COCA presents "Indelible Marks," works by artists and educators Leon “Uncle Junior” Hicks and Amos Lawrence Lewis, Sr., on display at the City Hall Art Gallery and online from Feb. 9-April 11, 2022
During Reconstruction, African Americans saw education as an essential step towards achieving equality and independence. It was Black teachers, many of whom were formerly enslaved, who laid the foundations for public education throughout the South.
They created the nation's first public schools and Black colleges, which often emphasized the training of Black teachers.
Though America still struggles with issues relating to fair and equal education, many individuals have dedicated their careers to nurturing minds and supporting curiosity in all areas of study, including art. Two local examples are Leon “Uncle Junior” Hicks and Amos Lawrence Lewis, Sr., both extraordinary artists and educators.
A master engraver
Hicks is a master engraver whose artwork has been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally. Born in 1933 and raised on a small farm in Gainesville, Hicks suggests that his Southern heritage has been integral to both his sense of self and the development of his art.
He earned a bachelors’ degree in painting/sculpting from Kansas State University, and a master’s degree in painting and an MFA in printmaking at the University of Iowa. He has also studied art history at Stanford University, La Romita School of Art in Italy, and Atlanta University and came to believe in art as an intellectual endeavor.
The 1960s marked the beginning of Hicks’s teaching career, starting at FAMU in 1964. Over the next five decades Hicks would teach at Concord University, Lincoln University, Lehigh University, and 25 years at Webster University where a scholarship was created in his name. At age 89, he continues to teach and mentor emerging artists in Tallahassee.
Amos Lewis, longtime art teacher
Amos Lewis was equally devoted to education and he considered the creation of art to be, not a job or a hobby, but a duty. Lewis believed all individuals have the capacity for meaningful art making, regardless of age, race, or ability.
He was born in Pensacola in 1927 and he earned a bachelor’s degree from FAMU and a master’s degree in art education from FSU. Lewis taught in the FAMU art department and went on to teach art at FAMU’s Developmental Research School for 25 years. He also served as an art instructor and consultant for the Senior Citizens Society.
He encouraged his students, both young and old, to use art as a method for self-expression, to uplift others, and serve their community. He was a celebrated art educator, recognized with many awards including several from the NAACP on local, state, and national levels.
Lewis was also recognized as an accomplished artist. Though he died in 1995, during his life, Lewis explored a variety of media and techniques including ceramics, painting, printmaking, collage, and mixed media sculptural works. His art reflects a broad range of emotions and involves themes like optimism, triumph, acceptance, regret, and hope.
Teaching part of a larger mission
For these men, teaching was never simply a career, it was part of a larger mission. By supporting young artists in their creative and scholarly pursuits, they are part of a lineage of learning. Together, Hicks and Lewis have left an indelible mark through their art and the knowledge they’ve bestowed to thousands of emerging artists.
More than 50 engravings, paintings, drawings, collages, ceramics, and mixed media pieces can be seen until April 11, 2022 in person at the City Hall Art Gallery or virtually in COCA’s Online Gallery at cocaonlinegallery.zenfolio.com.
Special thanks to Venvi Gallery for curatorial assistance and the loan of artworks by Leon Hicks. Special thanks also to Maggie B. Lewis-Butler, former teacher, Leon County School Board member, and widow of Amos Lewis and their daughters Resha Lewis Gadson and Amy Lewis Pittman for their loan of artworks by Amos Lewis.
The City Hall Gallery is located at 300 South Adams Street, second floor lobby of Tallahassee’s City Hall. The show will remain there until April 11, 2022. It is free to the public and open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. All gallery goers must be masked while in the building and practice social distancing. Parking is available in Kleman Plaza.
This one of a dozen exhibitions curated by COCA and is part of the City of Tallahassee’s Art in Public Places program. For more information about this exhibition, upcoming exhibitions, or the Art in Public Places program, contact Amanda Karioth Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit tallahasseearts.org.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Artists and educators Leon Hicks, Amos Lewis make 'Indelible Marks'