She is known professionally throughout Hampton Roads by a single name. Like the music star “Prince,” or the actor “Denzel,” Maizelle’s last name is not easily known outside of her family. Folks know her simply as “Maizelle,” a prize-winning and gifted artist with more than 50 years of celebrated art in Hampton Roads.
Since the age of 25, Norfolk’s own homegrown talented artist of Black culture has been recording the history, lifestyles, and struggles of the storied past of her beloved community – Norfolk, Va.
She joins other artists, through their documentary pieces, to help dispel the contention that Blacks have no history and culture and anything they produce would not be considered art, certainly not in the category of fine arts.
The underlying thread throughout her work is the treatment of her subjects with love, dignity and respect.
Maizelle says she was born in Grandma Sallie Mae Jordan’s house at 1019 Wide Street, directly behind the historic Attucks Theatre on Church Street in the early 1940s. She is a lifelong resident of Norfolk.
“My surroundings were not the best. But I had the best time growing up, and I was well-loved,” she says.
“My neighbors and others in the community were very interesting to listen to and watch.”
It was the tales she heard from those around her that stayed in her memories, returning to provide inspiration for her works.
One of her most recognizable works is entitled “Night at the Attucks Theatre” and depicts the historic theater that dates to the 1900s. At one time, it was the most celebrated entertainment facility on Norfolk’s Church Street for African-Americans.
“This painting was inspired by my father, because of the way he described the night life and how the people dressed,” she says. “The way he described that period really made me feel like I was right there living the life. He was a man who was a sharp dresser and loved events held at Attucks Theatre. He was affectionately known as ‘Buzzy.’”
And then, there is “The Steppin” which represents many of the tap-dancers/steppers who were featured at the Attucks, especially Peg Leg Pete who was well known for his foot work.
One of her favorite paintings which hangs in her home among dozens of other celebrated art pieces is “Boy Willie From the Hood” who she says is a friend who is still alive and lives in a Norfolk neighborhood.
Maizelle is not only gifted in creating fine art but she is creating a path to celebrate peace and diversity, through open dialogues at her home. Several times a year, she opens her home to artists, cultural and intellectual types to engage in dialogue about pertinent current events and issues. She calls it a RAP SESSION study group, and she’s been hosting it since she brought together the first group in 1973. To be invited by Maizelle to a RAP SESSION is considered prestigious to attendees.
“The RAP SESSION is still going strong,” she says. “We share information on race and social issues which celebrate Peace and Diversity.”
She continues, “The rich history of the past should not be lost or invisible. Rather, it should be kept alive for all generations, especially for children. Celebrating our Black culture celebrates American history.”
Maizelle’s earthly dream is to have a ONE WOMAN SHOW that will be a compilation of her paintings, photographs, documents and quilts.
You can view her piece, “Garden Club – WPA” this weekend at the Norfolk Botanical Garden when the Garden will observe its 7th Annual Heritage Celebration. The event will pay tribute to the 200 Black women and 20 Black men who labored to create the place of beauty.
This particular painting was born out of her love for African History and inspired by the fact that the Garden Painting is part of a series in recording Black History … “Celebrating Me Home from the African-American History.”
“I wanted the viewer, the women and men, to know about all the hard work that went into making the Garden what it is today. The painting represents the horrible work conditions that mostly women had to endure through the (WPA program). Today what you see is the results of their labor.”
“Garden Club” also will be shown at the Chrysler Museum of Art June 16 – September 6, 2015.