The Artist and the Museum Bridge the Past and the Present in a Collaboration that Centers Local Community
The Delaware Art Museum has partnered with contemporary visual artist Charles Edward Williams and the Wilmington Alliance for an artist residency from July 31 through August 13, 2023. Members of the community are invited to contribute directly to Williams’s artwork for the residency by visiting the Art-O-Mat, particularly during Community Hours on August 4, 7, and 8, 2023. Much like Williams’s own art practice, which he describes as, “excavating history, taking the past and bringing it into the present,” this new residency builds on the Delaware Art Museum’s previous partnership with the artist and established commitment to uplifting local community voices in the arts.
Building on the Museum’s previous partnership with Williams, as well as the institution’s mission and vision, this new residency echoes his own artistic practice of “excavating history, taking the past and bringing it into the present.”
“We are thrilled to welcome Charles back to the Delaware Art Museum for this inaugural residency,” says Margaret Winslow, Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art. “Charles excels at weaving history and social justice together to create powerful imagery.”
For this residency, Williams continues his excavation of history and undertakes one of his largest projects to date, using multicolored wax and black paint to reinterpret the famous 1940s photo “Negro Boys on Easter Morning,” shot by Russell Lee. The effect will mimic the “magic” scratch pads kids use to create rainbow art—the same that Williams used in his youth. “[The work] is designed to evoke the nostalgia of childhood, while taking inspiration from the local community he’s hoping to reach,” says Zoe Akoto, Education Initiatives Coordinator.
The residency includes a new partnership with the Wilmington Alliance’s Art-O-Mat location, which opened its doors at 7th and Washington Street in Wilmington just weeks ago. The Art-O-Mat will serve as Williams’s primary studio space.
Residents of the West Center City neighborhood where the Art-O-Mat is located, and museum community members more broadly, are invited to visit the community space and participate in creating the multicolored wax layer of the project. Williams hopes to have young members of the Wilmington community play an active part in creating the work: “My interest in having teens and kids involved in this residency stems from my own passion for teaching and inspiring students to pursue creative arts—not simply as a pastime, but as something you can build your life around.” Williams, who is a professor of drawing and painting at North Carolina Central University, emphasizes, “there are career paths in the arts, and I want to model that for them.”
Williams was commissioned by the Museum in 2021 for “I Sit and Sew: Tracing Alice Dunbar Nelson.” The exhibition explored the legacy of Dunbar Nelson, an important 17th century literary figure and Delaware activist. Williams interwove Dunbar Nelson’s poetry with paint and other unconventional materials like fishing line, sewn items, and etched glass in what Winslow deems “a stunning installation” and “an important acquisition for the collection.” In renewing the Museum’s successful collaboration with Williams and developing a new local partnership with the Art-O-Mat, this residency brings the Museum’s long-held commitment to connecting and supporting artists and underserved communities, at the local and regional level, into the present in new forms.
Williams is represented in numerous public collections including the Mississippi Museum of Art, 21c Museum Hotels, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and in the private holdings of Michael and Susan Hershfield and the Petrucci Family Collection of African American Art, among others. Between 2016 and 2019, Williams attended residencies at the Otis College of Art and Design and SOMA Mexico City. Additionally, he was an artist-in-residence at the Gibbes Museum of Art and the McColl Center of Art and Innovation. Williams has received numerous awards and grants for his work including a Mississippi Humanities Council Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and the Griffith-Reyburn Lowcountry Artist of the Year Award. Solo exhibitions of Williams’ projects have been presented at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, among others. He has participated in group shows at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Allentown Art Museum, among other galleries and museums across the United States and abroad.
Williams holds a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia and an MFA from the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG).
This organization is supported, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Division promotes Delaware arts events on www.delawarescene.com.
About the Delaware Art Museum
For over 100 years, the Museum has served as a primary arts and cultural institution in Delaware. It is alive with experiences, discoveries, and activities to connect people with art and with each other. Originally created in 1912 to honor the renowned illustrator and Wilmington-native, Howard Pyle, the Museum’s collection has grown to over 12,000 works of art in our building and sculpture garden. Also recognized for British Pre-Raphaelite art, the Museum is home to the most comprehensive Pre-Raphaelite collection on display outside of the United Kingdom, and a growing collection of significant contemporary art.
Under the leadership of our Board of Trustees, the Delaware Art Museum is implementing a comprehensive approach to community and civic engagement. This exciting new strategic direction requires that we increase our value and relevance to all audiences. Visit delart.org for the latest exhibitions, programs, and performances or connect with us via social media.
Photograph by Shannon Woodloe.