'Black Abundance' Mural Reveal Kicks Off Pittsfield Juneteenth
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Juneteenth weekend was kicked off in the city with the unveiling of "Black Abundance," a mural by 22-year-old artist Frances Chlöe Jones-Whitman.
The work depicts seven of Berkshire County's most notable Black leaders in a Mount Rushmore-style composition with a color scheme of red, yellow, green, and black.
NAACP founding member and Black scholar W.E.B. Dubois; Elizabeth Freeman, who sued for her freedom and began the end slavery in Massachusetts; Civil War chaplain and abolitionist the Rev. Samuel Harrison; Revolutionary War veteran Agrippa Hull; Frances Jones-Sneed, professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; James Van Der Zee, photographer of the Harlem Renaissance; and astronaut Stephanie Wilson are featured in it. Jones-Sneed, who also is co-director of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, is the artist's grandmother.
"I decided to think about who are important figures and I thought about the work that I had been doing with my mother and with my grandmother, and my grandmother loves to talk about looking at local history, looking at people in your community, looking at your family's history, your friends' history, the history of your town and how important that is, and how that's something we often lose sight of," Jones-Whitman said.
"A lot of times we think of history and when you think of important figures, you think of things that are distant, whether that be in location or in time, and so I really wanted to look at — and I asked my grandmother for help as a local historian — people in the Berkshires community, people who had made a difference."
She incorporated people past and present to tell community members that they can do amazing things at any time.
"And it doesn't matter what scale you're doing it on or where you are, you can make a difference in your community," Jones-Whitman asserted.
The artist also implored attendees to educate themselves on the history behind the faces in the mural and learn how to do their own work in helping others.
Around 30 people gathered at Persip Park on Friday afternoon for the unveiling.
The mural is located on the Adlib Inc. building at the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street. It was facilitated by the Black Lives Matter Art Committee, which is a partnership between Black community members, Artscape, and the city of Pittsfield.
Mayor Linda Tyer pointed out that it is situated on a busy intersection heading toward one of Pittsfield's most historic neighborhoods.
"What an amazing depiction in the medium of graphic arts," she said. "And the portraits are some of Pittsfield and the Berkshire's most famous Black leaders."
Jones-Whitman resides in North Adams with her mother and grandmother. She began doing freelance art and started an at-home sewing business, Sedie's Designs.
This project began two years ago around the time of the committee's inception. The panel has committed to ongoing art projects that empower, solidify and educate the community.
"It's amazing for so many reasons but to have a young African American woman paint this and tell our story from her perspective, it's just powerful," community organizer and Pittsfield Public Schools cultural proficiency coach Shirley Edgerton said.
"And I love what she said about people doing their research and understanding who they are, their contributions to our community and how as young Black people and other young people of color and other marginalized groups watch this, they'll know that you too have something to offer and you too can be great."
She concluded that it is a powerful message without words.
It was also noted the collaboration between Adlib and the committee was natural because of the entities' missions. Adlib provides independent living and specialized services for Berkshire County residents with disabilities and empowers them to live more independently.
Juneteenth weekend will include a full slate of events spanning from Friday to Sunday that started Friday night with the premiere of the "Black Legacy Project" at the Colonial Theatre.
On Saturday, there is the Rainbow Ruby mural unveiling on College Way at noon followed by a gathering at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts at 1.
The Juneteenth celebration is on Sunday at Durant Park beginning at noon.