Artist: Lester Johnson
Fabric, wood, paint
58 1/2 × 109 × 3 1/2 in. (148.6 × 276.9 × 8.9 cm)
Wayne State University
Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights Purchase
Funds provided by DTE Energy, 2013

Lester Johnson, known for his work influenced by African American and Native American culture, has spent decades creating vibrant, culturally attuned art works that have a distinct energy of their own. Receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree as well as his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, Johnson’s career has involved an enduring artistic practice as well as a teaching career at the College for Creative Studies.  Johnson’s art work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as public and private collections all over the country.

A Garland of Praise Songs for Rosa Parks is a set of twenty six individual totem poles put together, mounted and supported with custom brackets and a two-part Plexiglas cover as it hangs in the Damon Keith Center located in Wayne State University’s Law School. The Damon Keith Center’s mission is to promote the educational, economic and political power of underrepresented communities in urban settings, it is the ideal place to have an installation dedicated to Rosa Parks who was considered the First Lady of the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks became famous by refusing to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger once the white’s section was full, while riding on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This installation embraces the traditional purpose of a totem pole to recount legends, lineages, or pivotal events that happened, while celebrating an event within the Civil Rights movement that changed history, allowing Johnson to synthesize both sides of his cultural heritage to create a piece that honors and celebrates Ms. Rosa Parks.

Text by Emily Lane Borden