Tales from The b.a.SKET:
Today, we reach into the b.a.SKET and pull out images of the Black rural South…
“Before I came to Houston in 1964, I fished with my brothers and sisters in the streams of East Texas. My fishing scenes reflect this. I also love to recapture the Black experience in the form of people working in the fields. I believe that these images are important and that they should be cherished windows into our past."
--Charles Criner, artist statement
19 x 24 inches, graphic and pastel on paper
For much of its history, the fields of East Texas have been chock-full of cow peas, dark-skinned workers, and remarkable stories. Like many of the dark-skinned workers—before they were emancipated and designated as such—the cow peas originated in Africa and were transported alongside bound Black bodies to the vast and insatiable plantations of the American South.
As for the stories, they emerged from the rich oral tradition forged by the challenging path these Africans and their descendants were forced to endure.
One such account comes from the Shankle Family, the African American founders of Shankleville, Texas, an original freedom colony. At some point during the 1840s, enslaved African Winnie Shankle was sold away from a Mississippi plantation and carried by wagon to a largely unfarmed region near the East Texas border.
Though enslaved, her husband Jim wasn’t having it. He escaped the plantation and, over a period of time, risking life and limb, walked more than 400 miles to Texas and found Winnie. Once there, the owners of the plantation agreed to let Jim stay with his beloved wife. In 1867, after emancipation, Jim became one of the first African Americans in Texas to purchase land. Along with his son-in-law, Stephen McBride, Shankle subsequently acquired over 4000 acres and established the community of Shankleville.
Whether forced to do so or for their own benefit, picking peas has long been a practice for such East Texas communities as Shankleville. Today, descendants of the Shankles are prominent representatives of the Texas Purple Hull Pea Festival held annually in their historic community.
17 x 22.5 inches, color screenprint on paper, 35/50 edition, 1998
Artist Charles Criner grew up picking peas in East Texas as well. So much so that he credits his early artistic ability for saving him from the grueling field work of picking peas as a teen. In 1964, upon being accepted to the Fine Arts program at Texas Southern University, Criner began studying art under the legendary John Biggers who adamantly promoted the importance of family life and Black rural culture. Biggers also introduced Criner to lithography, a method of printing that enables an artist to make multiples of an original drawing.
Criner’s upcoming exhibit at BAIA, Once Familiar, captures the Black labor and lore of the rural South while celebrating the importance of the familial and culture bonds that continue to nourish us and pull us through.
17x22 inches, stone litho on paper, artist proof edition
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