SAN DIEGO—For decades African American artists from or with strong ties to San Diego have had limited opportunities for the community to experience their exceptional talent. Many have made significant contributions to the cultural fabric of our city, yet the great multitudes of visiting tourists rarely encounter these works.

Legacy in Black, a new exhibition at San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, highlights the artwork of eight African American artists with noteworthy influence on the African American fine art scene in San Diego.

The exhibition runs November 5, 2017 – April 15, 2018. The exhibition is included with regular Give Forward admission* and on view daily from 10am-5pm

Curated by Gaidi Finnie of the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art (SDAAMFA), the works were chosen for their expansive range mediums and expressions. “Legacy in Black is an opportunity to begin the process of preserving the work of these and many other artists, said Finnie. “These artists are tremendously important to the local arts community and as well, major contributors to the visual arts legacy of African American art in San Diego.”


Manuelita Brown is an alumnus of the University of San Diego with a master’s degree in Psychology. A professional artist and sculptor, specializing in bronze figurative and portrait sculpture her art is featured throughout San Diego County and the United States. Trained by veteran sculptors, including Bruno Lucchesi (New York), Nigel Konstam (Italy), and Simon Kogan (Washington), Manuelita has been honored with numerous awards accompanying her frequent participation in juried shows and exhibitions throughout the country, such as the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa, Florida; Artscape in Baltimore, Maryland; the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia; the National Black Fine Arts Show in Soho, New York, and the Sausalito Art Festival in Sausalito, California.

Ernest Eugene Barnes Jr. (Deceased) was born in Durham, North Carolina but his San Diego connection was as a football player with the San Diego Chargers. His paintings are characterized by elongated figures with closed eyes and many capture the dynamism of sports. His style, which critics have described as neo-Mannerist, became familiar to a prime-time television audience in the mid-1970s when producer Norman Lear hired Barnes to “ghost” the paintings by the Jimmie Walker character “J.J.” in the groundbreaking African American sitcom “Good Times.” As the backdrop for the show’s closing credits, Lear used Barnes’ 1971 painting “Sugar Shack,” his most famous work. Singer Marvin Gaye later adapted the painting as the cover art for his 1976 album, “I Want You.”

Jean Cornwell Wheat is a painter, sculptor, and multi-media artist. Her current work is the result of her emergence from the 2007 wild fire that destroyed her home and studio.  Jean is very active in the San Diego Community. She spent five years as an Artist in Residence at the Sherman Heights Community Center where she painted murals and worked with the community. She was honored by the San Diego Board of Supervisors as volunteer of the year for her work with the foster youth residing at the San Pasqual Academy. Jean continues to create interesting works of art and inspire budding artists of all ages.

Albert Fennell (Deceased) was a San Diego native, who during an interview stated “I strive to create a path of communication among all people by drawing and painting the truth, pride, beauty and compassion I see in them every day. I thank God for the talent given to me and for affording me the opportunity to share it”.  Fennell used his unique ability to create depth, dimension and illusions of exemplary quality.

Kadir Nelson spent his early years in San Diego, before being accepted into the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn NY. He currently exhibits his artwork in galleries and museums nationwide and abroad.  Kadir Nelson’s paintings are in the private and public permanent collections of several notable institutions including the Muskegon Museum of Art, The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the International Olympic Committee, and the US House of Representatives.

Faith Ringgold is a native of New York, who while working as an art teacher in public schools, began a series of paintings called American People. This unique series portrayed the civil rights movement from a female perspective. In the 1970s she created African-style masks, painted political posters and actively worked towards the racial integration of the New York art world. During the 1980s she began a series of quilts that are among her best-known works. Later she embarked on a successful career as children’s book author and illustrator. Her art is included in many private and public art collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Boston Museum of Fine Art, The Chase Manhattan Bank Collection, The Baltimore Museum, Williams College Museum of Art, The High Museum of Fine Art, The Newark Museum, The Phillip Morris Collection, The St. Louis Art Museum and The Spencer Museum. Ms. Ringgold is professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego where she taught art from 1987 until 2002.

Charles Rucker (Deceased) discovered his artistic talent as a very young child. He enjoyed painting with oils, acrylics and watercolors. He evolved from still life and landscape paintings to depicting people in their natural surroundings. In later years several of Mr. Rucker’s works included scenes of Caribbean and African natives, defining a style he described as contemporary realism. He captured and articulated the happy, mundane moments of everyday life. In addition to his great artistic talent, Rucker always had aspirations to be in law enforcement and education. He earned Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees at San Diego City College and a Bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University. He also received teaching credentials from UCLA in juvenile justice and criminology. During 17 years in the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Rucker served as a composite artist and as a community relation’s assistant to the police chief.

Rossie Wade (Deceased), a resident of San Diego since 1957, was active in the arts community; serving as President and Treasurer of the San Diego Art Guild and as visiting artist, lecturer, art teacher and art juror for many San Diego groups. The recipient of a grant from the California Arts Council, he served as Artist in Residence at the Educational Cultural Complex for many years. Rossie Wade’s collages and transparent watercolors have been described as works “which gain by understatement and convey a poetic feeling about nature’s quiet moods.” His body of works have ranged from bold, abstract collages to sensitive studies in realism in his watercolors. Initially painting in oils, Wade also created almost a dozen black and white and color lithographs for sale to those not buying original art. He was trained at Florida A&M University and has a Master’s degree from John Herron Art institute in Indiana.


The San Diego History Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, has been preserving our region’s history and making it available to the public since 1928. It operates its flagship museum in the heart of Balboa Park as well as the Junípero Serra Museum in historic Presidio Park and tells the diverse stories from our region’s past. The History Center is the steward of our heritage and the principal resource for San Diego history. No other institution is solely devoted to preserving San Diego’s collective history and enhancing community identity.

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*Give Forward is the History Center’s admission policy. We invite you into the museum free of charge, let you experience the museum and all the other things we have to offer, and all we ask is that you demonstrate your appreciation for the visit in the form of a voluntary donation.

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  1. This is great article that gives timely homage to many of the outstanding African-American fine artists who were resident in San Diego during periods of their career. After reading the article, I noticed one exceptional artist that may have been overlooked, and someone who has contributed greatly to San Diego’s artistic community. Eddie L. Edwards (1944-2007) was a professional artist, illustrator, and muralist, and a dear friend of mine who was heavily involved in engaging the Black community in the arts through various unconventional means. Mr. Edwards was born in Pineville, Louisiana, eventually relocating and residing in what was formerly called the ‘Southeast San Diego’ area of the city. Eddie’s fine works are ubiquitous throughout Southern California, where he provided brilliant paintings, illustrations , lectures, and poetry for a number of public and private institutions, community organizations, and social causes. Each time we’d meet, Eddie always had a calming smile, an open ear, and words of encouragement that strengthened our camaraderie as fellow artists. It is my hope that Mr. Edwards’ legacy and many contributions to promote the most positive aspects of the local arts are not forgotten in San Diego. I look forward to seeing that his works are included in the exceptional “Legacy In Black” exhibit on display at the San Diego African-American Museum of Fine Arts.

  2. Emile, I totally agree. His artwork is displayed up and down Imperial Ave. We shared the same birthday and I visited his home many times. May he RIP. Also I see no mention of J. Logans. Her art work is well known in San Diego also.


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