Original painting by Keith Bankston found in a thrift store, donated to the Tubman Museum

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Shea Conner

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An original painting by a beloved Macon artist was discovered by chance at a thrift store.

In May, William Pugh, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, traveled to Georgia for a wedding and stayed with friends in Covington. He visited a thrift store there where a painting caught his attention.

The painting was priced at $125, but Pugh suspected the piece was an original due to its texture and appearance. He saw the artist’s signature along with the title, “Eve in the Rose Garden,” written on the back of the coin and began his research. Pugh learned that it was an original piece by Macon native Keith Bankston.

Bankston was a promising artist when he died of AIDS-related health complications in 1992 at the age of 34. He was born and raised in Macon and was inspired to pursue art after a trip to Paris, according to the Digital Library of Georgia. . Bankston taught art in the Bibb County School District while working to build his presence as an artist.

While researching the artist’s roots in central Georgia, Pugh learned that Macon’s Tubman Museum exhibits pieces by Keith Bankston as part of its permanent collection of African American art. Very quickly, he decided to buy the piece to donate it to the museum and contacted the director of exhibitions at the museum.

Pugh said he was inspired to donate the piece after learning that Bankston’s career had been “cut short” due to AIDS and he thought the museum would be the right place for it.

Jeff Bruce, director of exhibitions at the Tubman Museum, said the museum was “very pleased” to accept the 40-year-old painting and add it to its existing Bankston collection. He said Bankston’s signatures on “Eve in the Rose Garden” match the other pieces in the museum.

Although the story behind the painting’s acquisition is unique, the majority of the museum’s artwork is received by donation.

“I would say 95%, or maybe more, of what you see [at the museum] is given,” Bruce said. “So we really exist because of the generosity of people in this community and this region who find things and then donate them to the museum. We can share these things with the public in a way they wouldn’t be shared if we weren’t there to do so.

Preserving Bankston’s local legacy as an artist aligns with the Tubman Museum’s mission to celebrate and educate the public about the history of African American art and artists across central Georgia and Georgia. ‘State.

“It’s an important story…and really giving people some sort of exposure and having a discussion with the public about the diversity of African American creative expression, that’s part of what we do,” Bruce said. . “We like to feature local artists…as much as possible to give a sense of what the creative community is like here. This includes what I call academic work or the work of trained professional artists. It also includes visionary works or works by self-taught artists. And it also includes works by local student artists. We try to be as democratic as possible by giving people the opportunity to see their work and see themselves represented in this space.

“Eve in the Rose Garden” was painted in 1982 and depicts a biblical scene with Eve and the serpent lying in a thornless rose garden near a river.

Pugh said there are stories that the roses in the Garden of Eden had no thorns until Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and committed the first sin. He suspects Bankston of having referred to it in the painting.

Both Pugh and Bruce pointed out that Bankston was referring to a famous 1981 photo, “Natassja Kinski and the Snake,” by American photographer Richard Avedon. The photo shows German actress and former model Natassja Kinski wearing a large bracelet on her left wrist and lying on the ground with a snake, which is very similar to how “Eve” is depicted in Bankston’s painting.

Bruce said Bankston’s other four works in the museum were inspired by depictions of African-American life in the South.

“Eve in the Rose Garden” was delivered to the Tubman Museum in July. It’s not on display yet, but Bruce said there’s been “a lot of interest” from the public and he’s sure it will be on display “at some point in the near future.”

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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