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Artist to speak in Albany

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- When settling in for his interview with The Herald, Cuthbert native and artist Winfred Rembert's first action was to jokingly slide his teeth in and give a warm smile -- much to the chagrin of his wife, Patsy.

"I told you about that," she good-naturedly scolds her husband.

"I know," Rembert replies in his soft-spoken tone.

The artist and his wife are in Albany this week to celebrate an exhibition of Rembert's artwork at at the Albany Area Arts Council (AAAC) during the first week in November.

The artist will also be the guest of honor at reception tonight hosted by the AAAC at Carnegie Library.

In addition to accompanying his artwork, Rembert will also speak at the Albany Civil Rights Institute Nov. 4.

The artist said he is unsure of exactly what he will discuss with community members at the speaking engagement, but one thing Rembert does know about is the fight for freedom and life in the segregated South -- a topic which he draws from to create his unique tooled and dyed leather pieces of art.

Rembert, who was abandoned by his parents as young child and left in the care of his aunt, was raised in Cuthbert and worked in the fields picking cotton and peanuts with the women he affectionately calls "Mama".

Many of the artist's paintings depict the story of Rembert's life as a young boy in the cotton fields of Georgia and his time serving a 27 year sentence on a chain-gang for being involved in a civil rights demonstration in 1964.

According to Rembert, after a tussle with a sheriff and a gun following a demonstration, he escaped by jumping into a car which had the keys in it. He was caught four hours later and thrown in the trunk of a car before being brought to a site where he saw three ropes hanging.

The artist, who was 20-years-old at the time, was stabbed, lynched by the mob and threatened with mutilation before being cut down and transported to jail.

After seven years of tedious work on the chain gang which eventually led to his meeting his future wife, Rembert was freed from prison. The artist said the struggles in his youth and his choice to commit them to works of art serve only as "his history" and that he holds no ill-will against the South or his home.

"I've got plenty reason to hate but there is not a hateful bone in my body," said Rembert. "I love this place. Nothing can compare to coming back here. The kid who everyone told wasn't going to be anybody is coming back and I'm a somebody."

Rembert said he first learned the art of tooling and dying leather from a fellow inmate in prison who would make wallets from scrap pieces of leather.

"I watched him and he could only do a rose as a design and I was telling him about all the different pictures he could put on it and he taught me a little but not a lot," said the artist.

ACRI Director Lee Formwalt said Rembert embodies the spirit of the civil rights movement and can speak about the struggle personally.

"It is about challenging Jim Crow," he said. "More than just (Martin Luther) King and the arrest and all that it was about getting the vote back."

Formwalt said Rembert is unique because his inspiration comes from his hardships in his youth and while in prison.

"He uses his talent to tell his stories about what the exploitation of cheap black labor was like," he said.

Rembert is also the subject of a documentary that is being filmed while he is in Albany which is being led by husband and wife team Vivian Ducat and Ray Segal.

"He is a very interesting man and his story is incredible," said Segal of Rembert. "We just wanted to capture that."

Rembert said he has many more stories to tell and that he sincerely believes he will never get to commit them all to leather.

"I won't even get to do all the things I want to do in my head," he said. "My hope is that one day I can leave that to my children to do my work. I desire it, but I'm not sure it will happen."