Barbara Johns Portrait Unveiled at Virginia Capitol

by Anita Kumar,  the Washington Post

A portrait of a civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns was unveiled at a crowded ceremony at the state Capitol Friday afternoon.
Johns, then 16, led a 1951 student strike in Prince Edward County that led to the inclusion of Virginia in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation.

The portrait depicts Johns on April 23, 1951, the day of the student strike. It was painted by Richmond native Louis Briel.
"It is my pleasure to unveil this portrait of a young woman who simply and gracefully formulated a dream of equality from her personal experience with inequality," Gov. Bob McDonnell said. "It will inspire a new generation of students."

The portrait will hang in the Capitol until the spring when it will be moved to the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, which tells the story of the civil rights movement in Prince Edward County.



Louis Briel / Portrait Painter said...

Barbara Rose Johns, A Portrait

Early in February 2010 I began work on a portrait of Barbara Rose Johns for the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville, Virginia. My approach to painting portraits is a spiritual one. I try to stay out of my own way - to leave room for my subject and for the presence of spirit.

I never met Barbara Johns, so the biggest part of my job was to get to know her very well through her own words and varied input from others who became my partners in the production of the painted piece. This is the nature of posthumous portraiture, since the subject of the painting is unavailable. The painting depicts a relationship between the artist and subject, formed by study, collaboration, intuition and grace.

Museum Director Lacy Ward immediately began assembling photographs of Barbara as a schoolgirl and as an adult. I took additional photos of Barbara as part of the 18-figure Virginia Capitol Square sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld. Also, I was fortunate to have the cooperation of Courtney Jamison, a high school student from Richmond, to serve as a model. A photo session in March at the Moton Museum provided source material for clothing and pose. Indeed, Courtney seemed to be the spiritual embodiment of Barbara Johns that day. Her poise, self-confidence and the twinkle in her eye animate the portrait.

I was privileged to be able to read portions of Barbara Johns’s journal. Her words provided insight and inspiration. From her personal experience of inequality, she simply and gracefully formulated the dream of equality that guided her singleness of purpose and courage into action. The painting depicts Barbara Johns on the morning of April 23rd, 1951, the day she called the student strike. Barbara’s journal, a United States History textbook, and the Holy Bible rest on her school desk.

I want the painting to inspire - to speak truth and courage to a new generation of students. The dream of equality for all still beckons.

Barbara’s soft yet firm gaze is directed toward a better future.

Louis Briel
August 2010

JennyD said...

How beautiful, Lou. I can see every little nuance of her in your work. You never cease to amaze, but I'm never surprised that you do.
Well done, my dear friend!

gowshika said...

Really well done for the blog.these are so sweet and pretty!

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