Three decades ago, African American artist Norman Parish Jr. created a space in Georgetown for his peers to showcase the Nubian images of his people who have come so far.
While the Parish Art Gallery closed after his father’s death in 2013, Norman Parish III and many family members came back to Georgetown on Monday to preview a new documentary about his father’s legacy that stretches from New Orleans to Chicago to D.C.
“It made sense to showcase the film in Georgetown, where he had his gallery,” said Parish, deputy manager of the Chicago Sun-Times. “My hope is that the audience will not only appreciate my father’s work but the work of artists during a critical time in history.”
The historic City Tavern Club was packed Monday night for “Walls of Respect: Norman Parish and the Parish Art Gallery,” among them veteran artists and photojournalists who worked with the late Parish in 1967 when he and other artists painted a mural in Chicago.
“My father was involved in a movement that helped artists to showcase their work in high-profile venues,” Parish told The Informer. “Our plan is to show this documentary in other places.”
Norman Parish Jr. was one of six children of Norman Sr., who was a laborer in New Orleans, and their mother, a homemaker. The family moved to Chicago in the late-1940s during the Great Migration.
Even though Parish graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1960, things were initially slow for him.
“It was hard to get jobs in the art world, but he continued to paint,” his son said. “He would come home and paint until midnight.”
Parish III is working with Chicago-area director Susan Ericsson on “Walls of Respect,” which features many artists who now live in the D.C. area, including Richard Hunt, who speaks in front of his sculpture in Chicago, and Africobra artist Wadsworth Jarrell. Parish is a producer on the project.
In the film, Cynthia Farrell Johnson connects her multimedia depictions of people she encountered as a diplomat, while photographer Oggie Ogburn holds up images of the many famed musicians and dignitaries he photographed during his career.
“Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, I have been blessed,” Ogburn said. “I didn’t discover the photography, photography found me.”
When Chicago was a racial powder keg, the Wall of Respect was completed in Chicago in 1967 to showcase Black heroes in sports, politics, religion and entertainment.
“The Wall of Respect was a great moment in time,” said veteran photographer Roy Lewis. He and photojournalist Darryl Cowherd were also part of the wall project resulting from months of planning.
“We voted on the artist who would be on the wall before no paint went on it,” said Lewis, a longtime Informer photographer. “It was done at the corner of 43rd and Langley and completed in 1967.”
But later that year, one of the artists destroyed the section that Parish painted and, according to his son, he “moved on to other things.”
“It was tragic having his part painted over it,” Lewis said. “But ‘The Wall’ movement spread like wildfire around the city. All of these murals had themes. It was the beginning of public art in our communities.”
Norman Parish moved to D.C. in the 1980s and 1991 he opened the gallery in the 3100 block of M Street while still maintaining a day job.
But as he got older, failing health thwarted his ability to paint. After his death on July 8, 2013, the Georgetown Gallery closed later that year and records were given to the Smithsonian Institution.
It was appropriate for the documentary to be shown at the City Tavern, which was originally constructed in 1796. This Georgetown dwelling was both an inn and venue for social events enjoyed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and other Founding Fathers.
It also was home a boy slave, Alfred Delaney Clark, who whose descendant manages the building today.
While there is no structure in the city that houses Parish’s art, his work has been purchased by people from around the world and walked into his gallery.
“He was continually painting toward the end of his life,” said Parish III, who was joined at the event by many family members. “He used the wrist of his left hand to hold his right hand to paint, but his mind was still sharp until the end.”