Originally Published by The Washington Post on 07/06/2020
Written By: John Kelly
Cintia Cabib set out to produce a documentary on a single Washington artist. She wound up making a film about two — and about the ways that the seeds of creativity, when nurtured, can grow in the rockiest soil.
That 26-minute film is called “Kindred Spirits: Artists Hilda Wilkinson Brown and Lilian Thomas Burwell,” and it will have its broadcast premiere Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on WHUT, Howard University’s PBS station.
Cabib has been making films for 30 years. In 2014, she was at a Historical Society of Washington conference when she picked up a brochure. Printed in it was a cubist streetscape: rowhouses, leafless trees, a set of stairs leading to a porch. What drew Cabib in was that it was unmistakably a Washington scene.
“I thought it was really beautiful,” she said. “I became so intrigued by that painting, I started doing some research.”
Cabib learned that the artist was a woman named Hilda Wilkinson Brown, who died in 1981. Brown had no children, but Cabib contacted a niece, Lilian Thomas Burwell, who turned out to be the late artist’s biggest booster.
“She was just thrilled to hear that I was interested in doing a piece about her aunt,” Cabib said.
And Cabib was thrilled to hear that Burwell was herself a Washington artist, one who owed her career to her aunt.
Brown was born in Washington in 1894. She was a graduate of M Street High School, one of the country’s first public high schools for African American students. She went to Cooper Union in New York City and studied at the National Academy of Design.
In the 1920s, Brown created artwork for the Crisis, the NAACP magazine edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. She also drew for the Brownies’ Book, a monthly magazine that, its founders explained, was “designed for all children, but especially for ours.”
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