Categories Archives: Artists

Zakoian, Badaskhan “Betty”

Born Badaskhan Ermoyan in what was then Armenia, Zakoian developed her artistic talent in her adopted home of Chicago, where she also acquired the nickname Betty. Many of her colorful and expressive paintings document her tragic life story. Her parents were killed in 1915 during the Turkish genocide of Armenians. Only seven, Zakoian and her […]

White, Willie

Willie White was born to a farming couple in Natchez, MS. He attended school through the third grade and in 1929, left Natchez to work on Mississippi “quarter boats,” repairing and securing the river levees. White later moved to New Orleans and worked as a waiter for nearly 20 years before being employed as a […]

Willis, Wesley

Wesley Willis, a local Chicago icon who achieved cult-like status, was best known for his live performances and quirky, offbeat songwriting. But Willis also developed a following as a visual artist, creating poster board pen and marker drawings of Chicago cityscapes and street scenes. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1989, Willis claimed to use art as […]

Webster, Derek

Born in Porto Castillo, Honduras, and raised in Belize, Derek Webster came to the United States in 1964 to visit his sister and decided to stay. As a young man, Webster had worked as a freighter quartermaster, a job that took him to such ports of call as Haiti, Cuba, Portugal, Venezuela and Liberia. Once […]

von Bruenchenhein, Eugene

Eugene von Bruenchenhein was born in Marinette, WI, and lost his mother when he was seven. His widower father, a sign painter and shopkeeper, later remarried to a woman who had published treatises on evolution, believed in reincarnation, and painted floral still lifes. Although he did not finish high school, von Bruenchenhein became fascinated with […]

Thomas, James “Son”

James Thomas was born in 1926 in Eden, Mississippi. He never really knew his father and was raised by his maternal grandparents, who also gave him his lifelong nickname “Son” as a term of endearment. As a young boy, Thomas developed two interests that would play a significant role for the remainder of his life: […]

Swearingen, Reverend Johnnie

Johnnie Swearingen was born near Chappell Hill, Texas, in the African-American community of Camp Ground Church. His parents were migrants who worked in the cotton fields of East Texas. Swearingen attended school sporadically through the eighth grade, then joined his parents in farm work. Hopping trains during the Great Depression, Swearingen somehow got married but […]

Smith, Dr. Charles

Charles Smith was born in New Orleans and was raised by a single mother in a suburb of Chicago. In 1968 he began creating a personal art environment in Aurora, IL, as a tribute to the more than 7,000 African-Americans who died in Vietnam. Among the many events that affected him during his own stint […]