In 1995, I made my first print, a linoleum print. I was a senior in high school. I made it from a black and white image of a black man, maybe a young man, in a plaid, short-sleeved shirt, who appeared to be taking a test of some sort, or reading a sheet of paper anyway, sitting at a desk. I won an award for that print at a statewide high school art show. The linoleum block and the print still hang in my house. It also became the first piece of art I ever sold. My teacher suggested $35 dollars because the woman who wanted to buy it worked for a nonprofit and that seemed a good price for the cause. It was a moment the details of which have never left me. It was a moment when art first started shifting from something I enjoyed to showing me something about who I am.
Fast forward 7 years. I have finished college and an MFA and have returned home. I am having my first solo art exhibition of my career. It had nothing to do with education and didn’t include any linoleum prints. My sister had invited a woman named Jane who worked at a nonprofit organization called Oasis Center where my sister was on the Board. My sister thought the world of Jane. I had met her only briefly and hadn’t heard of Oasis Center. Jane came to my first solo art show.
Fast forward 3 years. In addition to teaching art, I am now doing community organizing and education advocacy with a small nonprofit that works with marginalized youth in East Nashville – the tie to that first image and artwork is not lost on me. The organization I work for called Community IMPACT is becoming a part of Oasis Center – a larger youth-focused nonprofit that could support our work and our young people more holistically. I was having my first meeting with my new boss, Jane. I sat down in her office and looked at the sliver of wall to my right above the narrow table and there was a linoleum print of a black man, maybe a young man, in a plaid, short-sleeved shirt, who appears to be taking a test of some sort, or reading a sheet of paper anyway, sitting at a desk. Jane had bought my first work of art 10 years prior. I was shocked. She was shocked. Jane had finally met the artist, or at least made the connection. We both remembered the story.
Fast forward 16 years. Jane is retiring from a life dedicated to creating opportunities for young people. My journey has been more meandering, but always rooted in what I learned in the arts, creating, communicating, connecting. I haven’t seen Jane in years except occasionally in passing somewhere along Shelby Bottoms Greenway. Out of the blue, I get an email from a former colleague who still works with Jane. It turns out that in an office move somewhere over the years, Jane had lost contact with my print. They had recently been surprised to find it in the art studio at Oasis and Jane had shared this story with her. Jane was apparently moved in seeing it again, which, of course, moved me in reading about it.
So, here we are 26 years later. My print is being cleaned up and reframed to be given back to Jane to celebrate her work and retirement - reminding me that I am an artist and that the things we create have lives and journeys and meaning far beyond us. So, today, I am writing in celebration of Jane’s journey, her gifts to the world, the possibilities and stories she has helped create, their interweaving with my own, and acknowledging a simple linoleum print that has been a curiously common thread between us for almost three decades.
Congratulations, Jane. Thanks for all you have created.
Much love. Always.
Anderson Williams (Class of 1995)