She sees art as a way to convey a sense of togetherness, to find common ground.
When Devyn Lopez came across a chance to depict a remark by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope” – the fine arts student sought to capture the essence perseverance.
“I feel like a lot of people could relate,” Lopez, 20, said of the message of her piece, a colored-pencil drawing of an outstretched hand reaching upward, prevailing against the downward pull of six others. She completed it during her holiday break from Mitchell Community College in Statesville.
The piece is one of about 40 artworks featured in an exhibit at the Alexander County arts and cultural center based on quotes from the speeches and writings of King, the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
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The free exhibit, “Living the Dream: Artistic Interpretations of the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” will run until Jan. 31 in the Lucas Mansion Gallery at the Hiddenite Center. The three-story Victorian house contains free monthly art galleries and hosts cultural events.
The center will be closed on Jan. 19, which is Martin Luther King Day.
Among the artworks are collages from parishioners of local churches, including one of children’s handprints encircling a portrait of King, and a slideshow of images of him that are arranged in the shape of a heart.
“You’re getting so many different perspectives,” said Miranda Burgin, a spokeswoman for the cultural center, about a 10-minute drive from Taylorsville.
She also has a piece in the exhibit: an art installation featuring doves made from recycled materials; it hangs below a skylight in a stairwell near the entrance to the gallery. The piece is based on King’s famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered at a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968 – the day before his assassination.
The exhibit will coincide with a ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the cultural center’s nearby education complex. Organized by the Alexander County chapter of the NAACP, it will feature a choir, a guest speaker and skits commemorating King. The civil rights organization also partnered with the cultural center to organize the exhibit.
The ceremony holds particular significance for the Rev. Sterling Howard, president of the chapter, who helped start it years ago at the Alexander County Courthouse in Taylorsville.
He was among the streams of people who attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, five days after his assassination, and he said the annual ceremony emphasizes inclusiveness, seeking to strengthen ties between members of racial groups living in the county.
“It seems like things have gotten better,” Howard said of race relations among whites, African-Americans and Latinos in the county, where he has spent much of his life.
A sense of unity is apparent in the exhibit, whose artworks are as diverse as the artists themselves.
While most if not all are from Alexander, Catawba and Iredell counties, they range from elementary and high school students to those who lived during the civil rights movement.
Word of the exhibit caught the attention of Kim Ellis, a Taylorsville high school art teacher, who used it as a chance to assign a more interpretative project to her class.
The class of more than a dozen students spent a week or so creating artworks based on quotes from King that each student selected. Free to express themselves, the students incorporated them into their pieces, which are featured in the exhibit.
“I let them do whatever they wanted to do,” Ellis said. She cited one piece that depicts two male figures outlined in black and holding hands beneath a heart against a light blue backdrop. The piece, by a male student, was based on Dr. King’s remark, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
“They applied it to their own lives,” Ellis said of the assignment.