The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) honors two important figures in American history as part of SCAD deFINE ART 2016. In celebration of William and Ellen Craft and their daring escape from slavery, the university commissioned and installed a commemorative bronze medallion — designed by SCAD alumnus and foundation studies professor Andrew MacDonald (M.F.A. illustration) — in the lobby of the SCAD Museum of Art. To elucidate the Crafts’ remarkable feat, SCAD presents an illuminating dialogue with Craft scholar and author Barbara McCaskill, Ph.D., and visual artist Xaviera Simmons, moderated by art historian and curator Isolde Brielmaier, Ph.D. This event, which is free and open to the public, will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the SCAD Museum of Art theater, 601 Turner Blvd.
In 1848 the Crafts, an enslaved African-American couple, escaped from their masters in Macon, Georgia, to embark on a perilous four-day journey to the Northern free states. To make their escape, they devised a plan for fair-skinned Ellen to pose as a deaf, white male slave owner and William as her attendant slave. Upon completing the first stage of their journey, the Crafts arrived in Savannah, passing through the Central of Georgia Railway depot — the very place where the SCAD Museum of Art stands today. Safe passage through Savannah was the first divination of their successful journey, one that would ultimately land them in England in search of refuge.
Nineteen years later, after the conclusion of the Civil War, the Crafts returned to nearby Bryan County, Georgia, and founded the Woodville Co-operative Farm School, established to educate newly freed slaves and help them secure employment.
“The story of William and Ellen Craft is one of incredible triumph in which two people, uplifted by their enduring love and commitment to each other, found the strength to defy the limitations life put on them and pursue their inherent right to freedom,” said SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace.
Dr. Walter O. Evans, a member of the SCAD Board of Visitors and benefactor of the SCAD Museum of Art’s Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, originally shared the story of the Crafts with Wallace during the SCAD Museum of Art’s expansion in 2011. Dr. Evans added, “This acknowledgment by SCAD — recognizing the passage of the Crafts through this place that today stands as an educational and cultural junction of the highest order — is a perfect illustration of how SCAD rises to every occasion, taking care to celebrate narratives both well known and lesser known so that we all might share in the universality of the human experience.”
To promote the Craft legacy as an active part of the SCAD Museum of Art learning experience, young museum visitors will receive a gold star pin when they locate the Craft monumental medallion and notify a docent. In addition, the award-winning SCAD Museum of Art curriculum guides, created for K-12 audiences to engage with museum exhibitions, will feature a published educational guide for schoolchildren based on the Crafts’ inspiring story.
A new book, researched and authored by SCAD staff and illustrated by alumnus Awadh Baryoum (M.F.A. painting), provides a poignant account of the determination and courage of William and Ellen Craft as they made their way to freedom. Designed and published by SCAD Design Press, The Crafts: An Extraordinary Path to Freedom, will be available for sale at the SCAD Museum of Art and shopSCAD.com.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is a private, nonprofit, accredited university offering more than 100 academic degree programs in 42 majors across its locations in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Hong Kong; Lacoste, France; and online via SCAD eLearning. SCAD enrolls 12,500 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 100 countries. The innovative SCAD curriculum is enhanced by advanced professional- level technology, equipment and learning resources, as well as opportunities for internships, professional certifications and collaborative projects with corporate partners. In 2015, the prestigious Red Dot Design Rankings placed SCAD in the top four universities in the Americas and Europe. Career preparation is woven into every fiber of the university, resulting in a superior alumni placement rate. In a study of Spring 2014 SCAD graduates, 97 percent were employed, pursuing further education or both within 10 months of graduation.
SCAD deFINE ART is an annual program of fine art exhibitions, lectures, performances and public events. Taking place Feb. 16-19, 2016, at SCAD locations in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia, and Hong Kong, deFINE ART 2016 features renowned artist Carrie Mae Weems as the honoree and keynote speaker.
For more information, visit scad.edu/defineart2016.
SCAD, director of university communications