The state capital has chosen to recognize the efforts and talent of artists at MCC: a mural painted by students is currently on display in Albany to celebrate Black/Women’s History month(s). The painting in question, titled aptly, “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad” depicts famous abolitionist hero, Harriet Tubman: a fugitive slave with a 40,000 dollar bounty on her head who risked her life and hard-won freedom many times to help hundreds of enslaved people escape to Canada. On the right-hand side portraits of other abolitionists and suffragists appear in descending order: Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and William Still. The symbols framing the portraits are the quilt patterns that members of the Underground Railroad used as signals to runaways.
The idea started back when MCC art professor, Kathleen Farrell, who came up with the concept and design, learned about the Global Mural Conference (GMC) from MCC alum, Mark DeCracker.
The GMC is a bi-annual conference that meets in cities all over the world, and as fate would have it, came to Woodcliff Hotel and Spa in Fairport, NY back in September. The conference included the Erie Canal Mural Expo where the public was invited to see the work of, and interact with, both international and local artists.
Seizing the opportunity, and gaining sponsorship from The MCC Student Center for Leadership Development, Farrell recruited ten artists from the Student Art Organization: Geno Broccolo, Roman Cobb, Mariah Essom, Tracey Heater, Sara Micari, Amberly Santiago, Bennan Thomas, Emma Van Hise, and Rachel Wyche. They worked for one week in building 12 near the Mercer Gallery and then transported their canvas–the murals displayed at the Expo were painted on a material called Evolon that allows for easy transport and mounting–to Fairport where they continued their project.
Farrell commented on the rewarding nature of the experience, “the ten students involved in this project gained so much…having the opportunity to participate in the conference was such an educational experience for them.”
Amberly Santiago, a Commercial Art major that worked on the symbols and was responsible for two of the portraits on the left, corroborates that statement. She said that although it was hot and humid in the tent where they painted, “it was a really fun time working with others.” Santiago said she was initially hesitant to join in, feeling unsure of what to do, as she had never done “a portrait with paint, or just a decent portrait in general” before. Her concern proved unwarranted, and in the end, everything came together beautifully. “I surprised myself, and [the portraits] ended up looking really nice and realistic.”
The folks working in our state capital agree. According to Farrell “[they] saw the impact it would make for all those that would see the painting.” And what impact do they hope it has? Farrell says all who participated in creating the mural hope to educate others about the efforts and bravery of those that fought for freedom.
Santiago notes the importance of reflecting on our history, especially in an era when many forget how hard these historical figures had to fight just so women and black individuals could have the rights they have today. “I just want people to remember who these people were,” Santiago said.