Letitia Huckaby at her home in Benbrook, near Fort Worth. Photographed by Lauren Withrow
Portrait of Letitia Huckaby painted by her husband Sedrick Huckaby, on display at Big Momma’s House. (photo by Max Burkhalter)
Sharecropper’s Duplex, 2017
On the morning of September 15,1963, an explosion rocked the predominantly Black 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The Ku Klux Klan had detonated dynamite under the church steps, with 200 congregants inside awaiting Sunday services. The blast injured 20 people, including 10-year-old Sarah Collins, who lost her right eye. The bodies of four girls between the ages of 11 and 14 were discovered under the rubble, all killed while changing into their choir robes in the basement restroom. They were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair.
Public outrage and grief over their deaths led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — pivotal moments in the fight against segregation and racism. Bringing their killers to justice, however, took well into the 21st century. Fort Worth artist Letitia Huckaby was inspired by these events for her new body of work, “5 Paper Dolls: A Contemporary Tale,” which opened at Liliana Bloch Gallery last month. “The show is timely because people are talking about Black lives and reexamining our history,” Huckaby says. “And we have an election coming up. I feel like it’s a great time to have this conversation.”
The work features Huckaby’s own daughters and three of her young friends as models, and references paper dolls which were popular among young girls of all races in the 1960s — except back then, paper dolls were always white. The poses, the props, and even the materials Huckaby uses all have current cultural relevance. These are presented using styles from the artist’s entire body of work, including photography, silhouettes printed on vintage flour sacks, and embroidery hoops.
“I started as an artist learning how to tell human stories through photography, and I feel like I still work that way, even though the mode of presenting the work has changed,” says Huckaby, who trained as a journalist before obtaining her BFA in photography from the Art Institute in Boston, then her MFA from the University of North Texas in Denton. “Each body of
work feels like a document of a time, place, or people. I want the viewer to recognize the beauty of those individuals or that place.”
For that reason, she often prints her photography on vintage flour and sugar sacks; like many children growing up in the deep south during the 1960s, her mother wore dresses made from the floral and striped cotton sacks that flour and sugar came in. “I started printing images of family on the flour sacks because it tied into my family history — now they’ve become this thing
symbolic to ingenuity, and creativity and resourcefulness. I like the idea of tying these little girls into that history. I also hope viewers will think about the battles that were fought during the Civil Rights Movement and how we are still hashing it all out — how much things have changed, and how much things have stayed the same.”