Willie Shepperson (1936-2014) was among the original students who on April 23rd, 1951 walked out of Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Prince Edward County, VA to protest conditions there.
[Archive of Original Paintings and Art]
While the walk-out was not originally intended to address "separate but equal" policies, this action is considered by many to mark the beginning of the school desegregation movement. And indeed, the lawsuit that grew out of Farmville strike, of which Shepperson was a named party, became one of the cases eventually folded into the landmark Brown vs. The Board of Education. The experience had a lasting influence on Shepperson. He went on to a long career as a beloved educator, and was active in local and regional politics. He regularly took part in interviews, panels, symposium, and the like regarding the Farmville protests, the Brown decision, school desegregation, and civil rights. And while he was known to be an avid photographer, unbeknown to perhaps all but those closest to him, towards the end of his life Sheeperson engaged in the creation of a small but striking body of art that boldly expressed his lifelong interests and concerns. These pieces were typically executed with inexpensive materials (plywood or other board, poster paints, store-bought frames) and are almost all African American in subject, whether entertainment (Cicely Tyson, Paul Robeson, Bob Marley, Ray Charles), political (Thurgood Marshall, Mary Bethune), biographical (Mrs. Rawlins, an influential grammar school teacher vividly described in essay penned by the artist and affixed to verso of her portrait), or educational (schoolhouses - below left, both). The artist would usually begin a piece by sketching in pencil, then used a wood-burning pen to carve the portrait into the wood. Pieces were then typically painted, often with textual additions, the wood-burned elements and incorporated frames lending the works an almost sculptural quality. It is unclear whether Shepperson ever intended these pieces for public display. They were apparently discarded by his estate and were brought to us by a scout who rescued them from disposal and dispersal. What is clear, however, is that these are the work of a talented and vibrant artist. His style mixes the brash colors and iconic subjects of Pop Art with the methods and materials of folk. The effect is one of a unique outsider artist utilizing themes of African American history and pride. A collection worthy of preservation and display.
[Laurel, MD]: (2000-2007). 28 works, ranging from 15" x 12 to 36" x 24, with most 24" x 20" approx. Various mediums, but most pencil, wood-burning pen, and poster paint on plywood. Generally very good or better.
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