It’s art, but The Learning Tree knows no color

by Alex Ashe

Walter Sobchak, John Goodman’s character from The Big Lebowski, might tell me that I’m out of my element. He’d be right, too.

Not only do I hail from a tiny, largely white, Midwestern town of about 8,000, I’m also the palest person you’re likely to know. Needless to say, I’m far from the most qualified person to analyze the new exhibit at the African American Atelier, located on the second floor of the Greensboro Cultural Center.

Be that as it may, there’s plenty about the Atelier’s new Learning Tree exhibit that resonates with me.

The exhibit focuses on intergenerational relationships, particularly those relative to the teaching process within the arts community. It’s comprised of pieces by artists previously featured at the Atelier, as well as works by their mentors or protégés. On the description card for each piece shown in the exhibit, the artist is identified alongside their mentor or protégés.

“It shows the importance and influence of our mentors and mentees,” said LeShari Clemons, a photographer in her fourth year of teaching and her second year of directing at the Atelier.

Some of Clemons’ own pieces are featured in the exhibit, sharing a wall with work from her mentor, Sarah Martin, who teaches photography at UNCG. Upon entering the exhibit, one can’t help but become enthralled by “The Camping Trip,” a huge mixed media piece by Raena McKinney. The background of the piece depicts a dusk camping scene underneath some trees. Two children hauling camping gear are shown in the foreground. Their heads, along with some leaves, burst from the canvas, creating a 3-D effect. McKinney’s mentor is Rep. Alma Adams, who co-founded the Atelier in 1990, while serving on Greensboro City Council, prior to her current role of representing the 58 th District in the NC House of Representatives. Adams, who mentored McKinney during her tenure as an art professor at Bennett College, said the artist’s children are the inspiration and subjects of the piece.

“It really speaks to the joys of interacting with children in outdoor activities,” Adams said. She added that McKinney utilized the 3-D effect to convey a sense of liveliness. Some of Adams’ own work is featured in the exhibit, as well as some by her mentor, the late Eva Hamlin Miller, with whom she co-founded the  Atelier. Miller’s “Meditation Wall #4,” an abstract, acrylic painting on canvas, is one of the exhibit’s most striking pieces. The painting, the last in a four-part series, incorporates a variety of colors and geometric shapes. Adams said Miller worked on the piece later in life, inspired by her ruminations on her career as an artist and as a teacher at NC A&T University during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. “It was a way for her to release some of frustrations as an artist, but also to celebrate her experiences as a teacher,” Adams said of the painting, which Miller worked on for more than a year. Though The Learning Tree opened in mid-August, the Atelier is planning a second phase for the exhibit. As part of the First Friday art walk, the Atelier will hold a collaborative unveiling, for which the artists will submit additional pieces to be included in the exhibit.

That same evening, a workshop will be set-up right outside the exhibit for kids to work their own paintings. It’s the next logical progression for the exhibit, which emphasizes the value of instilling knowledge and techniques to the next generation of artists.


The African American Atelier, Inc.; Greensboro Cultural Center; 200 N Davie St,, Greensboro; 336.333.6885;; Collaborative Art Unveiling – 6 p.m., Sept. 6; Exhibit runs through Sept. 27