BY PAMELA SHEROD
Chicago Tribune Posted on Thu, Mar. 17, 2005
CHICAGO - (KRT) - If walls can talk, then the art on the walls of Daniel T. Parker's home brings on humming, testifying and calling children home.
Everywhere you turn, there's a colorful conversation of African, African-American and Caribbean art going on.
It's spoken in muted, earthy and vibrant tones in a one- to three-dimensional call-and-response syntax that both cradles and awakens.
This is what we found when we visited Parker, the author of "African Art: The Diaspora and Beyond" (DTEX, 146 pages, $70).
The book drew us to his home, a duplex condominium in a six-unit, vintage brick buildingin Chicago's Hyde Park. Once there, we saw how his more than 430 collected works of art had lessons to teach.
"The more I found art from Africa and the Diaspora, I found myself growing more into myself," Parker says. "I became more empowered."
Almost every inch of space in Parker's 3,200-square-foot condominium is home to a work of art.
"We didn't just hatch here in the United States," he says of African-Americans. "With the art, there is a sense of our coming and our being. It gives a grounding and a sense of who we are."
Being in the presence of so much beauty - from the art to the way it is displayed - is breathtaking. The stories and memories that the art brings to the surface are heartwarming and real.
For Parker, who lives with it everyday, it's uplifting. And it's everywhere. Yet his home is not a gallery. The art is a part of the everyday living - and not so special that you can't touch.
It blends in with Parker's family photos, memorabilia of his growing up in Chicago, his Asian-style furnishings and modern sectional set, Oriental rugs, television sets and his library of books that includes "The Myth of the Negro Past" by Melville J. Herskovits; Alice Walker's "The Color Purple"; and "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck.
"I come home and I just sit sometimes with the art. Sometimes I even sit in the dark," says Parker, a retired teacher who taught in Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago.
"It gives me a feeling of comfort and peace. I'm surrounded by art that is reflective of my culture," says Parker, who shares his home with artist Mark E. Livingston, whose pink, black, gold and red masks hang on a paprika colored wall near the kitchen. "I have the feeling that I am really at home."
INVITATION TO A SOJOURN
Parker's book is his way of encouraging others to "venture into the soul-fulfilling and mind-expanding world of art."
Though beautifully done, this book has more than looks going for it.
It tells of Parker's personal journey in collecting art, the importance of light in showing the work and how he found himself as he looked closely at the art of which he is custodian. The book also tells the story of the artists whose work is in his collection.
"This pilgrimage has allowed me to come into the light and into myself," he wrote.
Seeing Parker's collection in his home magnifies the book's message about the power of art.
"Art can do many things and one of the things I think it can do for African Americans is help us reclaim and retain who we are as a people," Parker says. "By bringing African art into the home, we are reclaiming a long legacy. By teaching children about this art, they come to know their history came long before coming to America and that their African history was rich and good."
Parker says contemporary African-American art is a continuation of that legacy.
"So much of the artwork produced by African-Americans is a reflection of the ancient patterns. The bold shapes and colors reflect that heritage," Parker says. "With these contemporary art forms, we say we have a continual legacy here."
Not only is there visual pleasure in seeing the images and the moving themes of life interpreted by artists such as Andre Guichard, Debra Hand and Felicia Grant Preston, but the art also "represents a historical construct of who a person is," Parker says.
A KIND OF HUSH
Although Parker's home is within shouting distance of the 47th Street bustle and the rock and rumble of traffic squealing outside, his condominium seems far removed from the reality of the street and everyday stress.
All of this fades away once inside his home.
The change is noticeable after a few moments. There is a peaceful hum of quiet. So much so that we asked if there were noise-reduction shades at the windows.
Parker smiled. His answer: "no."
A three-tier Dogon pot, made from wood from Mali, and a 2-foot-tall wooden Sankofa bird stand as greeters and guardians at Parker's front door. Both objects have a special message to share.
The 48-inch-high Dogon pot was once used to store things of value and represents a legacy of material value in a community. The Sankofa bird, made of a wood native to West Africa, delicately holds a cream-colored egg between its sharp beak, representing both a look back to the past and the delicate nature of life.
"If we are very careful we can look forward and bring those things from our past to our present and use them as valuable elements in our lives," Parker says of the Sankofa.
Painted surfaces - a gold foil ceiling and brick red, buttery yellow and a deeper sunflower yellow walls - and exposed brick walls are the backgrounds for art that tells stories of history, culture, religion, music, family and love.
