Artist and sculptress Artis Lane, 89, returned to her roots in Chatham-Kent to be the featured guest speaker at the 77th Annual Rotary Club of Chatham Banquet at the Bradley Centre Friday night.
Introduced by Rotary president Alysson Storey, Lane spoke interview style with Rotarian Chris Prince, telling stories of her beginnings in Chatham that included singing with her two siblings as the Shreve Sisters on CFCO Radio.
From a young age, Lane and her family knew she was a talented artist, doing portraits at the age of seven. The great, great niece of Mary Ann Shadd (Carey), an activist in Underground Railroad refugee communities in Upper Canada in the 1850s and in pursuing rights for Blacks and women, Lane talked about doing a sculpture of Rosa Parks, the Black Detroit women who refused to sit at the back of the bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King.
She also was commissioned to sculpt U.S. President Barack Obama, Sojourner Truth (an abolitionist and human rights activist) and her work can be seen in the Royal Ontario Museum, the Smithsonian and the California African American Museum.
At the Rotary banquet, Lane talked about the many influential people she met and did works of, such as Miles Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Cary Grant (who was the influence behind her last cigarette), Diahann Carroll and Quincy Jones.
Storey, who is a fan of Lane and her work, took the artist on a tour of the area Saturday, including the Black History Museum at the WISH Centre where the Shreve sisters reprised their singing days.
From there, the group visited the BME Freedom Park on Princess Street in Chatham, where the bronze bust of Mary Ann Shadd created by Lane is permanently on display. The park project, originally the brainchild of Gwen Robinson, was brought into being collectively by East Side Pride, who helps maintain the park, the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, the municipality, Union Gas and the Ridgetown Agricultural College, according to Marjorie Crew of East Side Pride.
“Gwen wanted something on this lot to commemorate the black community and its contributions to this area,” Crew said. “With all the organization involved, it was truly a community partnership and it is always under development.”
Crew said the bust of Mary Ann Shadd was commissioned from Lane, who only requested payment for her materials, and was installed in the park in 2009.
“People thought it would be vandalized but nothing has ever happened to it intentionally,” Crew said. “I believe it’s pride and the significance of what this park symbolizes for the community.”
At Rotary, Lane mentioned that the dedication of the bust of her great, great aunt was one of her proudest moments, and Crew, who was at the Rotary banquet, said she shared that sentiment.
“When Artis said the Shadd dedication was one of her proudest moments, that was really neat. If that meant that much to her, it certainly was a highlight for us,” Crew explained.
The tour for Lane also included her childhood home on Wellington Street, directly across from the BME Freedom Park and then the Buxton area.