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September 6, 2017
We knew nothing about a mysterious lithographic portrait that I included in That '70s Show titled Muntu, but it was one of those striking gems that just had to be in the exhibition. The print came to the museum as a purchase prize from the Dutch Folk Art Association’s 4th Annual Exhibition, held at the Columbia Museum of Art in 1975. The printmaker is Karen M. Hendricks, but I could not find any information about her or the woman in the portrait.
Then I had a magical conversation with a museum guest, the kind where seconds matter or you would have missed each other. That guest was poet Barbara Eikner Thompson, who was visiting from Oklahoma, and I asked her to share with us who the subject of that portrait is.
I needed a moment to soar, to get away from the earth and to free my mind. And what do you do? You go to the museum, the Columbia Museum of Art on Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina.
The young man at the front desk is friendly and has a great smile, I know this is going to be a good visit. The front of the brochure is entitled ReTooled with an image of Jacob Lawrence, one of my favorite artists from the WPA period. I had the chance to meet him at an art show at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1988.
The flip side of the brochure, That ‘70s Show, sounded so-so, for in that period I was searching, stressed and trying to find my way and make a way for me and my family.
Then I came upon an image from my past, a print with the face of a strong black woman I haven’t seen in over 40 years. What ever happened to her? The image, titled Muntu, is of Yogii Muntu. In 1974, she founded the undergraduate chapter of Zeta Theta of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and she was a poetry professor at the University of South Carolina. I started making phone calls: What is her name now? Where is she? What is she doing? I am still searching.
That same image is on the cover of her book of poetry entitled, What Is A Fre-Maled Blackmare? published in 1976. She taught me the importance of soaring. Now my visit is complete.
Barbara Eikner Thompson is the Centennial Finance Chair of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., owner of Trabar Communications LLC, and is author of the books of poetry Dirt and Hardwood Floors and How Do You Love…When?