural, the words No Quarter. 

“Something that confederates yelled when they noticed that there were African Americans on the other side..on the union side that they were fighting and how they took no prisoners,” said Glass. 

For VCU grad Austin Miles, female empowerment and a strong education run in the family. 

“The face of the woman I tried to model I actually tried to model after a woman Carrie Miles Washington,” said Miles.  “She was the first black woman on the Petersburg School board.”

Not only do we learn about our history though books and lessons in a classroom, but also through art. 

That woman was Miles’ grandmother. 

Miles’ mural, “By Any Means, 

“Is a quote by Mary Smith Peak,” said Miles.  “She was a free black woman From Hampton Virginia..she valued education very much. She educated slaves.”

The woman in the mural holds on to chains in her left hand. 

“She’s kind of slipping her hand out of the chain,” said Miles. “The metaphor here is that education is a tool to free yourself.”

In her right hand, a torch. 

“Guiding light in a way,” said Miles.  “I wanted this woman to be guiding others.” 

She hopes visitors walk away inspired. 

“I want them to see this mural and feel like, man, I can achieve something,” said Miles. 

The exhibit Fresh Paint runs through April 21st at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. 

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