Gazing upon the hanging tarp and exposed beams of the newly opened Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, artist Thomas Heath reflected on the memories of his childhood and his
grandmother, Beulah Fox who was the only African American employee at the all-white Walter Reed School located on the corner of 24 th Street and Wickham Avenue. Heath and his siblings, Linda Craig and Audrey Bolden, often helped Fox clean the very school that they would not be allowed to attend.
50 years after the passing of their grandmother, and 10 years after the official opening of the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, Fox’s descendants return to curate a story of “beutiful” irony. This is the story of a woman who “laughed when she talked, was extremely empathetic, religious [she was a member of Zion Baptist Church under Reverend Day], and family oriented”, and the recompense gained from her grandson displaying his art in the very building that he was not allowed to attend as a child. Of course, this building is now the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center- a repurposed space that celebrates the diversity of the community and is open to all! The exhibit will be composed of the artwork of New York-based artist Thomas Heath of the Heath Gallery and personal artifacts from the Heath family.
While the incredible artwork is more than an incentive to visit the exhibit, the powerful narrative and historical relevance are reasons why it should not be missed. The reception is October 5, 2018 from 6:30-9:00pm where you can come and meet Thomas Heath and family as they share their story and art with the community. The event is free but RSVP is appreciated. Light refreshments will be served.
About Thomas Heath:
Thomas Edwin Heath was born in Newport News, Virginia where he attended elementary and high schools (John Marshall and Huntington respectively). He is the oldest of four children born to Mary Elizabeth Fox and James Edwin Heath. Heath’s earliest exposure to art was through family coloring contests at his grandmother’s (Beulah Fox) large dining room table. Heath could often be found daydreaming and doodling there during his formative years. Little did he know at that time, his doodles would lead to an art career.
Heath moved to New York City when he was 17 years old and did not formally begin painting until he was 40 years of age. He had married, started a family and was working in security when a chance meeting with artist Mark Morse led to a close friendship and Heath beginning to paint. Morse was the first person to look at Heath’s doodles and to declare that Heath was an artist. He encouraged Heath to pick up a paint brush and with Morse’s encouragement, Heath did just that. He purchased a 10-foot canvas, assorted paints and a paintbrush and began painting. He painted large canvasses and often hung those paintings outside the window of the townhouse he owned so that passersby on their way to work could see and enjoy Heath’s own daily art show. He zealously painted everything in his sight, almost as
though he was catching up for lost time. He painted clothing, furniture (including his own living room sofa) and musical instruments to free his creative identity.