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Cincinnati artists born 150 years apart continue to drive a message of equality and hope

Brandon Hawkins of Soul Palette
Posted at 6:09 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 21:23:01-05

CINCINNATI — When Brandon Hawkins learned a painting by a historic Cincinnati artist was a part of the inauguration of President Joe Biden, he felt inspired.

“To be from Cincinnati you kind of have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. People don’t think we are going to do the greatest all the time,” said Hawkins, who owns Soul Palette mobile paint party business.

Like the famous Civil War-era artist Robert S. Duncanson, whose work was featured at last month’s inauguration, Hawkins is also a well-known artist in Cincinnati. He created and designed a mural for ArtWorks called "Together We Win," which is painted on the St. Francis de Sales School in Walnut Hills.

’Together We Win’ painted on the St. Francis De Sales school in Walnut Hills by artist Brandon Hawkins

“It's supposed to be a blending or gelling of cultures," Hawkins said. "You’ve got a multicultural set of kids playing. We wanted to involve the Catholic Church in terms of the way that you see stained glass. So, I put that in the design when I created the design.”

Last summer, Hawkins was also named project manager of the Black Art Speaks "Black Lives Matter" mural in front of Cincinnati City Hall. He painted the letter "B" in the mural.

Brandon Hawkins painting the B in the Black Lives Matter mural

Hawkins’ mural on the school and his work on the BLM mural are inspired by hope for change, a theme he picked up in his early years from his parents.

Black Lives Matter Mural.png

“My mother was a Black Panther, my father is from the South and he’s got all kinds of stories, so they raised us up a certain way to want to be involved with activism,” he said. “To be able to be a part of the activism in the way that we were in terms of our creativity and our art, I mean, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Although Hawkins and Duncanson were born more than 150 years apart, their work continues to drive a message of equality and hope.

First lady Dr. Jill Biden selected Duncanson’s painting "Landscape with Rainbow" to be featured in the U.S. Capitol. In Cincinnati, his work is permanently on display at the Taft Museum of Art, where he was commissioned in the 19th century to create a mural on the museum’s walls.

Landscape with Rainbow.png

"At one point, those were unfortunately covered up with wallpaper, so by the time the Tafts came in here, they had never seen it. Today, after many restorations and removing the layers of wallpaper, that fortunately saved those for the future public today to admire and awe over them as well," said Sarah Ditlinger, the Taft's senior manager of marketing and strategic engagement.

During his time as a student at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Hawkins said he learned a lot about Duncanson’s work and the work of other Black artists who paved the way for him to be able to create today.

“It definitely inspires me to be able to see where they came from and to see them flourish -- some have moved away from here and become even bigger. It kind of gives me hope for the future in terms of what I can do with my art,” he said.