Museum  December 8, 2021  Ed Gunts

U. S. Capitol Portrait of the Late Elijah Cummings to Debut in Baltimore

Courtesy of Jerrell Gibbs and Mariane Ibrahim

Jerrell Gibbs, detail of I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It… Portrait of the Honorable Elijah Cummings, 2021.


A portrait of the late Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings will go on display this month at the Baltimore Museum of Art before it’s permanently installed in the U. S. Capitol.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and museum officials announced this month that the painting will be unveiled at the museum on December 21 during a private dedication event that celebrates “the beloved Congressman’s life and enduring advocacy for social justice.”

The portrait, which honors Cummings’ achievements and commitment to his hometown of Baltimore, will go on public view in the museum’s John Russell Pope building from December 22 to January 9. It will then be moved to its permanent home in the Capitol. Details about the portrait’s installation in Washington have not been made public.

Born in Baltimore in 1951, Elijah Cummings represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which includes the museum, from 1996 until his death in October of 2019. He served in Maryland’s House of Delegates from 1983 to 1996.

The portrait was commissioned by Rockeymoore Cummings, his widow, in March 2021 and painted by Jerrell Gibbs, a Baltimore-based artist known for his portraits of African Americans. Gibbs was selected from a shortlist of three Baltimore-based artists that also included Monica Ikegwu and Ernest Shaw.

The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 2021.159

Jerrell Gibbs, For Thomas, 2021 Oil on canvas 49 7/8 × 60 in. (126.7 × 152.4 cm.)

The multi-phase selection process was led by Rockeymoore Cummings and included a committee of BMA and community leaders.  The work is oil on canvas and measures 36 by 48 inches, unframed. Its title is I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It…

“In life Elijah and I enjoyed supporting the diversity of artists and events hosted by the Baltimore Museum of Art,” Rockeymoore Cummings said, in a statement.  “It is providence that I was able to bring Elijah’s official portrait to life in partnership with the BMA’s transformational leader Christopher Bedford and his team of world-class experts, as well as community arts leaders and wonderfully supportive donors. We are exceedingly pleased with the result. Jerrell Gibbs is a masterfully expressive painter and his stunning portrait perfectly captures Elijah’s essence and majesty. It is a timeless masterpiece.”

“It is our great honor to have worked with Maya on the commission for the portrait of the iconic Elijah Cummings, and to share it now with our community,” said Bedford, the museum’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, in a statement.

“The Congressman’s life was guided by the belief that our diversity and our differences only strengthen us, as individuals and as a society. These are beliefs that the entirety of the BMA team and leadership hold and are ones that we try to bring to our own work every day. I am grateful to Maya for the opportunity to support this process, to everyone at the BMA that helped realize it and the accompanying events, and to Jerrell, who has brought his inspired vision to this portrait and whose work so beautifully captures the daily experiences and lives of our community.”

Courtesy of Jerrell Gibbs and Mariane Ibrahim

Jerrell Gibbs, I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It… Portrait of the Honorable Elijah Cummings, 2021.


Gibbs graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2020. His work has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Columbus Museum of Art; The Reginald F. Lewis Museum; The Galleries at the Community College of Baltimore County and The Gallery at Howard University. His work is in the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art; Columbus Museum of Art; CC Foundation; X Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Art.

“Working on a painting of such great importance meant so much to me,” Gibbs said. “I am extremely honored to have been considered and selected to paint the official portrait of The Honorable Elijah Cummings. A very special thank you to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Christopher Bedford, [museum chief curator] Asma Naeem, as well as the entire portrait committee. This experience has been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will forever cherish this monumental moment. I hope I made Elijah proud.”

 

The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2021.177

Jerrell Gibbs, The Honorable Elijah Cummings Sketch, 2021.

Raised in Baltimore, the son of sharecroppers, Cummings graduated with honors from City College, Howard University, and the University of Maryland School of Law.

A gifted orator, he was the first African American to be named speaker pro tem in the Maryland House of Delegates. In the House of Representatives, where he represented parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County, Cummings rose to become one of the most powerful and respected voices in Congress, a civil rights leader who fought for social justice, fairness, and a democracy that serves all Americans.

In 2019, Cummings was appointed Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and leveraged the role to lead investigations into the administration of then-President Trump. Following his death, he became the first African American legislator to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.

Given Cummings’ lifelong commitment to Baltimore, museum officials say, his widow believed it was essential that his portrait be created by an artist that represented the “rich cultural fabric of the city” and “the incredible creative contributions of Black artists.”

To establish the selection process, Rockeymoore Cummings approached leaders at the BMA, where she served on the Board of Trustees from 2017 to 2019. Asma Naeem, The Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator at the museum, led the curatorial process in collaboration with Bedford, working with the selection committee and organizing the presentation of the portrait.

The shortlist of three finalists emerged from a broader list of more than thirty artists developed with support from Naeem; Carlyn Thomas, the museum’s Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art; and other members of the museum’s curatorial and leadership team.

The selection committee consisted of Rockeymoore Cummings; Bedford; Naeem; Jeffrey Kent; Lori N. Johnson; Lisa Harris Jones; Amy Frenkil Meadows; Troy Staton and Kwame C. Webb. They conducted studio visits and reviewed preliminary sketches and portrait concepts presented by Gibbs, Ikegwu, and Shaw, before holding a discussion session and formal vote.

Ernest Shaw, At the Crossroads 1, 2021.
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2021.176

Ernest Shaw, At the Crossroads 1, 2021.

Monica Ikegwu, Representative, 2021.
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2021.175

Monica Ikegwu, Representative, 2021.

As part of the commission, Gibbs received a $75,000 financial award. In addition, the museum acquired one preparatory work by each artist on the shortlist, marking the first acquisitions by Ikegwu and Shaw to enter the museum’s collection.

Over the past seven months, Rockeymoore Cummings collaborated with Gibbs on the creation of the Congressman’s portrait. The painting is inspired by Baltimore-based photographer Justin T. Gellerson’s image of Cummings, an image that’s featured on the cover for Cummings’s biography, We’re Better than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy.

According to the museum, Gibbs’ portrait of Cummings is “a continuation of his exploration of the layers between memory, time, presence and absence, and the varying handling of paint on canvas.”

Support for the portrait commission is provided by Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff; Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker; Under Armour Foundation; Eddie C. & C. Sylvia Brown; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Kevin Plank; The Shelter Foundation; Pearlstone Family Fund; Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone; Michele Speaks and David Warnock and Rockeymoore Cummings.

The presentation of the commission is supported by The Stoneridge Fund of Amy and Marc Meadows; Pearlstone Family Fund; Clair Zamoiski Segal and Michele Speaks and David Warnock.

About the Author

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is the former architecture critic of The Baltimore Sun.

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