We recently received the sad news of Winfred Rembert’s passing. While we did not have the pleasure of meeting him in person, his masterful artworks and life-long commitment to depicting his experiences in the Jim Crow South made a significant impact on us.
Winfred Rembert’s life was extraordinarily tough. He spent the ‘40s and ‘50s in Georgia, where he worked in cotton fields, survived a near-lynching, and served seven years on a chain gang. It was in prison that he learned leatherwork from a fellow inmate.
Upon his release from prison, Rembert and his beloved Patsy went North, where they eventually settled in New Haven, CT. She encouraged him to paint and draw scenes from his youth in the South, and he eventually adopted the leather techniques he learned to recreate his memories.
Rembert’s method was complex, using 100 hand tools to produce vivid scenes on cowhide. He would wet the leather, cut into it with an ivory-tipped blade, soften the edges with a bevel, a matting tool, and a “spoon.” Then, he dyed the leather and applied a protective sheen. In addition to being a complicated technique, it was an emotionally taxing process to push through his PTSD in every mark he made to create the dynamic, lively scenes of cotton fields, church services, and scenes of his time on the chain gang. But the end results are all stunning to behold.
We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have acquired “Cotton Cross (White)” before Winfred Rembert’s passing, and feel responsible as a collection to preserve his memory and legacy as best as we can.
We send our sincere condolences to Winfred Rembert’s family, friends, and any other lives he touched. May his soul rest in peace, and may the power of the works he left behind continue to leave an impact across this nation.
If you are interested in learning more about Winfred Rembert’s Life, we encourage you to watch Taylor Rees’ powerful documentary, “Ashes to Ashes,” which takes an intimate look at Winfred Rembert’s and Shirley Jackson Whitaker’s reckoning with racist violence in America.