IRMO, S.C. — The Harbison Theater at Midlands Technical College celebrated its Harbison History Day, Wednesday, celebrating the only college in the early 1900’s for African Americans in the area that used to be housed there.

Some of its living members were invited for a luncheon where they were able to view an art exhibit by local artist Mary Burkett showing the faces of children from the era of slavery.

Former Harbison Institute attendees ringing the traditional bell.
Midlands Technical College

Burkett is a retired pediatric nurse who, before January of 2017, had never done art before:“I've always loved art, particularly the sketches the great artists did before a painting, and I just wanted to give that a try. I finally had some free time to do it and lo and behold look what happened.”

With just a pencil and some q tips and cotton balls as her "studio", she created the faces of children from actual photographs.

Burkett first did portraits of 27 children from the holocaust, a collection titled "Beloved: Children of the Holocaust." 

She says she exhibited them for the first time in Charleston at the Grace Episcopal Cathedral in November of 2017. She then established a relationship with the people there and in turn met the people from the Illumination Project in Charleston where she was invited to attend an event of their's in December of 2017. 

"It was a showing of a film called 'Beyond the Fields,' which is about Middleton Plantation in Charleston," Burkett recalls, "and as I was sitting there, in the middle of the movie, in the dark, watching it- its an absolutely beautiful.. beautiful film- but I kept thinking to myself: ‘well who are all those people who created all that beauty?’ The landscape was just empty and it just came to me, full blown that I needed to do a 'Beloved Legacy of Slavery.'"


Kristin Cobbs, the executive director of the Harbison Theatre says, “This exhibit in particular is extremely important as we celebrate Black History month. Mary Burkett has done an amazing job when it comes to bringing to life the story of these children that tells an amazing story with just their eyes and the visuals they represent. She’s quite remarkable.“

Burkett hand picked each child in these images and knows most of the stories behind them. She says the response to the collection has been an interesting one and makes a sort of safe-space for people to address slavery and discuss its legacy.

The exhibit will be in the lobby of the Harbison Theatre until March 10. 

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