Black History in Appalachia and Beyond

February 23, 2023 - April 02, 2023

Exhibit Details

Black History in Appalachia and Beyond

February 23, 2023 – April 2, 2023

World Fine Art Gallery 


By the mid 19th century, the visual culture in America was riddled with white supremacy and racial caricatures degrading African Americans. Though they had little means of reaching widespread audiences, Black visual artists used the media technology at the time to promote Black leadership and respectability and to counteract the racism and hate that slavery established. As photography was just becoming a popular medium in the country, many Black artists and activists chose to photograph successful members of their community- a realistic representation of a race that was being caricatured and stereotyped in popular printed media. These photographed portraits circulated throughout the country, promoting Black freedom and equality by showcasing the success and intellect of these individuals. The use of photography as a medium to abolish slavery and encourage equal rights was so profound that by the Civil War and Reconstruction years even white photographers were capturing the truth of cruelty and racism that both free and enslaved Black Americans faced. During the first century of photography’s invention and use around the world, the most photographed person in the 20th century was Frederick Douglass- perhaps one of the most famous abolitionists, writers, and social activists in American history. 


The William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, VA is developing an exhibition exploring the history of Black visual culture in our region and how that influences contemporary works by Black artists. As a region that has documented and preserved the history of few Black artists and creatives, this exhibition aims to bring light to their histories. Focusing dominantly on self-fashioning through photography, self-portraits, crafts, and decorative arts, viewers will learn about the influences seen in contemporary Black art through its history. These objects and artworks will emphasize the importance of self-fashioning during a time when racist minstrels, stereotypes, and violence were trying to dominate the national image of Black Americans. To supplement these art objects, the exhibition will also include an engaging video installation featuring a documentary discussing the history of Black photography as a form of emancipation. 


Compared to the more local and regional storytelling of Black visual culture, this exhibition will highlight the contemporary works of popular artists whose works integrate the history of self-fashioning vs. public image. Harkening back to times of Emancipation, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights, artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Elizabeth Catlett, and Whitfield Lovell works really embody this historical influence of contemporary art. They teach us that although these stories are from the past, the similar issues we face in today’s societies are still fought with powerful visual culture.



Join us for light refreshments and a FREE curator-led tour of Black History in Appalachia and Beyond, Sunday April 2, 2023 at 2:00PM. RSVP to Emily Jordan by email at or call (276) 628-5005 ext. 107.


Joshua Darden & the Freight Collection

The font used for this exhibition is called Freight, originally drawn in 2005 by Joshua Darden who is considered to be the first African American type-face designer. Expanded several times over, the Freight collection of typefaces is renowned for its historical innovation and ongoing popularity. As Jan Middledorp put it in Shaping Text: “with the Freight suite, Joshua Darden took a radical approach to designing for optical size. Letterpress’s subtle difference between the various body sizes have been translated into boldly drawn, hugely different variants with pronounced size-related characteristics. Freight turns the traditional ‘natural’ gradations of contrast and width into a conscious stylistic device.”


Click HERE to learn more about the Freight collection. 



Black History in Appalachia and Beyond  is part of the McGlothlin Exhibition Series at William King Museum of Art.