ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
The Black Matriarchs Series
The New Britain Museum of American Art is tied, inextricably, to the history and people of New Britain, Connecticut. The Museum’s current exhibition The Black Matriarchs Series celebrates the legacy of a remarkable community of Black women who worked and lived in New Britain for many years, and is organized in collaboration with Jimmie Elizabeth Nkonoki-Ward, the James and Agnes Timmons Legacy, Nkonoki-Ward Family, and the Nkonoki-Green Family Community Initiatives.
On public view for the first time in 35 years, this series of pen, ink, and charcoal portraits was commissioned in the late 1970s by historian and educator Jimmie Elizabeth (Timmons) Nkonoki-Ward, from her friend, artist Kenneth A. Larson (1947-1994)—both of whom were long-time New Britain residents. These compelling portraits depict women who were leaders, trailblazers, educators, and nurturers in the community, and who were involved in local churches—including A.M.E. Zion Church (now known as Spottswood A.M.E. Church), Trinity Methodist Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church (now known as Divine Providence), and McCullough Temple CME Church—as well as local organizations, such as The Every Woman’s Club of New Britain, The Garden Club, and the Mary McLeod Bethune Club, among others.
Included in this Black community and depicted within this inaugural series are women who personally inspired Jimmie Elizabeth Nkonoki-Ward, including Mrs. Jessie Lorraine Eirby Gay, her grandmother, Mrs. Agnes Gay Timmons, her mother, Mrs. Laura Bellamy, Mrs. Alma Bean Williams, Mrs. Meana McDew, Mrs. Daisy Bates, Mrs. Rosabelle Willis, Mrs. Virginia Morehead, Mrs. Mary Thompson, Mrs. Alice Barnes, Mrs. Martha Mosley, Mrs. Jane Jordan, Mrs. Hazel Jackson, Mrs. Mary Diggs, and Ms. Armentha Coley. The depiction of one youth, Monica Willis (now Dr. Monica Parker and formerly a student of Nkonoki-Ward), symbolizes the progeny of the Black community.
Additional distinguished Black Matriarchs of note in our community not pictured in this initial series include Ms. Iola Choice, Mrs. Kitty Williams, Mrs. Thelma Beach, Mrs. Carrie Coleman, Mrs. Berniece Bellamy, Mrs. Ruth Cunningham, and Mrs. Frances Roberts, to name a few others.
“The Black Matriarchs are women sometimes not publicly acknowledged, or celebrated, like our teachers, yet never to be forgotten as the cornerstone and pillars of every community in cities across this nation. These ladies are the Unsung Heroes and bridge builders, steeped in culture, education, tradition and legacy, the real heart and soul of our communities, and true keepers of all of our histories and women to proudly emulate!”
- J. Elizabeth Nkonoki-Ward
The Black Matriarchs Series is a tribute to Black and African American women who are pillars in their families and in their community—women who infuse culture, faith, education, and the arts as a cornerstone of a vibrant community, full of possibility—and in which these Black Matriarchs were exemplary.
ABOUT J. ELIZABETH (TIMMONS) NKONOKI-WARD
Wednesday, June 14, 1-2 p.m., Gallery Talk | Elizabeth Nkonoki-Ward
Exhibit to celebrate Black women who lived, worked in New Britain
New Britain Herald, May 30, 2023