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Student Honors Artist Ernie Barnes Through Internship

 
All images Copyright © The Ernie Barnes Family Trust
All images Copyright © The Ernie Barnes Family Trust
All images Copyright © The Ernie Barnes Family Trust

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) elementary education student, Taneya Thompson is spending her summer at the North Carolina Museum of History. Alongside the museum’s curators, Thompson contributed to the creation of “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” exhibit, which opened on June 29 and showcases original paintings and artifacts of distinguished NCCU alumnus Ernie Barnes.

Thirty-seven oil and acrylic paintings with colors including hues of blue, red and orange adorn the walls of the museum’s third floor. The infamous “lady in the yellow dress,” depicted in a number of Barnes’ paintings, can be found in the acclaimed painting inspired by a dance at the Durham Armory, “The Sugar Shack.” The painting was featured on R&B singer Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” album cover and during the closing credits of the ‘70s television show “Good Times.”

Also included in the exhibit are 20 of Barnes’ artifacts, including his brushes and painting palette.

“Although I never got a chance to meet Ernie in person, I was so honored to be able to work on this exhibition- because now I feel like I do know him,” said exhibition curator Katie Edwards. “He was a remarkable human being who defied odds and became a renowned artist. This exhibition is an amazing opportunity for the state of North Carolina. It’s a chance for visitors to see a number of Ernie’s works that he painted throughout his life and see the impact that the state had on him and his career.”   

As an intern for the museum, Thompson is exploring the legacy of Ernie Barnes among other responsibilities. Recently, she developed “Fred’s Finds,” a blend of interesting facts, for the newly-opened exhibit.

“Ernie Barnes is a great artist; his paintings display a certain recognizable style or theme,” said Thompson. “Researching his life and accomplishments while also learning new things about his paintings is exciting, it has been a very interesting internship,” she adds.

During her internship, Thompson has been able to learn art history, as well as discover noteworthy facts about Barnes.

“When you learn an artist’s background, their work materializes differently, every piece of art seems more personable to their story,” she said.

Barnes, a Durham native, began his football career at Durham’s Hillside High School. Blocked letters he earned as a football player during his tenure are also included in the exhibit. After receiving numerous scholarship offers, Barnes chose to play football for NCCU in 1956 where former art professor Ed Wilson influenced his love of painting.

Barnes’ work included in the exhibit, “Homecoming,” depicts NCCU’s Marching Sound Machine band at the intersection of Roxboro Street and Pettigrew Street in Durham.

After successful stints playing for the New York Titans, San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos, he became the official artist for the then American Football League after retirement from the league in 1965. In 1985, NCCU honored Barnes’ significant contributions to football with his induction into NCCU’s Athletic Hall of Fame.  

Barnes’ influence at NCCU is still prevalent today. His painting “The Advocate” was donated to the School of Law in 1998 by Donna Arnold in memory of her late husband Danny; it hangs in the school’s library. Books from the Barnes Book Collection and Fine Art Library are also housed in a special section of NCCU’s James E. Shepard Library, dedicated to Barnes as part of a trust agreement. In 2016, a descendent of the Barnes legacy hung his work “Each One, Teach One” in NCCU’s Men’s Achievement Center on campus.

Securing an internship can influence a student’s career path tremendously. Thompson credits the Education Major Advisory Council (EMAC), a School of Education organization, for introducing her to the opportunity. EMAC promotes advocacy in education while inspiring students to become national and international leaders. The organization also provides students with volunteer and internship opportunities throughout the year.

As a reminder of her first introduction to art, Thompson’s grandmother has her first painting from kindergarten on her refrigerator. 

Upon graduation, Thompson, a Phenix City, Ala. native hopes for a career as a second-grade teacher with Teach for America in which she will infuse art in her classroom. Her aspirations also include furthering her education to eventually become a superintendent.

The Barnes family will honor the artist’s 80th birthday with a celebration featuring the Marching Sound Machine on Sunday, July 15, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., in the H.M. Michaux Jr. School of Education Building Auditorium, 700 Cecil Street on NCCU’s campus.

 

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