Beacon’s Howland Center Hosts African-American Art

Works by a dozen artists

By Kevin E. Foley

During the month of February Beacon’s Howland Cultural Center is hosting a selection of works from African-American artists in the Hudson Valley in recognition of National African-American History Month. The show opened Feb. 1 with an afternoon reception. The center is located on the eastern end of Main Street.

“Beacon is such a diverse community to begin with so we wanted to take advantage of that in terms of the arts,” said Florence Northcutt, president of the Howland board of directors as well as coordinator of the center’s art exhibitions.

Northcutt pointed out that the Howland Center hosts art shows every year displaying works from sectors of the population that might not otherwise receive as much attention as deserved. She said Latino and women artists’ shows also run in September and March respectively. This year the center is holding its first Asian- American show in May, according to Northcutt.

Two of the 12-featured artists, Josephine Green and Michael White, spoke with The Paper at the reception.

Josephine Green
Josephine Green

Green is a photographer who uses the software program Adobe Photoshop and other online resources to enhance and stretch the expressiveness of her photos. In one work she captured a long sought opened-winged butterfly that she bathed in additional light and texture to bring out its beauty and warmth.

“I have no message in my work — I just shoot what I like,” Green said.

She also had a small series of children’s portraits with mostly smiling faces containing perhaps a touch of ambivalence, no doubt suggested by Green’s backstory.

“I was in Haiti in December 2012 and I stayed in a compound where they had the school downstairs and the living quarters upstairs,” she said. “The kids would line up in the yard every day and I would go out and take their pictures.” Green was on a mission with the Beulah Baptist Church of Poughkeepsie distributing toys to orphanages. “The kids are so beautiful,” she said.

For still other children’s photos, this time of relatives, Green created a paint-on-canvas feel using Photoshop’s Dry Brush feature and then sent her photos off to canvasondemand.com, an online service based in Raleigh, N.C.

A 9/11 meditation

Similar to Green and most artists, Michael White is more comfortable discussing the process of creation rather than any ascribed meaning or message in his work.

Standing before one of his large canvases hanging on the wall of the balcony of the center’s main room, White described his basic process of creation by an ordinary by-product of his experience as a pool lifeguard, getting chlorine on his jeans. “I use industrial grade chlorine on denim and then a silk screen on top.  Bleach doesn’t work as well,” he said, as he pointed to the contrast of white space amidst blue.

Michael White
Michael White

The eye quickly goes to the provocative middle of White’s canvas where a viewer can see Arabic writing and two large pistols pointing at maps of the United States. White readily admits this and other work was inspired by the events of 9/11 when he was still in high school. His pieces with this theme in large measure made up his course completion for a Master of Arts at State University of New York at New Paltz.

 Asked for a translation of the Arabic, White said unexpectedly, “When a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?” While not eager to verbally expound on his ideas he does allow some clues to this thinking. “The image has a power itself — but if people come to understand the text it adds to the meaning. I have gotten a lot of different responses to it. Suicide bombers had no face, we’ll never know who they were — there is a sense of anonymity to the act.”

Another large canvas expressed similar and different suggestive kinds of inquiry through the presence of airplanes and an image of Jesus. “Anything is a weapon — a plane as a bomb. Anybody can think they are a savior,” White offered.

Last year in the same show White said he had work displaying an atomic bomb from World War ll. “War is a big part of our lives.”

As he begins a piece, White admits his own interest in how a piece might turn out. “It’s kind of an exploratory process every time I work.  It takes on new meaning as the piece develops.”

The show runs until Feb. 23. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday except Sundays Feb. 9, 16, and 23 when the center has concerts.

Photos by K.E. Foley

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