“Kindred Spirits: Artists Hilda Wilkinson Brown and Lilian Thomas Burwell” explores the unique relationship between an African American aunt and niece who became accomplished artists and educators despite the hardships of the Great Depression and the inequities of racial segregation. The story of their lives, their works of art and sources of inspiration are presented against the backdrop of a segregated society.
Denied the same access and advantages as their white colleagues, Black artists seized educational opportunities, became prominent faculty members of African American schools, and established their own venues to exhibit and publish their work.
Lilian Thomas Burwell’s vivid narrative shines a light on her aunt, Hilda Wilkinson Brown, who did not live to see the acquisition of several of her paintings by major museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The film showcases Wilkinson Brown’s works of art, most of which are not in the public view: modernistic paintings of Washington, D.C.’s historic LeDroit Park neighborhood and portraits of its residents, watercolors of Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard, linoleum block prints and lithographs of African American families, and whimsical illustrations for “The Brownies’ Book,” the first magazine for African American children founded by renowned scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
Wilkinson Brown’s example and influence enabled Lilian Thomas Burwell to pursue a career as an abstract expressionist artist and art teacher. At the age of 93, Burwell is experiencing a wave of recognition for her unique “sculptural paintings”: carved wooden sculptures which are covered in painted canvas. Of her aunt Hilda, Burwell says, “Her confidence in me was overwhelming, and so I never doubted, whatever I was doing, I should continue in and not stop.”
Originally published by PBS
Kindred Spirits will be broadcasted on Thursday, February 4 at 9:30 p.m. on WHUT and 10:30 p.m. on Maryland Public Television and on Wednesday, February 10 at 7 p.m. on WETA’s World Channel