Anthony wasn’t always so appreciative of fine art. While working at the Ruth Mott Foundation, he was introduced to the Mott-Warsch Collection of African American art. One day, while looking at the work of Jacob Lawrence, a prominent African-American artist, he made a flippant comment to the exhibition’s curator, Camille Ann Brewer: “My son can draw better than that.” Camille told Anthony to do a little research on the artist and the painting in question and to come back to talk more about it afterward. “I came back eating a lot of humble pie,” Anthony laughs. After digging into the artist’s background, Anthony learned that Lawrence’s Toussaint L’Ouverture series tells the visual story of a Haitian revolution leader’s life. Lawrence uses history and his own personal experience to explain human nature. “When I learned about the painting and the artist, I realized I was learning about black history for the first time,” Anthony remembered. Now, Lawrence is one of Anthony’s favorite artists of all time.
Anthony was first exposed to African American art in 2005. Employees of the Ruth Mott Foundation were introduced to Herman and Mary Ann Mott’s private Mott-Warsh Collection and had the privilege of periodically picking a piece they liked for display in their offices.
Anthony and Davida have now collected about 20 pieces, and each holds a personal meaning for the couple. “Each piece has its own unique story,” says Anthony. Their collection is focused on three themes: faith, family and faces. One piece that has great meaning to Anthony is a lithograph by Michael B. Platt titled Two Sisters. The lithograph captures a sisterly bond that reminds Anthony of a photo taken of his mother, Juanita Artis, and her twin sister, Malita Mosley. The girls are dressed in dainty white dresses with bows in their hair, the same as the lithograph. Each work in the Artis collection is displayed with a story about the artist, a description of the piece and the personal connection and meaning it has for Anthony and Davida.
After years of compiling the collection, the Artises are proud to share it. Having inspired a community-based, nationally recognized project called Art Community Outreach, they received a grant through the Pollination Project Foundation to introduce African American art in Flint and Genesee County. They also received a grant through the Elton West Fund and Samuel E. and Patricia A. Morello Family Fund from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. At their first showing at the library, Davida said she became very emotional. “Seeing all of the pieces matted and professionally framed brought tears to my eyes,” she said. Anthony is proud to shed a positive light on Flint with their collection. “We want to improve our city’s image. We want to let people know about the good things that come from Flint.” This collection is one of those good things, so be sure to stop by the library to view the exhibition. ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo