Camden County Dinosaur

Camden County Historical Society

Event Opens at Camden's Walt Whitman Arts Center

Photography By Hoag Levins ...| ...August 13, 2005

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CAMDEN, N.J. -- Cutting the ribbon to open the two-month "Still Standing" art exhibit at the Walt Whitman Arts Center (above, left) on August 7 are event organizers Beverly Collins-Roberts and husband, Gerald Roberts (above, right). Listen to Ms. Collins-Roberts (RealAudio). The show features the work of 16 local African-American artists. Earlier in the day, Ms. Collins-Roberts led a procession to the Camden waterfront to commemorate the place where African slaves were landed and sold at auction to area farmers in the 18th century.

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Kicking off the gallery opening ceremony was a mini-concert in the theater of the Walt Whitman Arts Center. Jean Thomas (above, left) sang "Don't Lose Sight of Your Dream," the theme song of the "Still Standing" project (Listen to Ms. Thomas (RealAudio)). The local Black Beans (above, right) performed traditional music with traditional instruments. Listen to the Black Beans (RealAudio). An aide to Camden Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison also took the stage to read a proclamation officially acknowledging the city's interest in the history of the slaves who worked the local 18th-century plantations of Camden's founding families.

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The second-floor gallery of the 1918 Neo-Classical building is hung with paintings, illustrations, fabric works, constructions and artifacts that cover a broad arc of African-American history and lore. They will remain on display through Oct. 3 and may be visited between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday. Admission is free. The exhibit is sponsored by the Walt Whitman Arts Center, the William Still Underground Railroad Foundation and the Camden County Historical Society.

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In keeping with the overall "Still Standing" project, the art show pays particular attention to the issues of local slavery and Underground Railroad history. On display (above, left) is an 1858 slave insurance policy written by the American Life Insurance and Trust Company of Philadelphia. The five-year policy was purchased by Joseph Myers to insure the life of a slave named George. Paying quiet homage to the era when Camden served as pathway north for escaped slaves is this portrait of William Still, a giant in region's 18th-century abolitionist movement.

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Philadelphia fiber artist Betty Leacraft (above, left) stands with her eight-foot-high "Camouflage: A Means of Survival." She described it as a "praise work" to African slaves' struggle to maintain their rituals, arts, dances and music during generations of captivity and deprivation. Above, right, Hettie Smith-Victory with her bamboo sculpture that served as the centerpiece of the gallery display.

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Hats have long played a major role in the lives of church-going African-American women and this part of the "Still Standing" exhibit (above, left) explores local hattitudes with artwork and headwear. Perhaps the most poignant display at the show is Beverly Collins-Roberts' "Aftermath," a photo of a teenager clutching a father's military funeral flag. For this exhibit, the photo is accompanied for by the actual flag (above, right).

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