About the Documentary
When white art historians have surveyed 20th-century American art, they have generally listed only a few black people as contributors, usually including Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. Ellis Wilson’s life deserves attention because he helped pave the way for those younger artists. Unlike them, the Kentucky-born Wilson never made a living from his art. He faced obstacles, prejudices, and preconceptions throughout his life. But he persisted nonetheless.
His work, too, deserves attention, because he used color, shape, and form to bring the everyday life of black people to light, elevating their struggles to the level of art. But while he chronicled black life, he was adamant that there was no such thing as “Negro Art”—only art made by black people. And that is what he was: an artist who also happened to be a black man.
The KET production Ellis Wilson—So Much To Paint grew out of a project to celebrate the centennial of the painter’s birth in his home state of Kentucky. Spearheaded by Albert F. Sperath, Steven H. Jones, and Eva F. King at Murray State University’s Clara M. Eagle Gallery, the project included a traveling exhibit (the first major retrospective anywhere of Wilson’s work) and an accompanying catalogue including essays on Wilson from biographical, cultural, and art history perspectives.
Sperath and his Murray State colleagues then approached KET about producing a documentary about Wilson. Production was made possible through a generous grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council. The program debuted in 2000 in Kentucky and was later made available to public television stations around the country. Since then, the airings of the documentary on various stations and the resources on this companion web site have led to the rediscovery of many previously unknown Ellis Wilson works. KET re-aired Ellis Wilson—So Much To Paint in 2008 as part of the arts series Kentucky Muse, with an update in which Sperath talks about some of these newly found works.
In addition to the staffs at Murray State and the University Press of Kentucky, which published the exhibition catalogue, KET is indebted to the following people for their support and advice:
- jazz musician Orville Hammond, who wrote original music for the documentary
- University of Kentucky literature professor O.R. Dathorne, who served as humanities adviser
- art historian Margaret R. Vendryes, who was an adviser and invaluable interview subject
- Camille Billops of the Hatch-Billops Archive, who shared recordings of Ellis Wilson interviews
Producer/Director/Writer/Offline Editor: Guy Mendes
Associate Producer/Researcher: Mary Marshall Hester
Online Editor: Otis Ballard
Logo Design/Electronic Graphics: Carl Coakley
Videographers: Lee Delaney, Michael Follmer, Scott Neukam, Frank Simkonis
Location Audio: Charlie Bissell, Mitch Buchanan, Doug Collins
Audio Post-Production: Chuck Burgess
Narration: Anne Deck
Lighting Director: Don Dean
Executive Producer: Nancy Carpenter
KET Director of Production: Craig Cornwell
Interns: Peter Coats, Danielle Gilchrist
Web Site Research and Writing: Barbara Clifton, O.R. Dathorne, Chela Kaplan, Eva F. King, Albert Sperath
Web Site Design: Terry Stevens
Ellis Wilson—So Much To Paint is a 2000 production of KET, Kentucky’s statewide public television network.