Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance

June 11 – September 18, 2022

Stephen Towns is a painter and fiber artist whose artwork explores the ways American history influences contemporary society.  His work draws visual inspiration from medieval altarpieces, nineteenth-century photography, Dutch wax print fabrics, and from African American story quilts.  Guest curated by art historian, cultural producer, and writer Kilolo Luckett, the exhibition features artwork created between 2014 and 2021 that explores the American dream through the lives of Black Americans from the late eighteenth century to present.  Using labor as a backdrop, Towns highlights the roles Black Americans have played in the economy, and underscores the resilience, resistance, and endurance that has challenged the United States to truly reflect the tenets of the Declaration of Independence.  Towns says, “All of my work is rooted in my growing up in the Deep South.  My work is in direct response to issues permeating African American culture, issues such as loss of ancestral roots, slavery, class, education, skin tone, and religion.  I want to create beauty from the hardships in life.”

Stephen Towns received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of South Carolina. His work has been exhibited nationally, including solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Goucher College, Galerie Myrtis, as well as group exhibitions at Arlington Art Center, Montpelier Arts Center, and Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum. His work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, American Craft Council Magazine, and The Baltimore Sun. Towns was honored as the inaugural recipient of the 2016 Municipal Art Society of Baltimore Travel Prize and received a Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance Ruby’s Artist Grant in 2015. In 2018, Towns was a semi-finalist for the Sandheim Artscape Prize and was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award. His artwork was also featured in the Toni Morrison documentary, The Pieces I Am.

Kilolo Luckett is an art historian, curator, and cultural producer. With more than 20 years of experience in arts administration and cultural production, she is committed to elevating the voices of underrepresented visual artists, specifically women and Black and Brown artists. She is consulting curator of Visual Arts at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, and serves as an Art Commissioner for the City of Pittsburgh’s Art Commission. Kilolo is curator of Facebook Pittsburgh’s Artist in Residency program. She is founder and executive director of ALMA|LEWIS, an experimental, contemporary art platform for critical thinking, dialogue, and creative expression dedicated to Black culture. Kilolo has curated exhibitions by national and international artists such as Peju Alatise, Martha Jackson Jarvis, Amani Lewis, Thaddeus Mosley, and Devan Shimoyama. She served as the curatorial assistant at Wood Street Galleries. Kilolo was a cultural consultant for Atelier Ace, and worked as the cultural attaché for Ace Hotel Pittsburgh. She also served as managing director of the Homewood Artist Residency, and was director of development for The Andy Warhol Museum. Luckett holds a bachelor’s degree in the History of Art and Architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh’s Leadership Development Initiative X.

Stephen Towns:  Declaration & Resistance is organized and toured by
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA
Curated by Kilolo Luckett

Support for this exhibition has been provided by:
Stephen Towns:  Declaration & Resistance
is supported by Eden Hall Foundation; Arts Equity, & Education Fund; De Buck Gallery, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.  This exhibition is completed in partnership with the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area with funding provided in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp.

Grant funding for this exhibition at the Boise Art Museum has been provided by the Idaho Humanities Council (IHC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP).

Additional support provided by Yvonne McCoy.

Join Guest Curator Kilolo Luckett on a video introduction of Boise Art Museum’s exhibition Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance. In this talk, Kilolo introduces viewers to the stories captured in Stephen Towns’s paintings and quilts, which focus on the contributions of Black laborers throughout the history of the United States.

Kilolo Luckett is an art historian, curator, and cultural producer. With more than 20 years of experience in arts administration and cultural production, she is committed to elevating the voices of underrepresented visual artists, specifically women and Black and Brown artists.

I use reflective material because it’s my newfound idea of God; God is sort of reflective, sparkling, and shining off every aspect of life. I feel like if you’re seeing this person with this halo behind them, it’s hard to tell this person that they’re bad or that they’re evil. They have this golden ring of spirituality behind them… I wanted to transform my subjects from sinners to saints and to affirm that in people that I see in everyday life. – Stephen Towns

In I am the Glory, Towns paints a self-assured Black woman sitting on a rough wooden porch sewing the large quilt draped across her lap. The vibrant colors and thick folds of the quilt contrast with the tattered American flag suspended above; the quilt seems to represent the woman’s own efforts to find security and self-expression, while the flag stands for the rights and benefits of full citizenship that are still out of reach. The golden sky and lush landscape suggest hope for a better future.

Guest Curator Kilolo Luckett

Stephen Towns (b. 1980), I am the Glory, 2020, Acrylic, oil, metal leaf on panel, 36 x 48 inches, Collection: Gregory and Alyssa Shannon, Houston, TX

Bio | Stephen Towns

Stephen Towns was born and raised in Lincolnville, South Carolina, a small town outside of Charleston, founded in 1867, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation by seven African American men seeking an escape from racial discrimination. Towns, a quiet child, was the youngest of 11 siblings, and was encouraged to use art to express himself. While art served as a tool for communication in his youth, it was not until he was a young adult at the University of South Carolina that he realized art was also a means to explore his own identity and simultaneously, the identity of the nation.

In 2008, at the height of the recession, he was laid off from a hospital job and took the chance of relocating to Baltimore, MD. He set up a studio while working full-time at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was during this time that he began to feed his passion for history as a means to understand the economic disparities of his new city.

Guest Curator Kilolo Luckett

Much of the work in Declaration & Resistance began when I was quarantining in the spring of 2020. I thought about how I had the privilege to take a step away from my work. When I returned to my studio, I reflected on how I had gained a deeper appreciation for essential workers risking their lives in the midst of a global health crisis. I come from a long line of laborers in Georgia and South Carolina. Prior to being a full-time Artist, I also worked many laborious jobs. This show is a testament to my ancestors and also the coworkers I have befriended along the way. – Stephen Towns

Stephen Towns in his Studio, 2021
Photo: Jermaine T. Bell

Additional Resources

Get Creative with BAM

Tell a Visual Story with an Historical Photograph

Stephen Towns I am the Glory Puzzle

Available in the BAM Store, while supplies last.

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