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Hillcrest celebrates Black influence at art exhibit – podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Last Friday at the gallery on the second floor of Hillcrest’s Meeting House, the retirement community held an art reception showcasing the works of 16 talented Ganesha High School students and their teacher, Kevin Tharpe.

The exhibit was titled “Our African-American Influence” and featured numerous works of iconic Black figures who influenced Tharpe’s various art students over the years.

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The student-created artwork focused on numerous musicians, including Rihanna, a young Lenny Kravitz, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. Each piece was accompanied by a brief essay about why that student chose their specific figure.

Senior Omar Cuevas was the only student who broke away from the musical theme. He sketched NBA legend Michael Jordan.

In his essay, Cuevas wrote, “The reason I chose Michael Jordan is that he gave his teammates the space to develop, but only on his terms. He did this to avoid having them make mistakes, take the wrong risks and build bad habits.”

The students’ works were displayed on the east wall of The Gallery while Tharpe’s work surrounded them on the west, south and northern walls. Tharpe’s work included a range of athletes, musicians and other pivotal figures including Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tharpe and his students have been regular exhibitors at the senior community ever since his mother, Gwen Car, moved there eight years ago.

“[She] introduced me to Matthew [Neeley, Hillcrest CEO] there and so he asked me about doing a show,” Tharpe said. “We did it for two years [2016 and 2017] and it went really, really well.”

After two exhibits, Hillcrest began exhibiting artwork from Bonita High School students. However, this year Tharpe and his students were invited back by Neeley to showcase works for a Black History Month exhibit.

Following the art reception, friends and family of the artists congregated in the first-floor atrium where Neeley and numerous La Verne officials including Mayor Tim Hepburn praised the artwork. Students also read aloud their essays about their featured subjects.

Neeley called the gallery an “intergenerational effort” and said that it took the combined efforts of several of the senior residents and the Ganesha students to put on the exhibit.

“This is a historic day. In the City of La Verne, this is part of our Black history today,” Neeley said on Friday. “These students have taught us all that we can all connect to Black history because we have all been influenced by Black, African or even Canadian Americans.”

Most of Tharpe’s students are of Hispanic descent and as a Black man witnessing his students being influenced by another culture, Tharpe shared, “That’s the icing on the cake.”

“I don’t even think there’s words for it. It just makes you feel so good,” Tharpe said. “To know that the work was done well, but like when they were talking the acknowledgement was there, they knew why they were doing it. The inspiration was there, you can see it in the work.”

Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, Neeley released a statement on behalf of Hillcrest denouncing racism and inviting residents “to stand for peace and justice.” However, when Hillcrest residents heard the original statement, they demanded the board of directors take time to make it “more robust.” This in turn spawned the creation of Hillcrest’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which has been the driving force behind this and other art exhibits at Hillcrest.

In addition to the artwork on the second floor, the committee established the “Welcome Room” and filled the space with more African American history as a secondary gallery. The room includes biographies of pivotal figures including Lisa Leslie, Louis Armstrong and Muhammad Ali; a handstitched quilt commemorating the Underground Railroad; a timeline of the Civil Rights movement, and more. The Welcome Room is located on the first floor of the Meeting House, adjacent to the Hillcrest library.

The public is invited to stop by Hillcrest’s Meeting House, located at 2705 Mountain View Dr. in La Verne, to view the student and teacher produced works. Hillcrest is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The exhibits are scheduled to run until March 25.

To learn about which art pieces have been sold, which are still for sale and how to purchase the pieces, contact Hillcrest’s Executive Assistant Karen Clobes at (909) 392-4362. Residents may also pick up an order form from Hillcrest after viewing the works.

Once the exhibits conclude, residents who purchased artwork will be able to pick up the pieces at Hillcrest. Student pieces begin at $50 while Tharpe’s work begins at $250. All proceeds will go directly to the artists.

As of press time Wednesday afternoon, three student works — “Ruby Bridges” by Janelle Martinez, “Nina Simone” by Jasmin Hernandez-Garcia, and “Aaliyah” by Angelina Davalos — and three of Tharpe’s works — Kobe and Gigi “Mamba Love,” “Prince” and “The Specials” — have been sold. However, Hernandez-Garcia’s work and Tharpe’s ”Prince” are available for purchase as reprints.

Future art exhibits are planned at Hillcrest, with Hispanic and Latinx influenced shows coming in April.

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