BGSU art exhibit celebrates legacy of Bernie Casey & other African-American artists

Jennifer McCary's sculpture "Engagement"frames Bernie Casey's 1995 painting "Center Space, Center Place."


Bernie Casey’s death in September 2017 was the impetus for creating an art exhibition in his honor at his alma mater. The Bowling Green State University School of Art is hosting “So Much More … Ohio’s African-American Artists” now through Oct. 21 in the Fine Arts Center’s Willard Wankelman Gallery.

Though Casey was best known to the world as an actor and professional football player, he also was remarkably talented as an artist. He attended BGSU on a football scholarship and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts in 1961 and 1966, respectively.

“Urban Mask” by Willis “Bing” Davis

According to Charlie Kanwischer, director of the School of Art, the exhibition evolved from a tribute to the legacy of athlete, actor and visual artist Bernie Casey and other African-American alumni to a broader, intergenerational conversation among alumni, current students and invited African-American artists from Ohio and beyond, addressing the intersection of racial identity and personal experience.

“This conversation recognizes that the experience of African-American students in the School of Art has sometimes been fraught, that it has been and continues to be marked by the same fitful and incomplete progress toward equity and inclusiveness too long symptomatic of race relations in our country,” Kanwischer said. “Yet, approaching the exhibition only through the lens of race risks essentializing the participating artists and their work.

“‘So Much More’ is fundamentally a celebration of the deeply personal and particular vision of the artists who gently but forcefully remind us that we’re all ‘so much more’ than our racial and ethnic identities, that the sense of agency arising out of a committed studio practice is a powerful means to push back against the injustice of stereotypical assumptions.”

Work by 15 alumni and current students is included in the exhibition. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday, 6-9 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

“The exhibition features (Casey’s) work and that of African-American artists with ties to him, to BGSU and to the state of Ohio,” said Jacqueline Nathan, gallery director. Casey’s art was loaned from the collections of the Thelma Harris Art Gallery in Oakland, California; Barbara DuMetz; Vicken J. Festekjian CPA Inc., and Vicki McMillan.

Nathan acknowledged three BGSU alumni who helped shape the exhibition’s direction: Col. John Moore Jr., Class of 1966; Edward Sewell, Class of 1968; and attorney Vivian Moore, Class of 1967 and 1968.

“I would like to thank them for all of their energy and enthusiasm in helping to organize this show,” she said.

Sponsors of the exhibition include the Ohio Arts Council and the College of Arts and Sciences Ethnic Cultural Arts Program.