In the era after slavery, African Americans in Northwest Georgia set to building their community, both physically and metaphorically.
This important era isn't very well documented, said Beverly Foster, founder and president of the Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association Inc., the group behind the Walker County African American Museum and Cultural Center.
That's why an art show featuring buildings constructed by African Americans during the post-emancipation era is the topic of the museum's first art show, Foster said. Announced this week, the show will be held from 3-6 p.m. June 25 at the Marsh House in LaFayette, Georgia.
"There's a lot of buildings we built to forge our community. It's how we made our community once we came out of enslavement," Foster said in a phone interview. "We progressed and made our own community."
Most of the schools, churches and fraternal organizations depicted in the art are from Reconstruction, the era just after emancipation, Foster said.
"Walker County is now ready to fully display the full story of the community," Foster said.
She said she thinks the depiction of Civil War-era history has been done right in Walker County — she thinks people have a right to remember their Confederate ancestors — but there's much more history to be remembered besides that era that's painful to many people.
Though he's drawn his whole life, 54-year-old Maurice Chaney said he'd about given up on art. But when he saw Foster's advertisement calling for submissions, he decided to give it a chance. Both Chaney and his son Jaseric have drawings in the show, he said in a phone interview.
"Because of the subject matter, and what we're going through in the United States with racial tensions and whatnot, a lot of that I was already trying to find an outlet anyway for those tensions," the Chattooga County resident said. "So it served me in that sense in that it was (drawings of) the churches Black people built, and a lot of people don't know that."
The other artists for the inaugural art show are: Paisley Lamont, Billy Smith, Ashleigh McLin, Jaseric Chaney and Vince Stalin. Stalin draws, does photography and is the chairman of the artistic side of the museum's programming, Foster said.
The show will feature 34 pieces of art, and there will be refreshments served. After the art show, the exhibit can only be viewed by appointment, Foster said. A researcher, author, speaker and genealogist, Foster is a resident of Chickamauga.
"The whole thing about our museum is that we want to assist Walker County in telling the history of Walker County beyond the antebellum era," Foster said.
While Walker County was organized in 1833 and slavery was abolished in 1865, most of its history represented in monuments and exhibits is about that short, painful era.
"We got 150, 160 years since then (abolition), but we don't have anything depicting that 160 years. Everything is Civil War and enslavement," Foster said.
Chaney said he appreciated the opportunity of the art show to use "his God-given creativity" to bring that history to the forefront of people's minds. Because of a few good opportunities that have arisen lately, including winning a contest to design an afro pick in 2021, he said he's going to keep making art.
Most of his work is abstract, but Chaney said he could still see all of his emotion even when confined by drawing something as concrete as a school building.
"My thing is always having hope. For me, a horizon or the sunrise is always hope," Chaney said. "And if you look at a lot of the things in my drawings, there usually is a horizon, a focal point where the light is coming from."
There is some despair in the subject matter, Chaney said about his drawing of LaFayette's since-demolished Hill High School building. Still, he said he thinks there is always hope and a light he can shine on a situation — and he hopes people can see that in his work.
For entry to the art show, the museum is charging $5 for adults and $1 for students, including college students, Foster said. Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga and Georgia Council for the Arts are sponsors of the event.
Foster also hopes to have T-shirts for sale at the art show based on designs by six schoolchildren from Stone Creek Middle School and Chattanooga Valley Middle School who won a contest the museum sponsored.
"We'll have our (museum) logo on the front and their designs on the back," Foster said.
Last year, the museum was given the use of the Wardlaw Building at 309 N. Main St. in LaFayette by the Walker County Commission to house its exhibits, Foster said. The grand opening will be later this year. A monument to the achievements of African Americans is also in the design phase, she said.
Foster said the museum is also taking applications for a museum assistant director position.