We found ourselves taking a deep breath when we focused on a painting on a mirrored medicine cabinet by local artist Robert Johnson, who paints on glass using Ethiopian themes. Three females emerge as colorful ribbons of paint on the mirror; with the center figure rising above the other two, the piece tells the story of nurturing and guidance.
A deeper breath came at the sight of "Survivor," an acrylic-on-wood portrait of an older woman wearing a knotted head scarf, hands on the front of her apron. With this piece, artist Joyce Owens takes those of African descent to their roots, showing ancestors who survived slavery in hopes that the past can steer them toward choices that will enrich their lives.
"Sometimes we become so dispersed into the diaspora we forget we have this," Parker says.
An even deeper breath came when we ascended the modern wood and steel staircase along an exposed brick wall where three nudes (one mixed media on paper by Shyvette Williams showing a pregnant girl as an angel) are beautifully shown. At the top of the stairs, a multicolored, beaded effigy of a Yoruba chief (Nigerian origins) proudly sits in a beaded chair.
"It's a piece that is commemorative. It is a monument," Parker says. "We erect tombstones in memory of our loved ones. In the Yoruba culture, they make a replica of a Yoruba chief, chair and
STARTING YOUNG famous african americans
Parker, 63, developed his ear and his eye for art as a child. His mother, Annie Lee Parker, and his high school art teacher Margaret T. Burroughs, who later went on to co-found the DuSable Museum of African-American History, laid the early foundation for him.
He accompanied his mother to second-hand stores where he saw "sundry artful attic discards lying in the dust, begging to be retrieved," Parker wrote in his book. "Often my mother would purchase one of these heirlooms, take it home, and clean it and a treasure was revealed."
These excursions with his mother whetted his appetite for the collection he started more than 40 years ago.
He now buys art when he travels and from local Chicago artists. He credits Burroughs with instilling in him and all of her students "a strong sense of pride in our heritage and a vision of prosperity for our people."
"Dr. Burroughs taught us to love our black skin, our kinky hair, our dark eyes, our full lips, and our broad noses," wrote Parker, who has Burroughs' creations in his collection. "Although we were taking an art class with Burroughs, she taught us that we were, in fact, the most beautiful art form, and she did it by example."
Burroughs, who notes that DuSable Museum's collection started in a house, describes Parker's collection as wonderful.
"Dan has the only one of its kind that I know of by a collector of African descent in this country," Burroughs says. "It is very beautiful and well arranged. He really has the first museum of African-American art of the diaspora.
"Each time I've visited his home I see something I didn't notice before," says Burroughs, who is hoping Parker will go a step further and start a museum. "Art invigorates and keeps you strong. It teaches you."
OF RHYTHMS AND RICHNESS
Teaching others is what Parker and fellow members of Diasporal Rhythms, which was formed two years ago, intend to do with their collections of African-American art.
Diasporal Rhythms includes Patric McCoy, an environmental scientist; Carol Briggs, principal at DuSable High School; and Joan Crisler, principal at Dixon Elementary School.
In Parker's home, Crisler says, there's an appreciation for his art, "not only for his purchase of it, but in how it is displayed, the different moods it sets as you move through his home.
"His home is all the more wonderful in showing how you can have riches around you - riches in terms of the talented people who created the art - not in terms of the cost - but the richness in talent that become part of a living environment," Crisler says.
Crisler began her personal collection 17 years ago by collecting the works of Dixon students. She, along with other educators at Dixon, has helped to amass a bountiful collection of African and African-American art for the school.
Parker's home and those of others in the Diasporal Rhythms show that art is more than a decorative accent. It is informative.
"It's my mirror," says Briggs, who began collecting African and African-American art 20 years ago. "I'm surrounded by history, past, current. I'm surrounded by the who and the what we represent as a people."
One of Briggs' treasured pieces is an original Annie Lee painting, "Corn on the Cob," which shows a little girl sitting on a porch stoop and a curtain blowing out the window behind her.
McCoy, who has a collection of about 400 works of art, displays his salon style - floor-to-ceiling - in his 1,300-square-foot North Kenwood condominium. "I understand or recognize there are people born with means who can take it (collecting) as a hobby, but I started collecting art without knowing that's what I was doing," he says.
"I think that's really how you start," says McCoy, who acquired his first work, a lithograph by his college roommate who was studying art.
"You start by picking the things that move you in some way," McCoy says. "The things that speak to you."
© 2005, Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com
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