Painting Our History

Artist Charly Palmer and student

“Doing this piece, doing the research for this piece, coming back during homecoming and standing on that sacred ground...” began Atlanta-based Palmer, who’s 38-by-28 inch watercolor of Howard faces, places, signs and symbols was unveiled during October 2017’s homecoming weekend.

“I didn’t attend the University,” Palmer continued, “but I’m now a part of the permanent history. And that is a great feeling.”

Equally gratifying is the fact that 100 percent of sales for Palmer’s original watercolor-on-cotton canvas commemorative piece will generate scholarship dollars for Howard students. Thus far, there are 150 lithograph prints available.

Palmer’s work comes courtesy of the Howard University Alumni Association, which began pitching its idea for a scholarship-generating, commissioned work of memorializing art more than two years ago, said Nadia Pinto (B.B.A. ’08), the association’s president and member of the five-person committee that collaborated with Palmer on what the artwork should depict.

“When I look at it,” said Pinto, a Houston-based business consultant and co-founder of a retail start-up, “I see an image of Howard in the past and in the present. It highlights our history of activism and unity and progress but also triumph, joy, leadership . . . Howard is a strong place, and not just for Howard’s alumni, faculty, staff and students but for all people of the African diaspora.”

Prints will be sold for $1,500 each until May’s commencement ceremony, when the price becomes $1,867, a numerical nod to the year Howard’s first students matriculated.

Attorney Nina Hickson (B.A. ’80), general counsel to an Atlanta community redevelopment project, said, “It’s certainly my love for the institution” that prompted her to be among the first to purchase the lithograph. “I’m just really, really drawn,” Hickson said, “to the images and the colors, the variety of people represented, the heritage represented. It engenders the good feelings I have about my experience at Howard.”

The value of the lithograph rests, in part, in Palmer’s renown and reputation, said Columbus, Ohio, attorney Tony Hutchins (B.B.A. ’80), an estate planner for artists, self-describe art junkie and chairman of that five person committee.

“Charly Palmer,” he added, “has a history of doing commemorative pieces for institutions and for marking milestones that are unique to the African-American experience. It’s a nostalgia piece in a lot of ways. There are bits and pieces of this image that will remind people of what and who is Howard.”

Those images are of students, of yesteryear and today. They depict the civil rights and Black Power movements. They include Howard Hall, the clock tower and hammer away at Howard’s “truth and service” ethos and motto.

“It is aesthetically pleasing,” Hutchins said, “and has an emotional tinge that makes me proud and lets me reflect on my time on The Yard. Howard, for a lot of us, was a place where we grew up in our awareness of our history and developed pride in the accomplishments of people who looked like us and a pride in the people who sat in class with us.”

“I hope,” Pinto said, that Palmer’s art “reminds Howard alumni of our deep, rich history, of what we stood for in 1867 and how our purpose now, as a University, is just as important . . . We are dealing with things today that mirror the ‘60s and ‘20s. And there is still joy and triumph in the midst of that journey.”

“I hope,” said Palmer, of alumni and others who see and buy his work, “that they will well up inside, looking back and remembering, and that they will feel such a sense of achievement.”

For more information on purchasing a Howard University Sequicentennial art piece, go to www.alum.howard.edu/sesquicentennialart

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