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When artist Leonard Freeman recalls his initial encounter with the Show Me City, he admits it wasn’t a hard sell. “The first time I came to Missouri City was probably 30 years ago,” he said, “and I made up my mind then that I wanted to live in the city. I love the city. I love the community.” And the rest – as they say – is history.
Freeman’s decision to make Missouri City his home, as well as the site of his art studio, has come full circle. The unveiling of his painting titled “Freedom Tree and Diversity” inside City Hall on Saturday was the focal point of this weekend’s culmination of the City’s Black History Month celebration. Hosted in partnership with the Edison Arts Foundation, the series of free events included a kickoff on Feb. 5; a master class with prima ballerina Lauren Anderson and a CommUNITY Walk to the Freedom Tree on Feb. 12; Exposing Black Artistry activities with Fort Bend District Attorney Brian Middleton’s Expose Excellence Youth Program on Feb. 19; a virtual Celebration of Dance on Feb. 25; and an Art Reception and Wine Tasting, the unveiling and an evening of dance and poetry on Feb. 26.
The community turned out in full force for Saturday night’s events at the Visitor’s and Community centers. The works of five other local artists were also featured during the Art Reception: muralist Dantrel Bonae Boone, abstract impressionist Linda Simien Kelly, handmade paper artist Melba Lee, sculptor Tony Sherman and self-described artist storyteller Lloyd Wade. The artists displayed their works, and avid art enthusiasts shopped for masterpieces to add to their personal collections. A duo performing live jazz covers helped to set a sophisticated mood, while Majic 102-FM “Quiet Storm” disc jockey and reality TV star KG Smooth offered samples of his Island Vibes moscato. At 6 p.m., families packed the audience for several youth dance presentations and a poetry reading by the winner of the Expose Excellence poetry contest.
The City commissioned Freeman to paint “Freedom Tree and Diversity” in 2016. He made a visit to the tree, to jump-start the creative process. “The first time I went out and saw the tree, I remember I took my cameras and took pictures from all angles,” he said. While there, he recalled a feeling of kinship washing over him. “As I walked up closer to the tree, I realized it was different from the other trees, even though they all came from the same family,” he said. “It seemed to have a pulsing feeling to it. I don’t know if I ever hugged a tree before, but I hugged that tree, because I felt welcome. There’s something about the tree – it’s like hugging your great, great, great, great grandmama.”
Missouri City’s diversity also provided inspiration. “(In Missouri City) I don’t feel any tension like I feel when I go to some other cities. It’s a good cross-view of people who seem to acknowledge one another,” said Freeman. “That’s what we need in this world. We just need to understand, we all need each other. So this is my contribution to that belief.”
Freeman said it took him longer than he expected to paint the tree. As the project neared completion, a medical condition caused him to temporarily lose his vision. “It took months and months to paint it,” he said. “I was getting sick and didn’t know it.” A community of artists pitched in and helped Freeman finish the work.
Freeman expressed his gratitude to Missouri City for installing his work in City Hall. He urged everyone to fight for more arts education for young people. “We need to get more kids involved in art,” he said. “They’ve taken it out of the schools, but when you’re painting – every color, every shadow, every highlight – you have to think about where to put it to make the painting look right. I think it really trains the mind, along with the reflexes – everything. And our kids really need that.”
About the artists:
Dantrel Bonae Boone is an artist and muralist and a member of the world-renowned Reginald Charles Adams arts group known as The Creatives. Boone’s work is an explosion of colors and concepts that are inspired by his life experiences. He attended the prestigious Dr. John Biggers School of Art at Texas Southern University, studying under instructors such as Prof. Harvey Johnson who helped shape Boone’s views on art and African culture, thus laying the artistic path that he'd walk for decades to come. His recent projects include the Edison Lofts Mural and the Absolute Equality Mural in Galveston, painted at the site of the Juneteenth National Monument.
Linda Simien Kelly is a primarily self-taught, abstract expressionist artist who has been pursuing her craft on a full-time basis for more than a decade. Her considerable professional accolades include a 2021 Mostyn Law-commissioned painting saluting Vice President Kamala Harris and first-prize honors in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s 17th Annual Citywide African-American Artists Exhibition at the Glassell School of Art. Kelly also has been featured locally and nationally at many exhibitions and galleries.
Melba Lee’s gift as an artist is inspired by a lifetime of rich experiences with remarkable women. For nearly 20 years, Melba has created – through her handmade paper art – many women, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Each work is a different image with its own voice. Lee has participated in countless art festivals and exhibitions in and around the greater Houston area. She is a retired Missouri City resident with 32 years in education, and has been married, with children, to Melvin Lee for 45 years.
Tony Sherman is a native Texan and current Missouri City resident. He is a nationally known artist, writer, lecturer, and sculptor. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Sherman was among 24 students from around the world chosen in 1994 to study portrait sculpture in Passavant, France. He has created many bronze sculptures and portraits of prominent Americans, including some for the City of Missouri City. Sherman is currently working on a life-sized statue of Lauren Anderson, the famed and first black prima ballerina for the Houston Ballet, which was commissioned by the Edison Arts Foundation.
Lloyd Wade describes himself as an artist storyteller who likes to show the value of people of color and their place in history. Wade holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, IL. He has also been an art educator for 13 years, currently serving as the Art Department Chair at Thurgood Marshall High School here in Missouri City. As an educator Wade is given the opportunity every day to share his gift and artistic experiences with his students and staff.
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