Larger than life

Larger than life
October 04
05:00 2018

Larry Leon Hamlin portrait unveiled at The Benton

A portrait of National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) founder Larry Leon Hamlin now towers over visitors to the Benton Convention Center.

The 12-foot-tall portrait was unveiled during a ceremony Friday, Sept. 28, and is a permanent part of the art that hangs on the walls of the busy convention center. Hamlin, who passed away in 2007, founded the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, the first professional African-American theater company in North Carolina. In 1988, he started the National Black Theatre Festival, which draws theater enthusiasts from around the world to Winston-Salem every two years. Last year it had more than 45,000 attendees, more than 140 performances and contributed more than $8 million in economic impact. In his career, Hamlin wrote four full-length plays, two info-dramas and directed more than 200 productions

The painting of Hamlin is by New Orleans Artist Aron Belka, who pulled off a white drape to unveil his portrait of the local legend.

“This is the first time I’ve depicted someone like Mr. Hamlin, who has done some incredibly important and historical work in his community,” Belka told attendees.

Hamlin’s widow, Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, who is president of the Black Rep’s board and NBTF executive producer, thanked those involved in the portrait and teared up as she talked about how grateful she was for the Black Rep’s many supporters.

“I’m really proud the city is honoring him because he worked so hard,” she said afterward.

“Late at night, early in the morning, all the time, all he thought about was festival business.”

The portrait hangs outside the room that, on Saturday, housed the Marvtastic Bash, an NBTF fundraiser that celebrates Hamlin’s birthday. Hamlin would’ve been 70 years old last week.

The suggestion to honor Hamlin with  artwork came from Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke. The City/County Public Art Commission commissioned applications from more than 20 artists for the project. Bella was chosen by a majority of a committee that included Sprinkle-Hamlin, and was then approved by a majority of the Art Commission.

The other permanent pieces that hang on the walls of The Benton were part of an earlier project by the commission and includes a 13-foot tall portrait of the late Poet Maya Angelou made out of her own quotes.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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