Student Perspectives on the Art Collection



Permanent link for Herschell Turner's "Old Blues Singer" on August 6, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Old Blues Singer
Herschell Turner 
Oil on Canvas 
1980 - 1990

"Herschell Turner grew up in Grand Rapids, MI in the 1950s and 60s. He experienced first-hand the Jim Crow racism of pre-civil-rights America. In July 1967, riots broke out on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids in response to the poverty, high unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and strained police relations in the area. These followed similar protests happening across the United States in larger cities like Detroit. At the time, Turner was serving as Director of the Baxter Community Center and he opened the center to the community to meet with police and other officials to discuss shared solutions to those issues. 

Turner draws from his personal experiences and his dedication to social justice and universal human rights in his artwork by portraying Black culture and the experiences of Black people. He highlights how those experiences differ from more commonly portrayed white experiences. For example, in his painting “Old Blues Singer,” you may recognize the color scheme and subject of this painting as reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” In Turner’s painting however, a Black man is the main subject. The painting’s title, “Old Blues Singer'' focuses our attention on the idea of the blues rather than just the guitar. With this title, I think Turner wanted to not only share an element of the Black experience but also highlight another aspect of Black culture and history; blues music, a musical genre that originated in the Deep South from African musical traditions.

Turner's artwork causes me to reflect on the lack of representation of the Black community and experience in the visual arts. I’m interested in learning more about Black artists, history and culture as I continue to educate myself and become a better ally to the Black Lives Matter movement." - Megan Daniels


Permanent link for Douglas Gilbert's Photographs of Ivanhoe Donaldson on July 20, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

'Ivanhoe Donaldson (For Look Magazine)'
Douglas Gilbert
Photographic print
2018.48.1984 -- 2018.48.2036

In July 2020, Erin was asked to research Ivanhoe Donaldson, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement who championed voting rights for Black Americans and was involved in several high profile political campaigns in the 1960s and 70s. The GVSU Art Collection includes over 50 black and white documentary photographs of Donaldson taken by Douglas Gilbert. In 1965, on assignment for Look Magazine, Gilbert photographed Donaldson in Georgia leading up to the Georgia House of Representatives election as he lead the campaign for Julian Bond--one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who went on to serve 25 years in Georgia’s state legislature, and later served as chairman of the NAACP. 

This is Erin's reflection on Gilbert's photographs and Donaldson's legacy...

"With a national election right around the corner and primaries well underway, news outlets have been sharing footage of giant lines, stretching multiple blocks outside voting places in many states. Individual voters share that they've had to wait upwards of five hours just to get inside their polling place. Voter suppression has never been completely resolved in our country, decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Some states continue to make gradual progress through reforms that push for voting by mail (absentee ballots). Similar to Donaldson’s work, the Black Lives Matter movement used their platform to elevate Black candidates running for office. Most notably, Charles Booker in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in Kentucky currently held Republican Mitch McConnell. Booker's campaign gained unprecedented momentum in its final weeks due to his unabashed support of protests and calls for reform.

Throughout the past month, I’ve been walking in protests throughout our city of Grand Rapids with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has given me space to reflect and feel deeply with my community. In our current state of pandemic, there has been a tendency for writers to reach for the positive silver lining at the end of their articles; as if a line in black ink at the end of a New York Times article will be the quote that propels us through what feels like the longest year of our lives. The hard truth is that the reality and discomfort of this struggle has long preceded this moment. Others, more knowledgable than I, have fought for Civil Rights for Black Americans for a long time, in wave after wave of resurgence, voices begging to be heard as they crash against the immovable shore. If there would be a silver lining in this story, it would be that people keep marching. Stories like Ivanhoe Donaldson's continue to echo and inspire; more Charles Bookers will continue to run for office—and will eventually win. People who are committed to change continue to fight against evil and injustice and maybe this 'longest year ever' will actually produce growth and change. That idea feels hopeful to me." - Erin Harshberger


Page last modified August 6, 2020