By Amy Matzke-Fawcett
Old Dominion University
As part of the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Old Dominion University will host the work of painter Ted Ellis, an artist from Texas known for blending impressionism and folk art. The display will be free and open to the public from Jan. 15 through March 1 in the Goode Theatre.
The display came together quickly after Ellis met Melvina Sumter, associate professor of criminal justice at ODU and the person spearheading the university’s yearlong 400 Years of African-American History Commission’s signature “Writing A New History” program. Ellis is one of 15 commissioners of the national 400 Years of African-American History Commission and is the vice chair.
Ellis has featured his art at historically Black college and universities, middle and high schools, museums, cultural centers, conventions, libraries and festivals. The 400 Years Commemorative show will be the first of its kind at a non-HBCU institution.
Ellis will also unveil his “The First Family” painting. The artwork which captures the Tucker Family Cemetery, burial site of William Tucker, the first documented birth in the English colonies, from two of the 20 Africans who landed under bondage in Port Comfort (now known as Fort Monroe) in 1619.
Ellis has been working on a series of paintings speaking to the narrative from 1619 to the present that spans slavery to reconstruction to the Jim Crow era to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 to the use of modern technology in the classroom. Twenty to 25 pieces of art will be featured in a display created exclusively for ODU, according to Sumter.
It “speaks to the totality of the African-American experience and contributions, and specifically, highlights the struggle, resiliency, perseverance and triumphs. Hence, movement from the past to the present,” Sumter said.
“That experience is filled with so much history not spoken to, or written about, but that can be exposed in a way that only an artist can enlighten,” Ellis said.
Through his more than 30 years of work and hundreds of paintings, he has captured the 400 years of experiences of North America and “pays homage to his ancestors,” according to Sumter.
After the opening of the exhibit, Ellis will stay in Norfolk to work with students and community members, including hosting art seminars at Lambert’s Point Community Center and visiting a local elementary school, all of which are part of Ellis’ hope that his art can help build steppingstones between communities.
“My life as an artist will always be for used for advocacy for the human condition,” Ellis said. “We can build better communities, and that’s the best part of America.”