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Exhibit Details

Matriarchs of Washington Park: The African American women who persevered through racism in segregated Mesa.

Curator: Bruce Nelson, Artist–Carla Keaton, Artist –Todd Bailey & Artist –Brie Bartz.

Mixed Media: i.e.  Acrylic/Oil Paintings, Uniforms and a Mini-Documentary. Hats, purses, gloves, jewelry, (30) portrait paintings, (5) mannequins,

Exhibition Overview

Matriarchs of Washington Park celebrates the African American women who demonstrated courageous efforts of community activism, artistry, and kinship in the face of racism and misogyny. These matriarchs of Washington Park will be honored through a collection of portraits that lead to a companion art photography book and a documentary about the process.

A preview of the exhibition opened May 2022 for Mother’s Day at the historic Alston House in Washington Park Community. The first official opening was June 2022 at the Mesa Public Library celebrating Juneteenth.

The exhibition centers on women that were born in the 1920’s and earlier, simply because they were an exceptional group of black women who endured and remembered firsthand the days of the American Reconstruction Era “Jim Crow Laws,” Spanish American War, WWI, “The Great Depression,” WWII, Redlining, the 1960’s modern Civil Rights Movement, and much more.  –An unprecedented event in American History.

A part of the conversations he desires to spark, Nelson ties objects and lived experiences to develop the personal narratives of the community reflects. The five mannequins will be adorned with the type of clothing  of the work these women attained during that they are  (1) The Cotton Picker (2) The domestic Worker (3) The midwife/Nurse, (4) School Teacher, and of course (5) the Church Lady.

The exhibition hopes to evoke a conversation that will be exhilarating and provocative. Through commitment, hard work and passion he developed his ability to create a framework that can transfer from traveling exhibits to documentaries to easily publishing books.

These women worked in the cotton fields, as domestics in “White Folks Homes,” midwives/Nurse, Educators, and much more in Arizona and across America.  After viewing the exhibition and reading a bit about these Matriarchs, I encourage you to discover more about Matriarchs in your community; tell and share their stories.

Matriarchs of washington park
Bruce Headshot

About the Curator - Bruce Nelson

In 2013 Bruce Nelson was accepted onto the Arizona State University’s Museum Studies program. In 2014 he completed an internship at Mesa Historical Museum. After completing his internship Nelson has become the volunteer curator for Escobedo Heritage Room located in the once segregated Washington-Escobedo Heritage Neighborhood in Mesa, AZ.  

His first exhibition was a small installation at the Escobedo Heritage Room, entitled remembering North Town. His second exhibition Veterans of Washington-Escobedo was staged at the Mesa Public Library in 2015-16 celebrating Black History Month. His third exhibit Games & Toys of was Washington-Escobedo Community was a small installation at the i.d.e.a Museum 2018 as part their Artful Play! Games & Toys Exhibition.   

Bruce’s Black Dolls: Beautiful or Grotesque? Exhibit was installed and on display for six weeks at the historical Carver Cultural Center in Phoenix, AZ. 

Nelson loaned several pieces for the church section of The Arizona Heritage Center Museum’s “A Place For All People”Exhibition which was staged January 2019 through December 2019. His two documentary films North Town and Gospel Radio Man were part of the exhibition and screened daily.

In 2020 Bruce was guest curator at the Mesa Historical Museum where he installed his Hallelujah Hats Exhibition which was tagged as one of the Best Black History events to attend in Phoenix by Channel 15 news in Phoenix.

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