Portraits from yesterday and today celebrate Springfield’s history and future
SPRINGFIELD â- As she walked over to an oversized portrait of herself on Dwight Street, Erin Washington beamed.
âOh wow, I want my mom to see it too,â said the Springfield native, part of a new exhibit called âSpringfield Then and Nowâ. It features images of inspiring people from Springfield’s past, associated with a young person living in the city today with similar interests or passions.
Graduated in 2020 from Parsons School of Design in New York, WA, she is a visual artist specializing in oil paintings as well as mixed media drawings, acrylic and charcoal paints. She said she struggled to find her place in a predominantly white art scene at her school.
She was approached by retired photographer Alan Goldsmith for The Springfield Project after her work was exhibited in Springfield museums earlier this year.
âMuch of the artwork I did was about my time at school, not feeling represented, not feeling like I had space to move around the institution as a as a black artist, and so being in that show was awesome because I felt like my work was finally able to live in the space it was created for, to live in my city, âshe said.
Goldsmith teamed up with Amherst-based photographer Isabella Dellolio, who captured the images of the city’s youth. The project was coordinated by Common Wealth Murals and sponsored by related companies that own the Skyview Downtown Apartments where the portraits are displayed in storefronts on Dwight Street between Harrison and State Streets.
âToday we’re caught up in Springfield’s troubles and we don’t recognize the great past he has had. I thought it would be a great way to inspire and evoke the pride of the city, âsaid Goldsmith.
Washington said she was proud to have been chosen to represent the city where she has lived most of her life.
âI decided to work with Alan on this project because I felt it encapsulated a moment of representation and feeling seen and affirmed. Not just my blackness, but also in the creative realm, âshe said.
Goldsmith, who has written short biographies of each participant, as well as the historical figures they are associated with, said he hopes others will be as inspired as he read about each selected youngster.
âIt was a pleasure to chat with them. I’m in my 70s and it was so nice talking to young people who had aspirations and enthusiasm to follow their passion and make a difference, âhe said.
Washington was twinned with Belle Townsley Smith who lived from 1845 to 1928 and was the co-founder of the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, whose Italian palace-style building on the Quadrangle now houses the extensive collection of art and antiques that she and Walter Smith acquired while living abroad.
âBeing able to represent and integrate a strong sense of art and art experience in the community you live in is the greatest connection I have with it,â Washington said. .
The final panel just around the corner of State and Dwight streets features a sharp-eyed young woman looking straight into the future.
Savannah M. Taylor is from Springfield and graduated in 2020 from Syracuse University. She is currently social media manager for the Springfield Museums, editor for Ebony magazine covering entertainment and culture and founder of The Silhouette Brand, a platform she created to educate, connect and empower young people of color.
“I never blew up my photo like this anywhere, it’s a little weird, but very cool to see such a variety of black and brown faces displayed on those windows in this neighborhood because it represents the community,” a she declared.
After receiving negative feedback on a third-grade writing assignment, Taylor decided she wanted to be a writer someday.
âIt made me want to write better, which made me love to write,â she said.
Taylor was paired with Samuel Bowles III who lived from 1826 to 1878 and inherited the Springfield Republican Weekly Newspaper from his father when he was 18. Bowles turned it into a daily that gained national recognition for its strong moral and political positions, its training as young journalists, and its diverse content.
Taylor said the traits they share are a passion for storytelling and community investing.
âI love storytelling, it was an integral part of my upbringing, especially being born and raised in Springfield and wanting to share the stories of the community. Not only what he was, but what he is now and what he can be. I’m very invested in telling these stories, âshe said.
Beyond highlighting the success of young people in the community, she also wants to empower anyone who has a dream and a goal in life.
âI started The Silhouette Brand to connect young people from this community with other underprivileged communities who don’t necessarily have access to conferences, mentors or internships. I wanted to find ways to provide these opportunities to people here, âTaylor said.
Recently, Taylor coordinated Field Fest, a virtual conference with 150 attendees.
âThe aim was to come together and examine the impact of the pandemic, but also to create a networking opportunity for people interested in various fields. We had panels on being a person of color in STEM, sexual and mental health, and even content creation. We also organized a virtual showcase of local talent and a pitch competition for young entrepreneurs in the city, âshe said, acknowledging the many community members who volunteered to host panels and do the event a success.
Britt Ruhe, director of Common Wealth Murals, said every young person who has been involved in the project is a glimpse not only of Springfield’s present, but its future.
âWhen I look at these images side by side, it makes a very strong connection between our past and our future. I’ve learned so much about Springfield’s past and there are people doing some really interesting things that came from Springfield that I didn’t know, and there are people doing really interesting things in Springfield right now. that we don’t know, âshe said.
Ruhe said she hoped people would take a moment to stop and read each person’s biographies and walk away with a sense of hope for the community.
âThe young people in these portraits are the future of Springfield. We want to invest in a great future for Springfield and to do that we have to invest and honor these young people who are doing these great things right now, âshe said.
Brief biographies of the individuals will accompany each image, in English and Spanish. Images and corresponding information boards for each participant are available at drive.google.com/file/d/1CThsqGu1CKrvTkerch3SWc-bGwjdd-D5/view