The talk was held in conjunction with the church’s latest art exhibit, “Icons of the Civil Rights Movement,” which features artwork by Pamela Chatterton-Purdy , an artist originally from New Canaan who now lives on Cape Cod, along with text from her husband, the Rev. David Purdy.
The pieces in the show feature icons of famous leaders and figures from the Civil Rights movement, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Emmitt Till and the Rev. James Reeb.
The exhibit’s curator, Mirella Hajjar, said the traditionally religious format of the icon serves “to bring out the sacred feeling of these heroes of the Civil Rights movement.”
Williams is a professor of studio and art education at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., and an instructor and education consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In his talk, he told of his first experiences with segregated water fountains in Florida as a child. Believing that the “Colored” sign meant that the water was not clear, he tried to drink from the “Whites” water fountain and was stopped.
“That was my first encounter with direct racism, segregation and exclusion. It took me years to process,” Williams said. It later influenced a piece of art, where he used different colored water for the “Colored” water fountain. “It is an image I cannot erase from my mind.”
Williams was a pre-med student in college when King was assassinated. He was taking an art class and was assigned to create a piece inspired by the event.
“I was devastated. I wanted to work with him, I wanted to be next to him. But he wasn’t there anymore, and that was hard,” Williams said. Not yet possessing the skills to draw or paint, he created his artwork by ripping pieces from cardboard.
“I felt something had been ripped out of me, so I started ripping out of the cardboard,” Williams said.
His professor praised his passion, and he was inspired to switch his path to studying art and becoming an artist.
Since then, he has worked to create pieces that he feels “need to be made.” The current exhibit at the Round Hill Community Church is “remarkable” because it tells a story that needs to be shared, he said.
“I’m grateful to come to this exhibition because it’s such a reminder of what people fought for, and what they fought for was inclusion, they fought for things that should have been so natural.”
The "Icons of the Civil Rights Movement" exhibit will be on display at the church through March 31.
Round Hill Community Church is located at 395 Round Hill Road in Greenwich. Call 203-869-1091 or visit its website for more information. Admission is free.
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