The consensus in America in the early 1900s was that men had the right to vote because “Men bear arms,” but that was challenged by Anne Dallas Dudley, who boldly stated, “Yes, but women bear armies.” This phrase was the framework for the conversations I had throughout the North Nashville community about voting, as well as the imagery and motifs used throughout this painting. I gave a quick historical introduction to the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, Tennessee’s pivotal role in that monumental decision, and a series of questions to spark dialogue about voting in the Black community.
“Yeah, we might’ve beared arms, but we were still denied access to everything.” These were the words of a man sitting in a barbershop on Jefferson Street. He had fought in the Vietnam War but returned to a very segregated South. The faces of African American soldiers from the Civil War to the Iraq War represent the Black men who took up arms to gain access to that vote but were sometimes still denied it. The crows represent just some of the state and local Jim Crow laws that acted as a barrier.
Yellow and red roses surrounding the border of the painting highlight the War of Roses, which was a battle between the ideals of suffragists and anti-suffragists. Wearing yellow roses indicated support for the right of women to vote, and wearing red roses signified protection of the conservative status quo and domestic feminism. Black roses interwoven in between the others represent African American presence in the movement, pointing directly to the 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta sorority—students who were very instrumental in the movement.
Thaxton Waters is a Tennessee native working and living in the South. With an artist father and a teacher mother, Waters has been exposed to the arts as long as he can remember. Following in his parents’ footsteps as a painter and educator, he focuses on the rise, decline, and reinvestment of historic communities surrounding Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). Channeling his love of history and art historical reference, Waters works primarily with a collage of emblematic connections, chronological moments and narrative “stills.” In doing so, Waters seeks to capture a part of the human experience that allows the viewer to participate in the “understanding” of the communities in their own backyards. Waters strives to create art that is timeless yet empathetically informs the audience.
Waters is the founder and creative director of Art History Class Lifestyle Lounge & Gallery, which exhibits work by emerging student artists from nearby HBCUs while offering educational programming for underserved communities in the Nashville area. The gallery not only provides a platform for young artists from these colleges but also serves as a “living” library, antique museum, theater, private studio, and meeting place, teaching the history of the surrounding community in a contemporary fashion.