Students at Lexington’s STEAM Academy have been studying the works of artist Winfred Rembert, who is known for colorful paintings on leather sheets that depict life in the rural, pre-Civil Rights South.
On Friday, Rembert and Vivian Ducat, who directed an award-winning documentary about Rembert, paid the students a surprise visit. Rembert, 71, is candid about being arrested in a civil rights protest in the 1960’s. He brought his leather and tools to STEAM Academy, and with students gathered around him, Rembert showed them how he worked.
“To be able to hear his story and not just hear it, but actually see it, it was beautiful,” said Hannah Rowe, a 14-year-old freshman.
“I was happy to be able to give them some incentive,” Rembert said after meeting with the students.
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“You don’t have to open up a book and read about black history. I’m here and alive,” Rembert told the students. “If you want to know something, I can tell you.”
Rembert’s autobiographical paintings depict the day-to-day existence of blacks in the segregated South. He has preserved an important, if often disturbing, chapter of American history with images of blacks toiling in cotton fields, singing in church, or working on a chain gang, according to the website for the 2011 documentary “ALL ME: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert.”
Students viewed the documentary, in which he relives his turbulent life and shows how he has transformed painful memories into meaningful art.
In the documentary, Rembert said his work reflects his growing up in Georgia, the “juke joints, haircut parlors and restaurants.”
With Rembert’s visit, “students were making the connection between U.S. documents such as the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, poetry and visual arts,” said English teacher Marty Vaughan. “They got to see history come alive.”
Transylvania University sponsored Rembert and Ducat’s visit to Lexington, which included a Thursday night screening of the documentary at Lexington’s Lyric Theatre and a Friday reception at Morlan Gallery in advance of this weekend’s Roots and Heritage Festival.
Transylvania will present Rembert’s work in an exhibition called Stories to Tell: The Work of Winfred Rembert from Friday through Oct. 13 in the University’s Morlan Gallery.