|Artist creates icons of the civil rights movement|
Artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy stands with her Icons of the
Civil Rights Movement exhibit on display at Orleans (Mass.) United
UMNS photos by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
Feb. 13, 2008 | HARWICH PORT, Mass. (UMNS)
When artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy began working on her latest
project depicting heroes of the U.S. civil rights movement, she drew on
her own experiences––beginning as a civil rights activist herself in the
Purdy and her husband, David, a retired United Methodist pastor and
district superintendent, were among white people who marched
hand-in-hand with African Americans fighting for racial equality. Her
first job was with Ebony magazine. The couple's experiences grew
even more personal after they adopted an African-American son and
another son of African-American and Vietnamese descent.
She "connected the dots" of her experiences and her passion for civil
rights in her Icons of the Civil Rights project in time for Black
History Month and the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr. The images took her three-and-a-half months to
The Rev. Wesley Williams, pastor of the Orleans church,
looks at an icon honoring Jimmie Lee Jackson, who died during the civil
Her 16 wood and gold-leaf icons are being displayed at schools, churches and the Boston Statehouse.
"I did them from a very religious standpoint, in that I really see
the civil rights movement as God present in the Holy Spirit," said
Purdy, 67, who lives in Harwich Port on Cape Cod. "The Holy Spirit moved
ordinary people to do very extraordinary things.
"So many of these people gave their lives for freedom."
Both of Purdy's latest artistic projects are shaped by dark days in
U.S. history. Her first icon series dealt with the 9/11 terrorist
attack. A lifelong United Methodist, she struggled with her own
questions about the tragedy.
"The biggest question when that terrible thing happened called 9/11,
everybody was saying, 'Where was God?'" said Purdy. "I just needed to do
icons to express the presence of God within a terrible, terrible, evil
Purdy creates the icons out of wood covered with gold leaf.
In her latest project, some of the icons note the role of children in
the civil rights movement—the Ku Klux Klan's brutal murder of
14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the arrest of
hundreds of young demonstrators who participated in the 1963 children’s
campaign in Birmingham, Ala.
She hopes her audience includes young people today "who take it for
granted that blacks have as many rights as whites. They shouldn’t take
it for granted," said Purdy, "because that prize was won with a lot of
Till’s murder was the "dawn of my own awakening" of the civil rights
movement, said the Rev. Wesley Williams, pastor of Orleans United
Methodist Church in Orleans, Mass., where the icons were shown. "I was
about 9 years old when that happened. And I think it was my first
experience with having to consider death in children."
He calls the Icons of the Civil Rights Movement a "tribute to the
martyrs, the witnesses" involved in the struggle. "I think that it is a
perfect fusion of art and information," he said.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Emmett Till and Rosa Parks
are among 16 civil rights heroes and events featured in the collection.
Pancheta Peterson, a Cape Cod resident and activist who also saw the
exhibit, says the sacrifices of civil rights activists should not be
forgotten. She quoted the oft-repeated admonition that those who forget
the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. "Perhaps this will
jolt us back to reality," she said.
Purdy hopes the icons will help children and young people learn more
about the civil rights movement by pulling its images off the history
book pages and into a different venue where they can learn and be
inspired. "The fight was horrific and the price was enormous," she said.
For more information on Purdy’s works and art show schedule, visit http://www.chatterton-purdyart.com.
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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