Former first lady Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama pose with artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald during the unveiling of their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery on Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery TNS
Former first lady Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama pose with artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald during the unveiling of their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery on Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery TNS

Durham County

Parent wants portraits of the Obamas displayed in Durham Public Schools. Here’s why.

By Greg Childress

gchildress@heraldsun.com

March 05, 2018 06:00 AM

DURHAM

Author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford is credited with first publishing the phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Hungerford’s words were proven true a couple of weeks ago after portraits of former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

As much as the Obamas are adored by millions of Americans, some of their staunchest supporters have not found any beauty at all in the unconventional portraits by Kehinde Wiley, the artist who painted the portrait of Barack Obama and Amy Sherald, who painted the portrait of Michelle Obama.

Both portraits elicited strong opinions, with those supportive arguing that the portraits, with Barack Obama sitting amid flowers and Michelle Obama in a strapless dress are unique and befit the nation’s first black president and first lady.

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But critics have been harsh, contending that the artists’ work badly missed the mark and will be remembered more for the flowers and the dress than the subjects.

Natalie Spring, an E.K. Powe Elementary School parent and president of the school’s PTA, falls into the former category.

Spring likes the portraits so much that she wants any Durham Public Schools teacher who wants them to have copies to display in their classrooms or around their schools.

She has created a GoFundMe page to raise $1,400 to cover the cost of 500 sets of prints — 1,000 posters in all — to distribute to DPS teachers who request them.

Spring contacted the National Portrait Gallery and was given permission to reproduce the portraits for educational purposes.

“Our children should be able to see themselves reflected in the art in their schools,” Spring said, noting that DPS’ student enrollment is roughly 80 percent black and Hispanic.

Teachers who want copies of the free posters can sign up for them online at https://goo.gl/forms/9ps0GdTVyj37ZkhZ2.

Spring said schools often have posters of athletes plastered on the walls but too few have the kind of art that can inspire and uplift children, African-American children in particular, in other fields.

“It’s another way to reinforce that fame doesn’t only come through athletic prowess,” Spring said.

So far, 250 teachers have requested copies of the portrait. Between the GoFundMe effort and other donations, as of Friday Spring had raised $812 of the $1,400 she needs to have the posters printed.

School board Member Natalie Beyer said the initiative to provide teachers with posters of the Obama portraits is “beautiful and heartfelt.”

“I think it could inspire a lot of students, and the art is incredible as well,” Beyer said. “Hopefully, students can travel to Washington, D.C., to see the works in the National Portrait Gallery.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Mission statement

Here’s what Natalie Springs wrote about her fundraising goal on her GoFundMe page:

Our first African American President continues to inspire school children across Durham. I'd like to provide prints of the newly unveiled Presidential portraits for all Durham Public Elementary School teachers to use for educational purposes. We have permission to use the image in this way and a local printer who will print 20 x 29 posters that I will distribute to any DPS teacher who wants one for free — thanks to your donations.