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Ohio Wesleyan Receives Six Original Winfred Rembert Artworks
Hand-Tooled Leather Creations Recall Artist’s Memories of Pre-Civil Rights South

January 4, 2011

“Amazing Grace” by Winfred Rembert.
Click here for a high resolution version (1471k JPG)
“The Wood Boy” by Winfred Rembert.
Click here for a high resolution version (1179k JPG)
Images courtesy of OWU’s Ross Art Museum
DELAWARE, OH – Three Ohio Wesleyan University graduates are gifting the school’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum with six original artworks by African American folk artist Winfred Rembert. The images of life in rural, pre-Civil Rights South are hand-tooled onto sheets of leather and then dyed vibrant colors.

The artworks, valued at approximately $120,000, will be on display from Jan. 13-Feb. 20 at the Ross Art Museum, 60 S. Sandusky St., Delaware. Rembert will visit the Ohio Wesleyan campus Feb. 10 to meet with students, demonstrate his leatherworking techniques, and participate in a panel discussion dealing with the accomplishments and impact of African American artists and the issues affecting the production and acceptance of their works.

Rembert’s studio demonstration will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 10 in Edgar Hall, 35 S. Sandusky St., home of Ohio Wesleyan’s fine arts department. The panel discussion will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 in Room 312 of the R.W. Corns Building, 78 S. Sandusky St. Artist and educator Willis “Bing” Davis of Dayton, Ohio, will moderate the discussion. A reception for Rembert and his exhibition, “Winfred Rembert: Memoirs in Paint,” will follow from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Ross Art Museum. All of these events are free and open to the public.

Four of the Rembert artworks being donated to the university are gifts from Gordon V. Smith and Helen Crider Smith of Potomac, Md., who graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1954 and 1956, respectively. The Smiths first saw Rembert’s work at New York’s Adelson Galleries during an exhibit co-sponsored by Peter Tillou Works of Art of Litchfield, Conn.

Tillou, a 1957 Ohio Wesleyan graduate and friend of the Smiths, is donating two Rembert works from his private collection. Tillou met the artist nearly a decade ago and was immediately drawn to his vibrant personality and creativity. Over the years, Tillou has become friends with Rembert and assisted him in exhibiting and marketing his art.

“This is a wonderful example of the enduring friendships created at Ohio Wesleyan and the lifelong connections of our alumni with the university,” said President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “When Gordon and Helen Smith saw Winfred Rembert’s captivating art, they immediately thought of the educational and aesthetic value of adding them to the Ross Art Museum’s permanent collection. Their passion inspired former classmate Peter Tillou, who assisted with the acquisition and added his own generous gift.”

A self-taught artist, Rembert uses more than 60 tools to carve his life onto leather. Born in 1945, he grew up working in the cotton fields of Cuthbert, Georgia. During the 1960s, he was arrested after a Civil Rights march and later survived a near-lynching. He spent seven years in jail during which time he worked on a chain gang and learned to make leather wallets. Years later, his wife suggested he use the medium as a canvas for his life.

According to the Hartford Courant, Rembert’s works “glisten with style, flair, vitality, skillful draftsmanship and dramatic use of perspective. They capture and charm the eye with their bright colors and shapes that almost seem to pop out at you.”

Ohio Wesleyan’s Rembert collection now includes:

  • Amazing Grace (2008). “Amazing Grace is one of the songs I remember that was sung in the fields,” Rembert said. “I just loved to listen to the singing. … I still sing those songs today when I’m working.”
  • The Alexander Sisters (2009). “Mr. Alexander was a preacher, and all his kids could sing. … They could really wreck a church—their harmonies were like no other.”
  • Saved and Saintified (2005). “I never considered myself saved and saintified; church folk said you can’t get to heaven unless you are saved and saintified. … I go to church almost every Sunday and it looks as if I’ll never get saved and saintified.”
  • The Wood Boy (2007). “The teacher made me the wood boy. I would go outside, get wood, and feed the potbelly stove. I didn’t mind because I didn’t want to be called on by the teacher to answer questions.”
  • Chain Gang (2010). This black-and-white piece represents Rembert’s chain gang memories.
  • Cotton Field #4 (2003). This unfinished piece shows Rembert’s intricate leatherwork before he applies dyes.

With the Rembert acquisitions, Ohio Wesleyan’s permanent art collection grows to nearly 2,500 pieces. Other recent acquisitions include pieces by African American, Native American, and Hispanic artists.

“Ohio Wesleyan is fortunate to have such a rich and varied portfolio of artworks,” said museum director Justin Kronewetter, M.F.A. “The Rembert gifts add to the diversity and importance of the university’s collection. I am grateful to our visionary alumni, and I encourage everyone to come see this important exhibition.”

The Richard M. Ross Art Museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is fully handicap-accessible and admission is always free. For more information, call (740) 368-3606.


Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities, with more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 Division III varsity sports. Located in Delaware, Ohio, just minutes north of Ohio’s capital and largest city, Columbus, the university combines a globally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that translate classroom theory into real-world practice. OWU’s close-knit community of 1,850 students represents 45 states and 52 countries. Ohio Wesleyan earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in General Community Service, is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” and is included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.