Exhibition puts vast collection on display throughout city

There might not be any actual artwork by Larry Williamson featured in the “Start at Home” exhibition that opens Thursday, Aug. 24 at six venues both on and off the Ohio State University campus, but the show has his fingerprints all over it.

“Start at Home: Art from the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center Collection” will feature 240 artworks in a variety of media made by African and African-American artists, among them the most significant artists who have lived and/or worked in Columbus, including Aminah Robinson, Kojo Kamau, Smoky Brown, Sharon Farmer, Pheoris West, Ed Colston and Queen Brooks. National and international artists including Ralph Bell, Elizabeth Catlett and Sam Gilliam also have work included in the collection, assembled primarily by Williamson over the 28-year history of OSU's Hale Center.

Named for Ohio State professor, researcher and administrator Frank Hale, Jr., the Hale Center, which includes the university's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is in many ways also Williamson's legacy. Williamson has been on staff as curator, assistant director and, for the last 25 years, director of the center. But as his duties expanded, he maintained his role as curator (Williamson also curates the artwork shown in the university President's Office), unable to completely shake his passion for his primary field of study.

“When we opened in 1989, Dr. Hale said to me, ‘Larry, when people walk into that Cultural Center, I want there to be no doubt as to what it is, and I think we can best do that by embracing the rich heritage of African and African-American art, and to put that artwork [on display] as you come into the building,'” Williamson said in an interview at the Hale Center.

So Williamson set about finding art, first by engaging the Columbus community. Roman Johnson and Smoky Brown introduced Williamson to the work being done at ACE (Art for Community Expression) Gallery, which was founded by Mary Ann Williams and Kojo Kamau. (Williamson later joined the ACE board and did some curating at the gallery.)

“We started to open up some doors … and provided an alternative opportunity for some of the most talented artists Columbus had to offer [to exhibit their art],” Williamson said.

The next step was to engage the university's vast art-making family. Painter/author Samella Lewis, who earned her Ph.D. at Ohio State, agreed to make a significant donation to the Hale Center.

Through the years, approximately 600 pieces of art, many by artists of international reputation, were added to the collection at the Hale Center. A recent move into the historical Enarson Hall and a desire to exhibit more of the collection kick started a painstaking process of cataloguing that has led to “Start at Home.” In addition to the Hale Center, “Start at Home” will be on view through November 4 at OSU Urban Arts Space, King Arts Complex, Hopkins Hall Gallery, OSU Thompson Library and Hagerty Hall Global Gallery.

“The end result will be something people will love and people will value,” Williamson said, adding that he's not interested in credit for the scope of the collection.

“It's incredibly gratifying and we're proud of this collection,” he said. “But we owe so much to the community, both the Columbus art community and the community at Ohio State. I just brought a passion for art.”