Delaware Art Museum Commissions Series Depicting Wilmington Poet

Charles Edward Williams Commemorates Literary Giant Alice Dunbar-Nelson

The Delaware Art Museum has commissioned Charles Edward Williams for a series of works, I Sit and Sew: Tracing Alice Dunbar-Nelson. The exhibition of Williams’ twelve pieces opens Saturday, October 2, 2021, running through February 6, 2022. The exhibition, which will be installed in the newly-renovated Picturing America gallery focusing on early American art, is included with Museum admission.

Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935) was an important American literary figure with a Delaware story. The poet and political activist spent most of her career writing and lecturing in Wilmington and taught at Wilmington’s Howard High School from the early 1900s to 1920.

Williams, born in 1984 in Georgetown, South Carolina, draws on historical photography of the Civil Rights Movement to inspire his work. Pairing vibrant colors with distinct portraits, Williams establishes an emotional connection between the image and the viewer.

“The Museum has been looking at Williams’ work for some time,” says Margaret Winslow, Curator of Contemporary Art. “This commission presented a beautiful opportunity to engage with Williams and align his work with a significant Wilmington story, and the pieces will create opportunities for meaningful conversations while they occupy an exhibition space alongside our permanent gallery of historical portraits.”

When exploring Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s life, Williams began by surveying Dunbar-Nelson’s diaries, photographs, and published works. Throughout her poetry and personal writing, Dunbar-Nelson reflected on key social and cultural moments, such as the ratification of the women’s right to vote in 1920. Williams was drawn to Dunbar-Nelson’s frustration with the hindrances of a male-dominated world and her determination to actively respond to the first World War.

“As an American visionary, writer, and political activist, Alice Dunbar-Nelson sought after the truth of the human spirit and the vast wonders of togetherness,” says Williams. “In her challenging circumstances, she remained faithful to self-discovery and shared those tender truths for helping us, humans, find our way. In a world where she felt alone, she shared in her writings what it felt to be connected.”

Williams’ pieces are multimedia explorations of Dunbar-Nelson’s work and life. Paint is integrated with fishing line, sewn items, etched glass, and more, with some lines of Dunbar-Nelson’s poetry incorporated into the works. The exhibition is named after one of Dunbar-Nelson’s poems.

“Beyond simply interpreting Dunbar-Nelson’s words, Williams has followed her travels and leisure time, such as fishing,” Winslow says. “He uses these intimate and less formal observations to make the literary giant approachable.”

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. 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.

This commission aligns with the research of David Kim, a Whiting Foundation fellow and English professor at the University of Delaware, where the Alice Dunbar-Nelson Papers reside. Kim’s community engagement project, “Alice Dunbar-Nelson: A Vision for Wilmington,” celebrates Dunbar-Nelson’s contributions to the city’s history and inspired the commission.

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Organizers and Sponsors: This exhibition has been funded, in part, by the Whiting Foundation. 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

WHAT: I Sit and Sew: Tracing Alice Dunbar-Nelson
WHEN: October 2, 2021 – February 6, 2022
WHERE: Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Pkwy, Wilmington, DE 19806
COST: Free with Museum admission

Press Contact: Amelia Wiggins, Director of Communications & Engagement, or 302-351-8503.

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 to for the latest exhibitions, programs, and performances or connect with us via social media.