Plunkett Gallery Features Exhibit of Mercer Alumna Highlighting the Faith of a Dreamer

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Gwen Payton

Gwen Payton Gallery

MACON – Mercer University will honor Macon alumna Gwendolyn Payton in a new gallery exhibition, titled Faith of a Dreamer: Opposition to the truth may derail the dream but the faith of the dreamer prevails, at Plunkett Gallery in the Hardman Fine Arts Building opening Sept. 21.

The upcoming exhibit, curated by Ben Dunn, director of McEachern Art Center, will kick off with a reception and artist talk outdoors at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 25.

Gwendolyn Payton has been drawing and painting for as long as she can remember. Because of her mother’s coaxing, she grew up knowing her art was important. The paintings in this exhibit represent artwork from her days at Mercer in the 1960s and 70s, periodic commissions and pieces from workshops she has attended in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Asheville, Savannah, South Carolina and New York.

The show and the bestowing of Gwendolyn’s Art major from Mercer this year represents the efforts of a few genuine “neighbors” (Luke 10: 36-37) to make right the unjust determinations of an individual who used his power to temporarily derail her dream over four decades ago.

Payton completed the coursework requirements to earn an Art major 48 years ago, but was denied a senior exhibition showing, which was believed to have been due to racial discrimination. At a late-night chance meeting waiting for an Atlanta airport shuttle, Payton met current Mercer Distinguished University Professor of History Sarah Gardner and shared her story. This set in motion a plan to show her work and correct the wrong committed in the past.

Reflecting on the opportunity to complete her senior show at this time in her life, Payton says, “For me, the time is perfect. Right now, with the divisiveness in the United States, we need to understand that for us to be the way we want to present ourselves to the world, we need to understand that while you deal with things as they come, you should never be losing hope that things could work out better than you ever dreamed.” This thought inspired the title of Faith of the Dreamer.

“To exhibit Gwen’s work now is to acknowledge her accomplishments and the historical failure of the institution simultaneously. It’s a course correction, and a way for those of us involved in the project to promote justice in our various capacities at the university,” Dunn noted on curating the gallery.

On the significance of the exhibition, Dr. Gardner said, “However many decades ago, a chair of a department exercised his power to block a Black student from fulfilling the requirements for a major. Gwen’s exhibit is long overdue.”

The artist talk and reception for Faith of a Dreamer will take place Sept. 25 at 10:30 a.m. outdoors in front of Hardman Hall, and will also be livestreamed via Facebook Live from the Plunkett Gallery and McEachern Art Center pages.

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Julia Rubens