Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jon McDonald addressed a full house Saturday at Muskegon County Museum of African American History, dignitaries and young ones. #ArtWalkerFiles

This is a republishing of an article that appeared in the old Captain Art Walk blog on Posterous, published Sunday, January 16, 2011.

More than sixty people showed up for Jon McDonald's lecture on his series of paintings, "Slavery's Chill". We had Muskegon dignitaries in the house, the new addition to the museum, including the Mayor of Muskegon Heights Darrell Paige, Muskegon County Commissioner, Rillastine R. Wilkins, Director of the Muskegon Museum of Art Judith Hayner and Senior Curator of the Muskegon Museum of Art E. Jane Connell. Even the man who built the addition, Master Builder at Artistic Builders, Lawrence M. Baker attended the presentation. What surely pleased Jon McDonald the most, many parents brought their children to hear the talk, and frequently McDonald exhorted them to read, visit museums and engage their culture directly. From the stage, he made plans with men and women in the audience to arrange transportation for more young ones to view the exhibit.
It was better than a full house. Some young ones gathered at the foot of the stage and made themselves comfortable on the carpet. One young lady, in the third row that was once the front row, filmed every word of McDonald's talk, despite being jostled by late arrivals moving extra chairs into the room. She came with a young woman who was snapping cellphone photographs of the well-exhibited collection of 20th Century African textiles and masks. Both young ladies deserve better equipment.
McDonald explained his paintings often in symbolic terms. One painting depicts a slave sale on the American shore. It contains a dead snag of a tree, representing the tree of life, corrupted by the system of American slavery. A slave boy is walked away in a collar and chains by a master with tobacco stained teeth. Certain of a better life, a dog on the opposite side of the painting has a soft collar. In another, a slave has a document he can read. The foreman has a gun and can't read the document. McDonald asked the children, "who had more power"?
His discussion of his paintings is best experienced in person. McDonald has a beautiful voice and speaks impeccable English. His sense of humor and irony sparked frequent amusing digressions and heartbreaking observations.
McDonald's shared his life story with us, beginning life in Jackson, Mississippi. Around age 4, he was given an expensive kaleidoscope by a woman who lived in a Bavarian Tudor, a woman who had offered to raise McDonald, planning to make him the family butler. Instead, his parents Ruby and Charles migrated to Grand Haven, Michigan, where his father found work at the Grand Haven Brass Works and his mother worked in domestic help. The family lived in quarters rented from a man who required them to attend church as a lease condition. The house had a sign naming it a church, a sign McDonald threw in the river after school mates teased him. McDonald loved to read and he set out to collect a library, and he was caught stealing books from the public library. Luckily, the people who caught him and punished him gently taught him how to book bind and gave him used books. In Grand Haven's Central Park, McDonald observed Jon Onye Lockard painting portraits of local men and women, and it was the first time McDonald had seen a black man earn twenty-five dollars without sweating and heavy lifting. McDonald has sold his art for good prices, and he has lived in a Barvarian Tudor he earned by painting and teaching.
McDonald and Lockard must have bonded that summer, two young men from Mississippi who had migrated to Michigan. Jon Lockard still serves as a mentor to McDonald to this day. Lockard retired recently from Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan in 2009, after 40 years of service. McDonald has served Kendall College of Art and Design for over 30 years, since 1980.
The Slavery's Chill exhibit remains on view in Muskegon Heights until the month of April. The MCMAAH is open six days a week from 2 PM to 5:30 PM, and two more lectures are planned to celebrate the exhibition, each on Saturday afternoon at 3, January 22 and January 29th. McDonald speaks again on the 22nd, and he's not to be missed. Many people far beyond West Michigan will soon enjoy the exhibition through multimedia and a book project, thanks to the generosity of the Kellogg Foundation. I wonder aloud if E. Jane Connell is developing this project, especially after her excellent work on Annabele Livermore, a book entitled Remembering Newaygo County: The Symbolist Paintings of Annabel Livermore.
Jon McDonald, Professor of Illustration, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
The Loutit Library of Grand Haven, Michigan
Jon Onye Lockard, the middle name is short for Onye Ije, which means "The Traveling Artist who has Many Friends. Lockard mentored McDonald for many years.
Jon Onye Lockard, biography on The History Makers:
Art and Dignity, Jon Onye Lockard departs Washtenaw Community College
The Honorable Mayor Darrell Paige, Mayor of Muskegon Heights, Michigan
The Honorable Rillastine R. Wilkins, Muskegon County Commissioner, District 9
According to the Muskegon Museum of Art, Jon McDonald is one of the West Michigan Eight
Lawrence M. Baker, Master Builder, Artistic Builders of Muskegon, Michigan
Remembering Newaygo County: The Symbolist Paintings of Annabel Livermore
W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Illustration is "Terrorist", from the collection of paintings entitled, "Slavery's Chill", painted by Jon McDonald

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