Art exhibit at Reynolda House depicts early contributions of Black North Carolinians

“Birth of a Nation” is one of 37 pieces featured in Stephen Towns’ exhibit, Stephen Towns: Declaration & Reistance, which is currently being displayed at the Reynolda House Musuem.

Art exhibit at Reynolda House depicts early contributions  of Black North Carolinians
March 07
19:31 2023

It’s no secret that throughout history African Americans helped build and shape this country, but oftentimes they don’t receive the credit they deserve. A Baltimore-based artist is shining a light on the African Americans who helped shape this country with his exhibit “Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance,” which is currently on exhibit at Reynolda House Museum of American Art. 

The exhibit features 37 works including paintings and story quilts that examine the American Dream through the lives of African Americans from the late 18th century to present day. Most of the works in the exhibit are based on historical photos from various archives from Town’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, and other parts of the country, like the coal mining counties in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. 

While giving a tour of the exhibit last Friday, Towns said although he created most of the pieces between 2020 and 2022, the first piece, “Birth of a Nation,” was created in 2014. The seven-foot-tall quilt shows a Black woman nursing a white baby while standing in front of the original American flag. Towns said “Birth of a Nation” was his first time working with fabric; before that Towns worked almost exclusively with paint. 

“This image came into my head and I experimented with painting and drawing and it just didn’t work out,” Towns said. “I knew what I wanted. I knew I wanted it to be big and I knew I wanted to incorporate the flag and the only way to do it was to create it myself.” 

The latest addition to the exhibit is connected to Winston-Salem. The painting “Flora and Lillie” was inspired by Town’s residency in Winston-Salem last summer. During his residency, Towns explored the history of Winston-Salem and engaged in research and conversation around the many contributions of Black North Carolinians whose labor built a thriving industry. Towns said he came across the photo of Flora Pledger and Lillie Hamlin while looking through the Reynolda archives. 

Pledger and Hamlin were residents of Reynolda’s Five Row, a village for laborers. Towns said when he first saw the photo of the two women, it immediately caught his attention. 

“Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance” will be on display at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, 2250 Reynolda Road, through May 14. On March 19 from 1:30-4:30 p..m. the community has the opportunity to see the exhibit free of charge during the museum’s Reynolda On the House event. During the event, singer, historian, and educator Mary D. Williams will offer a special musical performance at 3 p.m. The participatory experience will feature songs of labor and worship inspired by the Towns exhibition. 

For information on the exhibit or the Reynolda on the House event, visit 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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