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Painted windows link 'accidental artist' to community leader from Covington's past

'It makes you feel special'
A window painted with an abstract, orange design is the foreground of this photo. Two homes on Russell Street in Covington, Ky., are in the background. Both homes also are displaying painted windows.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 18:08:45-04

COVINGTON, Ky. — Up and down a portion of Russell Street in Covington, brightly painted antique windows glimmer from porches, yards and gardens.

The windows are the work of Nina Edwards, who lives on the street.

“I guess I’m an artist,” Edwards said with a smile. “Like, the accidental artist. It all came about kind of suddenly. We were furloughed from work, and I didn’t want to sit around and just not do anything. I just got some paints, some canvas and started.”

Painting windows came later, when Edwards’ passion for creating connected her to a beloved community leader she never got to meet -- the late Annie Hargraves.

Nina Edwards standing on the front porch of the house where Annie Hargraves once lived. Above her is one of the old windows from the house that Edwards painted. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021. The window has an abstract design that includes blue, black and white.
Nina Edwards standing on the front porch of the house where Annie Hargraves once lived. Above her is one of the old windows from the house that Edwards painted. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021.

Here’s how: Before they became artwork, the windows hung in the former home of Hargraves, across Russell Street from where Edwards now lives. Hargraves was an African American educator who taught and nurtured Covington children for nearly 40 years. When the current owner of her old house removed the windows while remodeling, Warner Allen, Edwards’ neighbor, collected more than a dozen from the curb.

Allen gave one of the windows to Edwards when she ran out of canvases and was looking for something to paint for a birthday party.

“We used it as a display with Adirondack chairs for the party,” Edwards said. “And from there, it’s grown to this.”

Three windows hang from Edwards’ own porch on Russell Street. Neighbors on either side of her and across the street display others.

This photo shows the first window that Nina Edwards painted along with two Adirondack chairs she painted. The window and chairs are painted with abstract designs in bright colors.
This photo shows the first window that Nina Edwards painted along with two chairs she painted.

“We’ve changed the area, the look of it,” Edwards said. “The block up the street, they pot plants – beautiful plants. And so this was an idea between Warner and I where ours is going to be these windows.”

In the process, the artwork honors the life and legacy of the legendary Hargraves.

‘Feisty,’ ‘little bitty’ and beloved

“Everybody loved her,” said Pat Herndon, who had Hargraves as her second-grade teacher in 1959. “She feisty – a little bitty four-foot-something. Everybody loved her. And when she passed away, I sung a solo at her funeral.”

Herndon has lived on Russell Street for nearly 50 years. Her home is next to Edwards’ house and across from where her beloved teacher once lived.

Pat Herndon poses on the porch of her Covington home. She is wearing a pale orange top with white stripes and has short grey hair.
Pat Herndon

Hargraves wasn’t only a teacher, though. She supervised a playground a few blocks away from her house near the corner of Russell and West Robbins streets – a spot that was named Annie Hargraves Park in 1981, about five years after she died in 1976.

A bronze bust of Hargraves keeps watch over the park above a plaque that describes her contributions.

“She taught at both Lincoln Grant and Fourth District school,” the plaque states. “She was a columnist for three African American newspapers.”

Hargraves also was park director for the Covington Recreation Department for 35 years, where she helped create the park that now is named for her.

This photo from the Kenton County Public Library's collection shows Annie Hargraves at a Utopian Club meeting at the Manse Hotel in Cincinnati. Hargraves is third from the left, wearing a pale dress and no hat. The photo was taken around 1950.
This photo from the Kenton County Public Library's collection shows Annie Hargraves at a Utopian Club meeting at the Manse Hotel in Cincinnati. Hargraves is third from the left, wearing a pale dress and no hat. The photo was taken around 1950.

“In June of 1976,” the plaque states, “the seventy-year-old teacher completed her final report cards from her hospital bed.”

Herndon, who has a brightly painted window hanging from her own porch, said she’s pleased that Edwards’ artwork is helping to continue Hargraves’ legacy.

“I think the windows are beautiful,” she said. “All of ‘em.”

‘We need a lot of hope’

Having a connection to Hargraves through the windows means a lot to Edwards, too.

“It makes you feel special,” said Edwards, 54, as she fought back tears. “Just to know that there was somebody who invested in people. And I was able to take something from that and make something beautiful.”

She said she sees the effort as a way to invest in others, too.

She worked with Tashariea Harris, an 18-year-old aspiring artist, on one of the windows. Harris drew and painted a portrait of a brown-skinned woman with red and blue hair on the glass. Edwards embellished the image with flowers and coated the painting with resin to weatherproof it.

This photo features the window painted by Tashariea Harris and Nina Edwards with Edwards' home on the left. The window that Harris helped create has a portrait of a brown-skinned woman with red, blue and yellow hair.
The window painted by Tashariea Harris and Nina Edwards with Edwards' home on the left.

“That’s my pride and joy,” Edwards said of the window. “She’s an up-and-coming artist in the Covington area, and she’s part of why I’m doing this so that she has something to look forward to herself.”

Edwards has completed about 10 windows in all, she said, and has a couple more left.

A work in progress has the word HOPE painted on the glass, with the “O” drawn as the shape of the continent of Africa.

“Part of why I decided to do this one is we need a lot of hope,” she said. “Hope to understand that anything and everything is possible. Hope to know that God is real and that we stand on his word. And just hope that every day is a good day, you know what I mean? It’s really simple.”

Nina Edwards has three windows hanging from the porch of her house in Covington. The most prominent window features flowers in blue and orange.
Nina Edwards has three windows hanging from the porch of her house in Covington. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021.

Edwards’ painted windows are available for sale or consignment and range in price between $400 and $450. More information is available through a Facebook group she calls “The accidental artist.”

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.