Awestruck by art

Published 9:22 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

By Tonya S. Swindell

Awestruck is how I felt after a weekend ensconced in the artistic vibe of Norfolk. Highlights included attending an African-American exhibit, jaunting through an up-and-coming district, creating crafts and enjoying a musical. I gained greater appreciation for the arts and my role in it.

Thanks to my friend, Cheryl, I attended “Soulful: A National Exhibition of African American Artists” at D’Art Center, 740 Duke St. First place went to Pamela Conyers-Hinson who sculpted the likeness of an African woman in bronze called: “Dinka, Portrait Vessel.” Sharon Robinson won second place for a visually stunning mixed media painting titled “Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues II.” Dawn Boyd claimed third prize for an elaborate collage of fabric depicting a black family’s climb on “The Ladder to Success.”

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My second oldest son and I walked through New Energy of Norfolk (NEON). We saw graffiti, colorful designs and tasteful murals. An impeccable image honoring branches of military service loomed largely while skateboarders enjoyed brisk weather on a clear, sunny day.

At Istanbul Gyros and Kebabs, we ate hummus, pita bread, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, eggplant salad, lamb and rice pudding before returning to D’Art. My son, who is very artistic, met artists like Cathy Jo, who is skilled in glass jewelry making. He also talked with Deborah Small, a former graphic artist now specializing in fabric and mixed media creations. Small repeatedly acknowledged our Creator’s inspiration.

Ken Wright, curator of the exhibit, and his wife encouraged my son’s artistic dreams. Some of Wright’s pieces are owned by George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. His artwork is currently displayed at Slover Library.

On Saturday, we embroidered flowers for NEON’s community garden. Pam, who formerly worked as a skilled costume designer, led our class. Another artist named Zafar showed his collection of 3D models and paintings, many of which were inspired by God, nature and the female form. His book of published art contained ceilings, tables, sketches and beautiful calligraphy he designed in his home of Pakistan.

Later, my husband and I attended “Once Upon This Island,” a musical presented by the premier Bachelor of Arts program at Norfolk State University. The musical told the story of a young girl named Timoune who discovered a reason for living while nursing a young man back to health. Themes of division within the black community, socioeconomic inequities and unrequited love came to the forefront.

The musical was the second one I attended at NSU within recent weeks, the first of which was “Black Nativity.” I was blown away by powerful singing, acting and special effects. Next, “Choir Boy” is showing at Attucks Theatre during its centennial as the first theatrical structure built in the United States by an African-American architect whose name was Harvey Johnson.

In my opinion, the Creator of our universe is the greatest artist. His creativity manifests differently in places and people. Writing is one way He allows me to contribute.


Tonya Swindell writes a blog for and is a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School ( She can be reached at