BERLIN– A new exhibit at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art focuses on the generational history of Black families on the Eastern Shore.
Inspired by a collection of historic photographs, well-known Berlin artist Patrick Henry has spent the past several years painting scenes from the Eastern Shore’s past. The new body of work, “Another View,” is now on display at the Ward Museum.
“The opening was beautiful,” Henry said. “Every day since then I’ve gotten messages and follow-up phone calls. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response.”
Henry, known for his local landscapes and images of the Eastern Shore, said in 2017 he began a few paintings that chronicled the African American journey in the United States—one referenced the underground railroad, another depicted colored troops liberating slaves and another showed slaves entertaining themselves by making music in their cabin. With the onset of COVID-19 and in the wake of the high profile deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Brionna Taylor, Henry decided to continue chronicling the African American journey. He realized he had inspiration right under his own roof.
“It came to my attention I had all these vintage photos,” he said. “The eyes of these people just spoke loudly to me.”
The 25 paintings that make up “Another View” feature the style and color that has come to define Henry’s work through the decades but depict people instead of landscapes. One shows World War I soldier James Franklin upon his return home. Another evokes an Easter Sunday morning. Others show groups such as the staff at Burley Manor or hotel workers in Ocean City.
Several years ago, this collection of photographs came my way and I started looking into the eyes of my ancestors from not only my family, but from others in my community, and the powerful refection back showed me that in spite of very adverse conditions they maintained their integrity – they maintained their spirit,” Henry said in a release about the exhibit. “It’s a crossroad that we as a country have come to … the representation that we are all in this together; that we are all equal.”
The exhibit opened Jan. 28 and runs until May 15. Henry has been overwhelmed by the feedback he’s received so far. He believes that no matter their background, those who view the exhibit will connect with the work. Each painting includes a copy of the source photo that inspired it as well as information on historical context.
“I had a friend from Latvia who said it reminded him of his cultural history,” Henry said. “That’s the beauty of it—it’s to celebrate our diversity and learn about other cultures.”
Museum officials are hopeful that Henry’s exhibit will inspire conversation locally.
“We are thrilled to work with Patrick Henry to debut ‘Another View’, an exhibit that powerfully interprets so many untold stories of our region,” said Kristin Sullivan, Ward Museum Executive Director, in a release about the exhibit. “Patrick is a gift to the Eastern Shore, and I know that in his hands, this exhibit has the potential to inspire much-needed conversation about our diverse but intertwined heritages and our shared future.”
While Henry has been sharing his work with the public since he was 16, he says this exhibit was the most intense.
“It struck a chord with people spiritually,” said Henry, who turns 70 this month. “As an artist, that’s what you want to do. It gives me incentive to build upon what has happened.”