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Artwork to Focus on African American Veterans’ Experiences

Arkansas Arts Council - Thursday, November 14, 2019

Ed Drew, photographerAn art project that will focus on African-American military veterans in Arkansas is underway and will be unveiled at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock in September 2020, artist Ed Drew said.

“It’s the history of this country, and for me, most importantly, it’s the history of African American veterans who are rarely spoken about,” Drew said.

Drew, a Little Rock photographer, has taken about 26 photos of African American veterans using the tintype process since January. The photographic process was developed before the Civil War and creates hauntingly beautiful portraits.

“African Americans are fairly underrepresented in most sectors, including veterans and veteran contributions to this country,” Drew said. “I thought it was important that I speak to that narrative. Then, being a state in the South, it’s important to show that the rich history of the Southern states has always coincided with African American contributions.”

The exhibition includes 5-by-7 tintypes about the veterans profiled. So far, Drew said he has photographed veterans from the Vietnam War, World War II and more recent conflicts. A lot of women are involved, too, he said.

The idea for the project grew out of the Arkansas Art Council’s 2018 committee meeting on how to bring the arts to more Arkansas veterans. Drew, who is interested in “dissecting American culture,” said he wanted to use his creative skills to spotlight veterans and their contributions. So, when Drew met Christina Shutt, director of MTCC, at the veterans’ meeting, the idea naturally took shape.

“When I met Ed Drew, I was drawn to the ways in which he uses photography as a medium for storytelling,” Shutt said. “Plus, as a historian, I love that he specializes in using the wet-plate collodion process, a photographic process that dates to 1851.”

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is a sister division of the Arkansas Arts Council under Arkansas Heritage.

Soon, Drew and Shutt hatched the idea to create portraits of African American veterans who are also Arkansans. Mosaic Templars Cultural Center commissioned Drew for the project. Then, Arkansas Arts Council staff helped connect Drew with some veterans. Drew, a military veteran himself, also has found participants by networking and through a local veterans’ day center and the American Legion. Drew is still looking for more veterans to participate in the project.

The exhibition will spotlight issues and stories of African Americans. Among the roughly 207,000 veterans living in Arkansas, about 23,000 are black, according to the most-recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. African Americans have served in every American war since the Revolutionary War, but they still faced assaults, bigotry and inequality, despite their service and valor.

Little has been done to collect the stories and spotlight the service of black veterans, which makes this exhibition important, Drew and Shutt said.

“This exhibit is important to MTCC because it highlights the rarely told stories of Arkansas veterans, many of whom served an unequal service or served abroad while being denied basic rights at home,” Shutt said. “Ed’s work blends history, culture and artistic portraiture to produce images that evoke the past while also bearing witness to the present.”

For more information about participating in the project, contact the Arkansas Arts Council at 501-324-9775 or email Ed Drew at end2end@hotmail.com. For more information about the September exhibition, contact the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at 501-683-3593.

About the Arkansas Arts Council

The Arkansas Arts Council, a division of Arkansas Heritage, advances the arts in Arkansas by providing services and supporting arts endeavors that encourage and assist literary, performing and visual artists in achieving standards of professional excellence. In addition, the Arkansas Arts Council provides technical and financial assistance to Arkansas arts organizations and other providers of cultural and educational programs. Other divisions are the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas State Archives, Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Historic Arkansas Museum, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and the Old State House Museum. Funding for the Arkansas Arts Council and its programs is provided by the State of Arkansas and the National Endowment for the Arts. Arkansas Heritage is a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.