Another great library has burned down

Another great library has burned down


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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My approach to painting has been influenced by the six aesthetic priorities

of early African American quilt makers, and their concept of “building”

rather than sewing a quilt. 



 Another great library has burned down

Murry N. DePillars, Ph.D. (1938 – 2008)


Murry N. DePillars . . . artist, educator, historian, visionary…died May 31, 2008.  Art was his passion.  Education was his vocation.  Dr. Murry DePillars devoted his entire life to combining the two to promote enlightenment, to encourage understanding and to engender pride in the African-American experience. 

Born in Chicago, DePillars grew up in a family that recognized and encouraged his interest in visual art, as well as in the performing arts.  The neighborhoods in which he lived were teeming with jazz and blues clubs, as well as with gospel and ethnic music which strongly affected him.  This early childhood development provided the foundation for the man, whose commitment to art and to education changed the lives of those who were privileged to know him.

Murry DePillars was educated in the public schools of Chicago.  He earned an A.A. in Fine Arts from Kennedy-King Community College, a B.A. in Art Education and an M.A. in Urban Studies from Roosevelt University, also in Chicago.  He received his Ph.D. in Art Education from The Pennsylvania State University.  Both his master’s thesis, “Housing, Environment and Children’s Art” and his doctoral dissertation, “African-American Artists and Students: A Morphological Study in the Urban Black Aesthetic” addressed societal issues.

Prior to coming to Richmond, Virginia, in 1971 to serve as Assistant Dean of the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, DePillars worked in several educational settings in Illinois.  He also served in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War.  One of the leading figures of Chicago’s 1960s African-American Arts Movement,  often referred to as the “Black Arts Movement” and “Chicago’s Black Cultural Renaissance,” he attracted international attention for his artistic output.

In 1976, Dr. DePillars was named Dean of the School of the Arts at VCU, where he served until he retired in 1995, earning the title Professor Emeritus.  Under his leadership, the School of the Arts grew to become one of the largest art schools in the U. S., and attained both national and international recognition.  He was quick to smile when asked about his time at VCU, saying modestly, “With 2800 students, over 130 full-time faculty in 12 departments, an art library, an art gallery, two theaters, two concert halls, and a community music school, it was like being on an art oasis.”

From 1980 through 1987, with strong support from the (Richmond) City Manager’s office and other cooperating local companies and organizations, he produced one of the region’s most successful Jazz Festivals, featuring highly acclaimed artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Carmen McRae and The Modern Jazz Quartet.  He laid a  solid foundation for VCU’s Jazz Program. In April, 1985, he was the subject of Style Weekly’s cover story, and was dubbed “Richmond’s Jazz Man.”

Professional and civic commitments left limited time for Dr. DePillars to pursue his passion.  Therefore, when he was invited to become a member of Afri-Cobra, a group of serious African-American artists like himself, he eagerly accepted.  Afri-Cobra provided a demanding forum, beyond the academic setting, through which the members severely challenged each others’ art as they confronted societal and cultural issues, not only in America, but also in other parts of the world.

Through the years, Dr. DePillars exhibited his artworks in numerous galleries and museums, in both solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Studio Museum of Harlem, both in New York; The Mississippi Museum of Art; The Orlando Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; the World Expo in Spokane; the Fay Gold Gallery in Atlanta; and the Joysmith Gallery & Studio in Memphis.   

During the summer, 2002, he exhibited at the Hampton University Museum.  Entitled “Beyond the Fixed Star:  The Art of Murry DePillars” the exhibit was comprised of 42 works from 1960 through 2002, and included a variety of drawings and paintings.  His works are known for their color and movement.  His powerful paintings, layered with brilliant as well as cool colors, were inspired by African and African-American history, literature, music, quilt-making traditions, and other strong cultural influences.  The Institute for Positive Education in Chicago routinely uses his works as the basis for lessons in its K-12 curriculum.

In December, 2006, his painting, From the Mississippi Delta, 1997, was purchased by the Friends of African and African-American Art and presented to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for its permanent collection.  Other DePillars works can be found in public and private collections around the world.  

Dr. DePillars was the recipient of numerous awards.  Articles, bibliographic entries, book covers, commissioned illustrations, reviews and photographs of his artworks attest to his significant contributions to art and education.  In 1989, he was named an Alumni Fellow in the College of Art and Architecture at The Pennsylvania State University and in 1996, he was awarded the Presidential Medallion from Virginia Commonwealth University.

The public rewards for his work are evidenced by several grants Dr. DePillars received from the National Endowment for the Arts; his appointment as an Academic Specialist by the USIA with service in Malaysia in 1985; and his travel to Zimbabwe in 1994 through the support of the USIA’s University Affiliate Program.  At the state level, he served three governors on the Virginia Arts and Architectural Review Board.

In 1998, he chose to devote his full attention to his painting, a luxury he had never had the opportunity to fully enjoy.  His passing silenced an important advocate for educational and artistic growth and achievement. His legacy lives through his work and his students.

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Memorial Services Scheduled

Saturday, June 21, 2008 12 Noon Virginia Union University 1500 North Lombardy Street Richmond, VA 23220

Saturday, June 28, 2008

11:00 a.m. ETA Theater 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue Chicago, IL 60619

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Painting Image Above: Section of  Queen Candace: Diamond Quilt, 2002 acrylic on canvas, “40 x 30” Collection of Hampton University Museum

Artist’s statement—(Murry N. DePillars)—My approach to painting has been influenced by the six aesthetic priorities of early African American quilt makers, and their concept of “building” rather than sewing a quilt.  The six aesthetic priorities of these early quilt markers are: (1) vertical strip organization; (2) bold or high keyed colors accented by lower keyed or earth tones; (3) repeated or varied large design elements, motifs influenced by African and European symbols; (4) asymmetrical designs; (5) multiple or rhythmic patterning; and (6) improvisation. These aesthetic priorities and “building” quilts influenced me to adopt a flat geometric approach to “building” paintings.  In my paintings, repeated patterns in a standardized repeated grid system from top to bottom and side to side form the foundational design.  At varying intervals, overlays of opaque and transparent flat motifs are painted or built upon these foundational designs.  This creates two or three layers of smaller geometric designs.  These smaller muted and multi-colored patterns alter the directional axis of the foundational design.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson, III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson’s stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who’ve accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela’s rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela’s regime deems Wilderson’s public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness.

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 21 June 2008




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