Morris Thomas is an internationally recognized visual artist from New Orleans, Louisiana, who is presenting his work at “The Art of Morris Taft Thomas Exhibition” as a part of the initiative to celebrate Black History Month at Ruston Artisans.
Thomas calls his ability to create visually a gift from God, and “gives Him all the praise and credit.” In his exhibition, he was asked to display his currents works based on an African-American theme. The artist explained that he tries to produce artwork that reflect the way life was when the country was still segregated and unequal — the 1950s and 1960s.
“If I don’t do black art, who is going to do it? I can’t leave it to anybody to display the black experience except myself and those who have lived it,” Morris stated.
Morris remarked that once we became integrated, African-Americans “gained amnesia and forgot how difficult it was…and how our parents had to struggle to survive.” The exhibition exposes several works to represent African-Americans in the cotton field “scrapping” what was left of the cotton.
Art is just one of the few things Thomas does in his pastime. Though he has crafted artwork for many notable figures such as President Jimmy Carter, Alex Haley, BB King, and Grambling’s very own Eddie Robinson, he has also had also had the opportunity to meet and interview with his fraternity brother, the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thomas recalls meeting Dr. King like it was yesterday. The artist said King travelled to Alexandria, Louisiana in 1966 when schools were still segregated. King came to speak to the Black Teachers Association. Thomas said the company he worked for at the time assigned him to write about the historical visit, and he was overwhelmed once he finally met the legend.
“He arrived at the airport in Pineville [Louisiana] on a 2 engine crop duster plane,” Thomas recalled. “It was a windy day. He (Martin) had his briefcase in one hand and the brim of his hat in the other.” Thomas mentioned how he was fascinated with his demeanor and how he articulated his responses to even the more cynical comments. One thing Thomas admired about King was his bearing. An anecdote Thomas vividly remembers was when another reporter at the scene sarcastically asked King if he had enjoyed his flight on that cold, windy day. “After one minute of silence, he responded, ‘I had learned to live with discomfort.’”
Thomas said after King noticed Thomas was wearing paraphernalia from his fraternity, they exchanged brotherly greetings and traveled to the colosseum. One thing Thomas will never forget is King’s “booming voice”.
“When he spoke, it resonated. Every word he said was unusual in his verbiage…”
Later on Thomas’ life after King passed away, he and his wife hosted lunch with the deceased’s eldest daughter, Yolonda, escorted by security.
“I have DVDs of documentation that she was here. It was quite an experience…one that I’ll always cherish and remember.”
What Thomas wants the audience to take away from his exhibition is to look, learn, and understand how life once was for African-Americans.
The Artist Reception will be held February 2 from 5-8pm. The exhibition opened on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and will close March 1st.