Easton Mural Reimagines Frederick Douglass in the 21st Century
As most public art is meant to do, the new Frederick Douglass mural in Easton, Maryland encourages conversation, inspires us to ask questions, and moves us emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
At 21 feet tall and 16 feet wide, it’s the first-ever approval of a piece of outdoor art of this size by the Easton Historic District Commission but received a unanimous vote. Chairperson and Encore Sustainable Architect, Ernest “Ernie” Demby, believes “it is a great installment in Easton. It brings Easton’s rich local history to the forefront while highlighting how our past can be relevant to now and the future.” This project is also personal for Chairperson Demby. While tracing his own lineage, he discovered that his family members served on the same Wye House plantation as Frederick Douglass.
...it brings Easton’s rich local history to the forefront while highlighting how our past can be relevant to now and the future.
In 2016, when Richard Marks and his wife Amy Haines purchased a property on Washington St. in Easton’s historic Talbot District, next door to their restaurant Out of the Fire, they knew the brick wall of the exterior facing south would be an excellent place for a mural. Both fans of public art, Richard and Amy wanted the installation to not only create a welcoming space but to also be representative of the community—past and present. It didn’t take long to come up with the perfect idea: an image of Frederick Douglass, the 19th-century American abolitionist, writer, orator, statesman, and most well-known native son who was born and enslaved in Talbot County, Maryland.
Richard had previously purchased a small print of a reimagined 21st-century Frederick Douglass from artist Adam Himoff. The portrait features a hip and modernized version of Frederick complete with a stylish suit, Converse sneakers, and a large wristwatch, confidently posing under the word “Liberty.” Through the print, the artist brings Frederick Douglass into the present and examines his legacy through the lens of modern culture. Amy suggested turning the print into a mural, and through their foundation Dock Street, they initiated the project. With permission from the artist, a rare approval from the Easton Historic District Commission, support from Talbot Arts, and in collaboration with The Frederick Douglass Honor Society, the project has come to fruition.
Adam Himoff has said that a lot of his work “addresses history and icons and often explores how the past reconciles with the present and how historical figures can be reframed over time positively or negatively... It’s exciting to look at an icon like Frederick Douglass, whose power and impact have only grown over time. He remains nothing but relevant as our society continues to lurch forward and backward in terms of delivering racial equality to all Americans.”
It’s exciting to look at an icon like Frederick Douglass, whose power and impact have only grown over time. He remains nothing but relevant as our society continues to lurch forward and backward in terms of delivering racial equality to all Americans
The power of Frederick Douglass’s relevancy and impact in Easton are immortalized, and not just in a mural. In 2011, the Jay Hall Carpenter statue of Douglass was placed in front of the Talbot County Courthouse. After ten years of debate, lawsuits, and protests, on March 14, 2022, Maryland's last Confederate monument on public land in Talbot County was removed from the courthouse grounds. Frederick Douglass now stands as the sole statue outside of the courthouse.
Initially, Richard and Amy planned to convert the historic buildings at 107 and 109 Washington St. into a museum honoring Frederick Douglass. Encore Sustainable Architects developed concept plans for the museum, but as the county unveiled plans for a Frederick Douglass Park and as they noticed the Talbot County Historical Society taking more interest in sharing the local history of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in their facilities, Amy and Richard realized other organizations were better suited to the task. As well, they learned of efforts to build an African American Cultural Center in the Hill District and look forward to supporting that endeavor.
Nonetheless, after Amy’s restaurant, Out of the Fire, needed to move to a new location they purchased the building adjacent to the brick houses from Encore Architects and retained their services to design the restaurant. With the successful opening last September, their attention refocused on the mural portion of their original plan. Richard and Amy are pleased with the positive responses and engaging conversations in the community while also acknowledging and understanding why not everyone appreciates the portrayal. Dock Street Foundation has no other projects in the pipeline for now, but are HOPEFUL more public art projects are in our community’s future.
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