Community to honor late well-regarded artist Huff

Community to honor late well-regarded artist Huff
December 07
04:00 2017

James Huff was an artist of the highest order, a true creative genius. He and his wife, Earnestine Rainey Huff, established Huff Art Studio at 2846 Patterson Ave. in 1972. 

For more than 40 years, the studio would experience the heights of success, augmented by prestigious commissions, devoted collectors, community engagement, and esteemed academic positions until 2012, when James Huff had a stroke in his home, experienced a fall and struck his head. For the last five years, he has been treated in various facilities, but he made his transition on Friday, Nov. 10. 

The studio continues under the auspices of his daughter Jasmine Huff and son Quentin Huff.  They will hold a memorial/art showing in Huff’s honor on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Winston-Salem Urban League downtown.

James Huff recognized his gift as an artist at the age of 3, but he dedicated himself to the development of his craft as a teenager, and sought to enhance his acumen as an entrepreneur. Huff completed his undergraduate studies at Shaw University in Raleigh and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Huff further honed his skills under the tutelage of art instructor Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian.

The work of the Huff Art Studio has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally, appearing in more than 25 publications, including Ebony, Art Voices, Encore, Essence, Black Family Magazine, The Chronicle, and the history book “Paths Toward Freedom.” Huff’s career reached its zenith when he was awarded a Gold Medal and First place Award from the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1979, his production of the Famous Black American Poster Series (1978-1989), and his commission to produce the Sit-In Sculpture for Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Museum.

An art educator, Huff served as a lecturer at North Carolina A&T State University, Shaw University, Winston-Salem State University, and served as Chairman of the Art Department at Talladega College.  Huff also used his athletic prowess from 1992-1995 as the assistant men’s tennis coach for Wake Forest University.

Huff often used his art for the improvement of the local community. The Rev. Dr. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, was honored each year when the Huff couple held an art auction to provide financial support for the Kemet School of Knowledge, a Saturday School where families learned African culture, African Rites of Passage and history.  The Kemet Academy developed into a summer youth camp.

Huff was well respected in the local community for his service. Larry Womble, retired legislator of Forsyth County 71st district, was deeply saddened when he heard of Huff’s homegoing.

“I like him as a person and his wife and family. Down through the years, he would come and sit down and visit. We would chat about things,” said Womble. “I had him to meet with the Speaker of the House, and they agreed to have some of his art exhibited in the North Carolina Museum of Art. I also had him to meet with the CEO of Baptist Hospital about his paintings, and they agreed to put some of his work in the hospital. Huff would also come to my office in Raleigh and sit and talk when I was a state representative.”

Womble was instrumental in getting the street near the Huff Art Studio named after Huff’s wife – Earnestine Rainey Huff Way.

“When I heard about his passing, I was so heartbroken and devastated. He had been sick for a long time. He was one of the most active and forceful artists in this town. He tried to get all of the artists to come together and cooperate so their work could be displayed and sold,” said Womble.  “He was very dedicated to his profession. If you did not know him, you would not know he had the type of reputation he had in the art world. He held his friends very close to him, and I was very fortunate and honored to be one of his friends.”

Local artist and historian Jerry Hanes met Huff in the 1980s when he and Huff were forming a league of artists called the Twin City Art League. Huff and artist Tahnya Spirit created the North Carolina Cultural Café downtown. Some of the exhibiters included Jerry Hanes, Jason Pitt, Leo Rucker, Jay Carlton, Shanta Houser, Bobby Roebuck, Gilbert Young, India Beal among others. 

“Huff allowed me to sell my paintings out of his shop on Patterson. He inspired many artists throughout the city and Across America.  He was a master portraiteer. Oh, yes. He was the Godfather of Art around here,” said Hanes. “Huff was always teaching. He taught through his art. He used pen and ink, light and dark. He would paint, but he was very comfortable with pencil, pen and ink as mediums. He was influenced by the Classical Renaissance Period featuring Rembrant.”

The first time artist Jay Carlton met James Huff was during Carlton’s senior year at WSSU as an art major. Carlton was in the drawing class of Hayward Oubre. Huff did a presentation about his posters for Nabisco and Budweiser series on African kings. Carlton was involved in the Cultural Café.

“The café gave all of us a chance to be exposed. He had exposure around the United States and abroad, but he wanted to give new artists exposure,” said Carlton. “He showed us how to package our work and present it to the public. He was an art professor at North Carolina A&T for many years. I admired his work. He was easily accessible, not stand-offish.  He was engaged in the community.”

Artist Leo Rucker met Huff through the Arts Council. He admires the portraits the Huff created.

“His portraits give African-Americans a more positive self-concept because his outlook on beauty includes a variety of complexions. Society can often perceive certain complexions negatively, but Huff offers a strong presence on the canvas,” Rucker said.

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