Texas A&M’s celebration of Black History Month began Feb. 1 with an exhibit of the acclaimed “Torchbearers” series of portraits by Robert Schiffhauer, associate professor of architecture, at the Langford Architecture Center’s Wright Gallery.
The portraits, which depict luminaries from black history, will be on display throughout February.
“The torchbearers light our way,” Schiffhauer said, “toward just societies that build up institutions for racial equality, freedom of speech, human rights, healthy environments and wide use of resources.”
Prominently featured in the exhibit are Schiffhauer’s portraits of the late Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Texas A&M professor Charles Gordone. An actor, director, and activist, Gordone won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for his play, “No Place to Be Somebody: A Black-black Comedy.” He was the first black playwright to win the award, and his play, which offers an intimate glimpse into racial tensions of the civil rights era, was the first off-Broadway drama to do likewise.
Marking the opening day of the “Torchbearers” exhibit, Maya Angelou, the celebrated American author and poet, paid tribute to her old friend, Gordone, in a guest column published in the Texas A&M student newspaper, The Battalion.
“He brought a treasure trove of talents to Texas A&M in a particularly turbulent and uncertain time in A&M's history,” she wrote. “He spent the last years of his life there enriching the lives of students.”
Gordone’s wife, Susan Kouyomijian Gordone, was instrumental in helping Schiffhauer assemble the Wright Gallery exhibit, which also includes the sculpture, “The Spirit of Charles Gordone,” by John Walker, a retired Texas A&M architecture professor.
"What we are trying to do through portraiture is bring these people back into
history," Gordone told Battalion reporter Kevin Smith, in a Jan. 31 article on the exhibit. "These were the people whose contribution to making America a more free and just society is so enormous."
“They were progenitors of truth and light,” said Schiffhauer.
Much of Schiffhauer’s work assembled for this Black History Month tribute — portraits of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., legendary Texan folklorist J. Frank Dobie, notable abolitionists and famous black authors and musicians — has been shown in recent years in exhibits at the Brazos Valley African American Museum, Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History and the Wayne Stark Gallery at Texas A&M.
“They tell the story,” he said “of the men and women, black and white, free and slave, who lived during the tumultuous era that set the course that led to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where the nation's first black president took the oath of office.”