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Pair of Paducah exhibits celebrating Black History Month

Watson, Stacey

A pair of Paducah art exhibits – one curated by a Graves County art institution at Paducah City Hall and another at the National Quilt Museum – are among the many options available to west Kentucky residents and visitors observing Black History Month.

African American Artists Show at Paducah City Hall

The Ice House Gallery – the home of the Mayfield-Graves County Art Guild since 1995 – has put together the public art installation at Paducah City Hall, gathering 125 works by 25 African-American artists.

Guild director Nanc Gunn said the gallery traditionally displays the work of African-American artists in February, but this show is the biggest she’s ever curated.

“We just have the whole Rotunda covered with African American Art,” Gunn said. “We had 20 people that we'd never even met before get involved with us. Some people drove from Carbondale. Some people drove from Hopkinsville, and they just came to show off their art.”

The Ice House Gallery is still working to recover after an EF-4 tornado destroyed their facilities over two years ago. The institution is fundraising to renovate a new gallery space, but that hasn’t stopped Gunn from displaying art from around the region.

One of the artists participating in the exhibit is Dale McReynolds, a 72-year-old Paducah native who now lives across the river in Metropolis, Illinois. McReynolds said she’s been painting for more than six decades and that she uses her work to help remember the history of the Black community.

“I have one particular [artwork] called Sharecropper. And, it's got a cotton field with a couple in the cotton field," McReynolds said. “A lot of young people have never seen a cotton field. They know nothing about coming up from slavery, Jim Crow… There's education there, as well as emotions are there for others, but there's a lot of education there for Black history from the Black culture.”

Say Your Piece: Black Mothers, Martyrs, and Misunderstood at the National Quilt Museum

Paducah’s National Quilt Museum has been displaying “Say Your Piece: Black Mothers, Martyrs, and Misunderstood” since October and it closes later this month on Feb. 21.

The exhibit’s curator, Stacey Watson, said the collection – which features dozens of quilts made by a variety of all-black and all-female quilt artists – is a significant one in the institution’s history.

Watson became the first black curator in the museum’s history when the exhibit opened last year and she thinks that sets an exciting precedent.

“Along with all of the women who are in the exhibition are all black, the content is all about black women,” Watson said. “And so, we all made history on October 25, 2022… [the] ‘Say Your Piece’ exhibition is history in the making.”

The title of the exhibit, Watson explained, has two meanings. It references the unique art medium of quilts – the assembling of quilts is called piecing – and acts as a mission statement for Watson, who aimed to ‘piece’ together the stories of Black women into a singular expression of history and culture with the exhibit.

“It's piecing the stories of what has transpired in the lives of Black women. And, this is really taking an opportunity to talk about how Black women have been perceived in society, as well as how they've been treated,” Watson said. “A lot of that treatment is centered around how Black women have been often overlooked or forgotten, or their voices have been pretty much either undermined or they've been excluded.”

Patra Jones
National Quilt Museum
Maternal Mortality 3x Higher

An open mic night on Feb. 17 will feature several of the quilters included in the exhibit.

Tennessee-based artist Patra Jones has been quilting for over 20 years. She said her work in the exhibit – Maternal Mortality 3x Higher – is meant to help raise awareness for the difficulties Black mothers can sometimes face in receiving quality maternal care, something Jones says she had to worry about first hand.

“Being an older parent, they considered my pregnancy to be somewhat high risk. And, I received exceptional care during my pregnancy and had a phenomenal pregnancy. It wasn't until after I had my son that I realized that really isn't the case for a lot of women of color,” Jones said. “Doing some research, I realized that there is a high maternal mortality rate in women of color. And, what's incredibly sad is that two-thirds of the deaths could have been prevented.”

Jones hopes audiences take the time to sit with each quilt on display and absorb all of the different stories they tell.

“If you go to the exhibit, you'll kind of see that each quilt is different. And, that every quilt has a different message,” Jones said. “All the messages are something that really resonate with each artist, but also it resonates with the Black community.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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