Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

They say a picture tells a thousand words, but through her art, painter Amy Sherald tells a thousand stories. She tells of the black community, a group that has been marginalized since the beginning of this country. With just an easel and a paintbrush, Sherald is not just making art but making representation. On Tuesday, February 19th Sherald came to Millersville to share her wisdom and story with the grateful Millersville community.

Her most well-known piece of work is her 2016 portrait of Michelle Obama, our former first lady and “queen” as Sherald affectionately refers to her. By just getting a glimpse of the  Michelle Obama portrait, the viewer can see the care and affection Sherald has for her painting subjects. Although it is her most well-known painting, Sherald instead in the talk chose to share stories of her past and rise in painting. She began her art career drawing on myths and fairy tales. In her presentation, she shared how the film Big Fish was a major source of inspiration. In the film, the characters told tall-tale stories that became reality through their imagination. Sherald, especially in her early works, saw fairy tales as a way to give African Americans a voice and position of respect and poise. A chance to show them as capable of achieving any opportunity as anyone else.

Her paintings became a world, a world where with just a teacup and a red shirt and black and white pants, her subjects could become the Queen of Hearts or the “Grand Dame Queene” as Sherald titles her painting. In one of her most artistically profound pieces, “Puppetmaster, the young African American man in her painting is wearing a grand hat almost in the style of a circus ringmaster. He has a blue whale in his hand and in the background there is what looks almost like the sea flowing by him.  With more abstract pictures like “Grand Dame Queene”, Sherald invites us into a wonderful world where African Americans can be the ringmaster. She even draws upon Snow White, in her piece, “The Fairest of the Not So Fair”. Except, in her painting the fairest one is a black woman as it should be. The reimagining of fairy tales through art is something Sherald echoes on in her early works and most of all it is about giving those in the African American community a positive voice.

This is seen in her more impressionistic later pieces such as “Planes, Rockets and The Spaces in Between” as she depicts two black children, a boy in a white shirt and shorts and a girl in a gorgeous rainbow colored dress that simply shimmers and sparkles. In the painting, they are watching a rocket launch, yet through this piece the viewer can almost sense that   Sherald is trying to communicate that dreams can lift off for African American youth. This is especially potent as change ultimately starts with the young. All of her works view the black body as beautiful and vibrant. Her meeting at Millersville may seem like another conference, but her message that she leaves the audience with on giving everyone the opportunity to feel accepted, beautiful, and validated, should be one that all should cherish and hold dearly.